It's early in the morning in Los Angeles when I speak to Ashley Graham. Her voice is low and husky, and her camera is off, but the supermodel is still cheerful, laughing merrily and often throughout our conversation. "I mean, I have a child, so nothing’s too early for me anymore," she chuckles. "He’s always up earlier. I’m normally awake at 6.30 with the little man."
After a tumultuous year, during which the former Harper's Bazaar cover star, her husband and their baby son, Isaac, decamped to her parents' home in Nebraska ("It was very much hanging out together in a field, barefoot"), Graham is delighted to be back at work, having recently walked in Michael Kors' 40th anniversary catwalk show. "It was so much fun. So theatrical. All of us girls were just so happy to be there - no one has ever made 42nd Street into a runway before. It was a real pinch-me moment," she says. "The only thing was that my feet were screaming. I hadn't worn high heels in over a year!"
The supermodel is also now an ambassador for Pandora and, as a life-long fan of jewellery, is thrilled to be the face of the brand's new Brilliance collection, which showcases lab-created diamonds in pieces starting from £250. "Their mission is to bring quality diamonds to everyone, everywhere," Graham says of the Danish jeweller. "I think diamonds, like fashion, should be accessible for everyone. And they should be sustainable." Indeed, the entire collection has been certified as carbon neutral, including its packaging, so it resonates well with Graham's own beliefs in leading a more responsible and ethical lifestyle, which was only reinforced when she became a mother last year.
"Before I had my kid, people told me my life was going to change and it did - it changed immensely," she says. "I've never been a 'buy for the sake of buying' type of girl, but it really makes you realise that being more thoughtful and conscious in our choices is something we all have to do together. It's much more about our environmental legacy now."
Below, Graham shares her tips for shopping smarter and investing in items that you'll love for years to come.
1/ Embrace vintage shopping
"I have been hitting second-hand stores online a lot more recently. Like they say, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. I do love a second-hand moment, whether it’s slightly used or vintage, because a lot of those clothes are already tailored so the fit is amazing.
"Second-hand accessories are perfect, too, as they work on everyone. I just bought a pre-loved Dior handbag on [luxury re-sale site] therealreal.com and it's everything I'm looking for: boxy enough to fit in some food and toys for Isaac, plus all of the rest of my stuff, and it makes me feel fancy when I wear it. I don’t necessarily need new."
2/ Don't be afraid to repeat buy and repeat wear
"Putting a little investment in your wardrobe, knowing that what you're buying is going to last and is high quality, is good. For a lot of curvy women, though, that option doesn’t exist so we may have to hunt a little harder than other people. When I find something that’s high quality, a good cut and will last a long time, I buy it - often more than once - and I will wear it over and over."
3/ Look for versatile, well-made pieces that go with everything
"Invest in classic, well-made pieces. The one piece I love, which I started wearing before I was pregnant, then wore throughout my pregnancy and am still wearing now as we come up to summer, is my R13 button-down shirt. It's so lightweight. You can tie it up and make it feel a little bit sexy, or throw it over a vest or wear it with a suit. I have three of the same white shirt that I wear constantly in rotation because Isaac has such sticky little hands - if he's been eating berries, it's game over - but the material is so good, you just put a little stain remover on it and it's fresh again. I will have them for years. I also really love what the designer at Khaite is doing – her sweaters are such good quality and fit that they will definitely be 'forever' pieces for me.
"It’s about spending your money wisely. You can always use accessories, like jewellery, to dress things up or down."
4/ Research is key
"Do your homework. Research your brands and what you're wearing to make sure you’re aligned with their values, that’s really important. I was really attracted to work with Pandora because I could see the amazing effort they put in to creating jewellery that was more sustainable.
5/ Invest in - and look after - jewellery you'll treasure forever
"My wedding ring is definitely a 'forever' piece. My husband had it custom made at a local Brooklyn jeweller when we were living in Park Slope, so it’s full of amazing memories. My grandmother also left me a lot of her jewellery when she passed a few years ago. She had some costume pieces, like pearls, that I always remember her wearing, and her wedding ring, which my grandfather gave to her. Just to know that she used to wear them is the most unique and special gift. From the new Pandora Brilliance collection, I love the earrings; they're so dainty and delicate. You can wear them in so many ways, either alone as a statement or stacked up your ear or as a mismatched pair, for a modern twist."
6/ Think twice before spending
"Definitely think twice about whether you really need something. You might see an item in a store or online that you really want and have an urge to get it, but being more sustainable to me is about only buying things that you genuinely love and treasure. When you're shopping online, some companies will have pop-up windows that say, ‘Hurry, you only have 10 minutes to buy this’, but don’t give in to that pressure. If you’re only buying it because time is running out, you didn’t really want it in the first place."
7/ Don't dismiss what you already own
"Try 'shopping' from your own closet more. This is something I think we all got into during the pandemic, when we couldn't go out. Putting together different looks from things you already own is really satisfying and stops those impulse buys. I recently took a tip from Marie Kondo and moved everything out of my closet and then put only the things I really wanted back, piece by piece, and made piles of everything else to re-sell or give away. That was really helpful. Then I had someone come round and help me put some looks together, which you can do with a friend. We took pictures of each of the looks, to remind me of what can go with what. A lot of us don’t have time to think about what we want to wear – I sometimes have just 10 minutes to get ready in the morning, but this just saves me so much time and it's much less wasteful."
8/ Avoid single-use plastic bags
"Carry a re-useable tote bag – you can get really tiny foldable ones that just slip in your handbag. We try to be that family that brings those bags wherever we go to the grocery store. It's a small change but it makes a difference."
The Pandora Brilliance collection is available online now.
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