Stylist Karla Welch Talks Sustainability, Gun Control at EMA Impact Summit

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Melissa Magsaysay, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Kristina Buckley and Karla Welch speak at the summit

"My power is to be able say: ‘Okay, Levi’s. I’m going to do this collaboration with you, but I want this much money to go to gun control. Will you work with me on that?’" said Tracee Ellis Ross' stylist.

Amid a growing trend in Hollywood toward sustainable fashion, guests of the Environmental Media Association’s (EMA) third annual Impact Summit learned about and celebrated green and sustainable business practices on Wednesday and Thursday at The Montage in Beverly Hills.

Moderators including Lance Bass and Jaden Smith took the stage to talk gardening and plastic use, respectively, while a handful of star speakers talked sustainable fashion and how prevalent it really is in Hollywood.

A-list stylist Karla Welch (whose clients range from Justin Bieber to Olivia Wilde) joined actress Emmanuelle Chriqui (The Passage) on a panel educating guests on the Diamond Producers Association. Both praised the DPA for its sustainable, ethical and transparent business operations in supplying natural diamonds — from people in the field to energy reduction initiatives.

The following day, actress Malin Akerman moderated a panel with the H&M Foundation, which awards millions of dollars to sustainable textile innovations and aims to have 100 percent recyclable clothing by 2030. The women addressed how they incorporate conscious fashion choices into their lives and talked about what still needs to be done for more sustainable style in Tinsel Town.

See five takeaways from the event below.

1. Karla Welch will put her foot down.

For the influential stylist, choices go far beyond making a statement on the carpet.

“I can’t just be about the red carpet,” she explained of her initiative to use environmentally conscious clothing. “One of my roles as a stylist is also saying to companies: ‘Well, what are you doing?’ How much money are you putting towards environmental things?’ ‘Let’s put your money where your mouth is.’” Her environmental awareness is so strong, it’ll come down to picking “this diamond necklace or that diamond necklace” and even passing up partnerships. 

“When I do a collaboration, for me, my power is to be able say: ‘Okay, Levi’s. I’m going to do this collaboration with you, but I want this much money to go to gun control. Will you work with me on that?’” she said. Last year, Welch collaborated with the denim brand on a line of sherpa jackets and 501 jeans, and Levi's donated to Everytown for Gun Safety during a 2018 clothing campaign featuring SZA and Yara Shahidi.

“I’m going with the company who’s going to have greater action on projects that are important to me. I’m not afraid to use my voice. I don’t care if you don’t want to work with me,” Welch continued. “Because if you don’t want to work with me, we have a moral difference in opinions… well, that’s their loss.”

2. Conscious red carpet clothing is still in progress.

On one hand, there has been progress when it comes to designers and stylists’ awareness of conscious clothing on the red carpet. Chriqui is optimistic about the conversations being had.

“It’s an exciting time. There was a time when there were just a lot of ideas, people talking about what it would be like in the future,” the actress said. “The future is happening now. We have the ability to be like, ‘I want to support this clothing brand, this jewelry… We’re becoming bolder with what we decide to wear and what we won’t.”

While speaking on the “Our Most Precious Stone” panel, she addressed diamonds as well. “As far as jewelry goes, it’s nice to know that they’re conscious. We don’t want to wear jewelry where people have been killed in the mining.”

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Akerman, who was on the “Deconstructing Fashion” panel, to get her take on bringing sustainable clothing to the red carpet. The way she sees it, there’s still work to do. “It hasn't become a bigger conversation just yet, unfortunately. It's not at the forefront of every stylists' concern, but we're hoping to bring it in,” said the Billions actress, head-to-toe in H&M’s conscious collection.

Her stylist Molly Fishkin-Levin has her own sustainable line called Dame, "which I'm very proud of. We try to choose sustainable clothing when we can,” she continued. “Supporting the designers who do sustainable clothing is just one of the ways to start that trend, it's going to be a long road, long process. I think it’s baby steps," Akerman said. “Big designers are now getting with the program, which is lovely to see. That's where everyone's headed.” (Even Louis Vuitton and Christian Siriano went eco-friendly at the 2019 Oscars). 

3. Sustainable clothing is more doable on TV sets than red carpets.

While Akerman believes there’s a long road ahead to getting environment-friendly clothing more prevalent on the red carpet, she is more optimistic about TV and movie sets. In fact, she knows from experience.

“It's easier to do when you're on sets now, as far as fittings go. [Saying], 'Here are some of the companies to have that in your back pocket and go, 'Well, Dame does sustainable clothing, let's bring in some their T-shirts and stuff if we're doing that look,'” she told THR. “That’s where there's an easier in when you're doing fittings for your television shows because there's so many outfits that need to be made.”

4. There’s power in choosing vintage in Hollywood.

Both Welch and Akerman preached the power of supporting and wearing vintage clothing. “It plays a huge role,” Welch said to guests. “I work a lot with vintage brands because what is existing is what is most sustainable in terms of jewelry. I like using all my vintage stores.”

Akerman, who admitted she was “also in the dark about most of this” before just a few years ago, said she’s “always been a thrift shopper.” Hollywood had different taste. “But when it came to high fashion, and red carpets, it became more about the art of the designer, and you forget, unfortunately.”

5. Chriqui’s clothes have a story.

Chriqui, who, in addition to Akerman, wore H&M’s conscious collection over the course of the summit, was most excited to share the story of her dress with her social media following.

“It’s a dress made of recycled water bottles from the ocean and it’s so beautiful, you just would never know it. When I post it on Instagram, I can’t wait to say, ‘Hey, PS, this is how this dress was made,’” she said of the line, also worn by Dakota Fanning and Irina Shayk at the launch party in March.

The ability to share such stories is what motivates her to specifically choose clothing and jewelry with meaning. “When people know the story, you wear something with a lot more pride [and] people like to be a part of that.”