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Fashion designer and activist Maya Penn shares tips to be more eco-friendly

Maya Penn, 21, is an activist and sustainable fashion designer who shared some advice on how to make greener choices this year.
Maya Penn, who started her first sustainable fashion line in 2008 at just 8 years old, shares why we need "collaboration between the generations" to make a difference on environmental issues.
Maya Penn, who started her first sustainable fashion line in 2008 at just 8 years old, shares why we need "collaboration between the generations" to make a difference on environmental issues.Deidre Penn
/ Source: TMRW

Environmental activist, fashion designer and animator Maya Penn has some easy tips for anyone looking to develop more sustainable habits in 2021.

Penn, 21, told Stay Tuned that she has "always been really passionate" about art and design. She started her first sustainable fashion line in 2008, at just 8 years old, and said that because of those early experiences she "always kind of grew up thinking" of the environment.

"Everything I do is kind of in the overlap between art and creativity and making a positive impact in the world and tackling social and environmental issues," Penn said.

While she has focused on sustainability for most of her life, she said that Earth Day in 2021 feels more significant than it has in the past.

Maya Shea Penn at 13 working in her home studio. She founded her company, Maya's Ideas 4 the Planet, when she was just 8 years old to spread awareness about saving the environment.Phil Skinner

"I think that this Earth Day definitely has a kind of different energy to it, because we're at a point in time where so many people are educated around environmental issues," Penn said. "They're really trying to figure out how they can contribute and make a difference."

Penn said that she is one of the people "who believes that Earth Day should be every day," and encouraged people to make their own healthy choices while also holding "world leaders, industry leaders" and other "big decision makers accountable to do as much as possible to ... basically create a greener future for the world.

"I think this Earth Day is definitely different, because there are so many people that are really kind of understanding what's going on and how they can help and be part of it," Penn continued. "And I hope that just continues to grow."

For anyone looking to go a little greener in 2021, Penn shared a few simple tips.

Be aware of the things you can do

Penn said that if you realize you can be more eco-friendly, you've "already won half the battle."

"I think everyone's sustainability journey will be completely different based on a number of different factors, the time, resources, energy, access that you have to live this way," Penn said. "Just remember that everybody's experience is going to be different."

Try making small changes first

If you are trying to think of changes you can make, Penn recommends assessing "all areas of your life," such as what you eat, what transportation you use and how much energy you use during the day.

Once you've identified potential changes, try making "little tweaks day by day," like eating one meatless meal a week instead of going fully vegan or unplugging devices that aren't currently in use.

"It's important to note those little things do make a difference," said Penn. "I think that what is most important to remember is to remember the power of collectivism and ... that all our collective efforts together will make a difference."

Try secondhand shopping

Vintage stores and consignment shops can be a great way to shop sustainably.

If you can't shop secondhand, Penn recommends extending the life of the clothes you already own so that you wind up purchasing less. The fashion industry can be very damaging to the environment, especially when it comes to fast fashion: The industry produces 1.2 billion tons of carbon emissions annually.

"You don't always have to buy your way into sustainability," said Penn. Try learning how to repair clothing you already have rather than replacing items if they tear. Penn also recommended learning how to spot clean single items of clothing, rather than running a whole laundry cycle "when it's not really necessary."

"We need to change the relationship we have with clothes and thinking about clothes being disposable," Penn said. "Clothes should have as long a lifespan as possible."

Collaborate with others

Penn said that young people "are going to be the future leaders of the planet," but it's important for people across generations to work together to find solutions.

"You have people that are industry leaders that are trying to figure out how they can get Gen Z on board with their new company, and they're realizing that Gen Z is socially, environmentally conscious and that they want to support initiatives and businesses that are more focused in those areas as well," said Penn. "I think young people really need to tap into that and say, 'Hey, this is going to be the standard for life, personally and professionally, and sustainably is something that needs to become natural and casual part of our society.'

"It takes everybody to make a difference in the world," Penn continued. "Especially with something as big as environmental issues, (it) is going to take collaboration from everybody to really, truly make a tangible change. ... People need to know that we are open to that collaboration. That sharing of experience, knowledge and resources between all generations (is) what's going to make the most impact."

Be optimistic

Penn described herself as a "solutions-based activist," which is why she focuses on the active changes people can make.

Feeling like, "Oh my God, everything is terrible" isn't a way to make an effective change, Penn said. Instead, people have to "look to what we can do to help."

"As long as we continue to be optimistic, to be hopeful and to do what we can, that is what is really, truly most important to me," Penn said.