Summer Rayne Oakes: Slave to sludge

Ever the curmudgeon, I rarely find the antics of fashion models worthy of byte-ink. Yet, is Summer Rayne Oakes (her real name) just another pretty face? Oakes is the 20 something eco-fashion model taking fashion and science by storm. I think many people take a cynical view towards celebrities adopting causes but in this case, the cause came first -she started in her teens. Growing up in a poor county outside of Scranton PA, she posted photographs of public dumping along roadways in an attempt to shame offenders. In high school, she fell in love with waste sludge taking a job in the county’s bio-solids program. At 16, she crashed scientist’s meetings at the Cornell Waste Management Institute -where she ended up going to school in 2000. Via Grist we find that Oakes is more of a slave to sludge than a slave to fashion.

Oakes guarantees, “I’m the only model ever to have published a paper on the health-related effects of sewage sludge in a scientific journal.”

Despite her academic success, Oakes decided science wasn’t offering enough of a chance to make a difference. “The other half of research is communicating your results,” Oakes says. “You’re so passionate about it, you get published, and … then you just go to conferences and talk it over with heady scientists and regulators.” She felt powerless to act, for instance, when confronted with data showing that benzene, a dangerous byproduct of textile manufacturing, was found in sludge samples.

At the time, Oakes says, “It frustrated me because I couldn’t communicate to some of my best friends why my research was relevant to their lives.” Those friends included four frat boys who nicknamed her “Park Ranger.” But then something changed. “I started to notice how they really paid attention to advertising and media,” Oakes notes. During her sophomore year, she began modeling in New York City. Eventually, a “gut instinct” led Oakes to pursue fashion — and to leverage her science background to promote change.


Via Treehugger, I find that Summer (who also subscribes to F-I) is publishing a web magazine SRO (free but registration is required). The newsletter is for “decision makers, press, universities, designers, industry professionals and any one else who is looking to get a deeper understanding of sustainability trends in fashion.” The trend reports go beyond the traditional saying, “Have you ever wondered how design trends affect the rest of the world?” The details are listed as:

  • Trade in textiles
  • Market demands
  • Analyzing the supply chain
  • Sustainable economic development
  • The latest eco-textiles and fabrics
  • Eco-textile technical properties
  • Certification, labeling and transparency
  • Sustainable designer interviews
  • Eco-fashion editorials

The second issue (I downloaded it but haven’t read it yet) is about denim industry with coverage of many eco-denim lines and an interview with the director of China Blue.

The SRO website describes Summer Rayne and her mission thusly

Model, media host, speaker, writer, and brand strategist, Oakes has seamlessly combined her image with social entrepreneurism. She has helped a wide variety of companies, individuals, and organizations achieve greater success through sustainability and has brought awareness to socio-environmental issues through her consulting, modeling, speaking, publications, and productions.

A Cornell University graduate, Morris K. Udall Scholar and NWF Fellow, Oakes’ previous work spanned multiple disciplines, all which was deeply imbued in environmental research. Her studies in organic contaminants & environmental health, rainforest regeneration, invasive species, and aquatic entomology overlapped with her “modeling with a cause.” Because of that, she has become largely known as “The Eco-model”.

Oakes has co-authored two science articles centered on her research in waste management and human health, including: Organic Contaminants in Sewage Sludge (Science of the Total Environment, Jun 2006) and Investigation of Alleged Sludge Health Incidents Associated with Land Application of Sewage Sludges (New Solutions, 2002).
Oakes is also a contributing author to Earth Pledge’s upcoming book on Sustainable Fashion for their Sustainable Development White Papers Series, due out in 2007.

S4 is the industry newsletter addressing trends in sustainability and style. It takes a hardcore, in-depth approach beyond market hype. By coupling on-the-ground interviews with multidisciplinary research, S4 cuts through the crap and begins taking a look at what sustainability really means when it comes to clothes.

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2 comments

  1. Jeffrey says:

    I love it, too, Tammy. What I especially like about Oakes story is that it’s such a good example of someone incorporating values into their work. I think that’s not easy as a model. And so, it’s inspring to me to be reminded that whatever I’m doing, wherever I am in my career, there is a way to succeed while contributing to, not diminishing the world.

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