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Planet Hero Tolmeia Gregory: tackling climate change creatively

Our Planet Hero shines a light on the most inspirational people taking action to protect our planet. Series 1 is sponsored by REN Clean Skincare. In this interview we talk to Tolmeia Gregory (aka Tolly Dolly Posh) a 19-year old ethical and sustainable fashion activist and on of our Planet Heroes. Her mission is to help inspire a more conscious generation that cares for the planet and our clothes, helping others to be more confident in themselves and what they were.

What does activism mean to you? 

Activism to me means being active within a conversation related to a certain issue; it means not letting the conversation die down and ensuring that you’re playing a role in not only raising awareness for the matter but that you’re making steps to actively change or ease the problem. This obviously doesn’t mean you have to be the sole person working towards dismantling, say, capitalism, but it means you are willing to help aid in that in whatever way you can. 

You create art to convey issues around climate. Could you explain the concept of ‘artivism’?

Art has always played a major role in activism, whether it’s to do with identity or whether it’s to do with messaging. For example, the suffragettes were known for their striking use of colour (purple, white and green), making them easily recognisable. I use art as both a tool and also a way of expressing emotion, the latter of which is resonating more with me now that we’re under lockdown restrictions and dealing with not just one major global crisis but two. 

However, my GIF stickers are much more of a labelling device and a tool especially as they are free for anyone to use. They’re a way of continuing a conversation in an extremely quick and accessible manner.

How would you encourage people to use their creative talents, or get more creative, to help tackle the climate crisis?

Now more than ever, we need people to use their creative imagination to allow us to envision a new world. Although I do see myself as quite hopeless (in the sense that I don’t believe we will ever act in time in order to lessen the effects of global heating etc), it is important to steer away from that and try to picture what we do want. You don’t have to be an artist do this, either. Simply writing down what you would want in your ideal, climate-positive future is a form of creativity that can only ever be beneficial. 

What’s the most powerful piece of art you’ve seen that bridges the gap between communicating scientific information and speaking to everyday people?

I don’t know if there’s a singular piece of art that springs to mind but I do always value the power of photography, especially within activism. I find the most powerful imagery is often the imagery which involves children. Young people shouldn’t have to be using their time to demand systemic change for the sake of a healthier planet, so, it is incredibly powerful when that’s captured – seeing young people in the moment, in all their strength and emotion is both inspiring and heartbreaking.

Your GIF stickers have been viewed 7 billion times across the world. Could you tell us a bit about your GIFS and why you think people are so engaged with your designs?

As I mentioned, I see them as a tool, so, I think giving people the opportunity to label and dress up their online content in such an easy way is helpful when it comes to these big topics. It’s also about relatability – finding something that speaks to you from an outside source can be comforting and although it was never intentional and was more just the style I gravitated towards in the beginning, I think the hand-drawn DIY style of them helps with that, too.

You’ve said blogging is a platform that gives you the ability to connect with people who inspire you the most. How do you connect with these people? 

I’d say social media alongside my blog helps with that. I breaks down that barrier of feeling like you can’t reach someone because of their status or what they might have achieved – just being able to reach out in a very casual way means I’ve been able to connect with people I probably wouldn’t have the chance to meet in person. 

Who has inspired you most during lockdown?

Anyone still finding creative ways to participate in direct-action is inspiring to me, whether it’s mutual aid groups or people blocking roads to make their neighbourhoods temporarily safer. I’m also hugely inspired by the activists who are still fighting against the construction and ecocide of HS2 despite the violence that has been put against them. 

You took part in a #PlasticLessCampaign last year. What change do you think could have the biggest impact in reducing plastic and its impacts in the fashion industry?

We need to see a shift away from virgin plastic materials – plastic is the fashion industry’s tie to the fossil fuel industry and we need to break that. I don’t think we will be able to immediately shift away from synthetic materials altogether, especially if that isn’t matched with degrowth to ensure that the strain isn’t put on purely natural resources but if we can start to rely on recycled materials and circularity, then, that would be make an impact in one way or another.

You’ve talked about ‘eco-shame’ a lot before. What does terms mean for you, and how can we tackle it?

I struggled with this a lot more before I got involved with direct-activism because I was focusing more on individual change rather than systemic issues. I think once you realise that individual change is only a small part of the picture then that sense of guilt can be lifted. It is impossible not to rely on a destructive system when it is the system that we all rely on. We will always be hypocrites until things start to change. Just look at what’s happening under lockdown restraints with COVID-19 – only a small percentage of emissions have actually been reduced because it’s not us, it’s industry.

You also talk about eco-anxiety, can you explain how this affects you and any coping mechanisms you’ve developed?

I go through different waves of eco-anxiety. I can go quite a long time without it really effecting me but then I’ll see one piece of news or watch a video of an ancient tree being felled and that connection between what we’re trying to protect and what is really happening hits me. Inaction doesn’t help either. For example, when I realised how unprepared our government was for battling coronavirus, it made it even more clear that when it comes to climate action, we won’t know what’s hit us and that’s terrifying. It all just makes me really sad. 

I cope by making sure not to shy away from those feelings. I’m very fortunate that I’ve found a community (Extinction Rebellion) that is so open to vulnerability and sharing the load. I also have a journal that is set aside for just eco-anxiety related thoughts. I don’t write about anything else in it. We have to do everything we can to validate those feelings because they are so real.

You were home educated for most of secondary school, what would be your top tips to share with everyone trying to work and learn from home and be an independent learner? 

Learn what you want to learn, stay true to you and remember that productivity is one of the most worthless concepts. 

How can we use this time to make a difference?

Keep the conversation going. Don’t be afraid to talk about the climate crisis just because of the current global situation. The climate crisis won’t ever go on lockdown. We must keep talking about it.

What’s your advice for anyone that wants to make a difference for the planet but doesn’t know where to start?

Find other people who share the same feelings and fears as you, whether that’s by looking for people to follow online or by joining a local activism group. Do not go into this alone! We need everyone to come together (even if it’s virtually and from 2 metres apart).

You can follow Tolly on Instagram (@tollydollyposh) and read here blog.

Next week we’ll talk to our next Planet Hero, Natalie Fee!

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