Today we meet Christina Sewell, a one of a kind #GUNASGIRL. She is not only the founder of Brave Heart Habitat, a lifestyle blog that focuses on healthy eating, sustainable fashion and creating a conscious lifestyle but is also a vegan working for PETA, the largest animal rights organization in the world. Christina grew up on South Korean military bases eating meat heavy Korean dishes and swearing by “genuine leather.” In fact, she’d never contemplated a vegan lifestyle until she came across PETA ‘s “Meet Your Meat,” video at 17 with her then-boyfriend. “Both of us could only get through 10 seconds or so of the footage, and together decided to go vegetarian,” she confesses. “Never would I have predicted that 10 years later I’d be working for the organization that first got me thinking about where animal products come from.”
Christina seen here with her GUNAS New York Cougar Backpack.
Presently, Christina proudly organizes PETA’s efforts to drive demand for innovative vegan apparel through media initiatives, collaborations with style influencers, the production of custom lifestyle content produced for their website, and various partnerships with eco-conscious brands. Some example campaigns include their fashion look book, pop up retails (where they were thrilled to have Gunas involved), and sustainability panels for fashion design students. As Christina explains, “I’m always looking for opportunities to showcase cruelty-free fashion brands, whether that’s through mentions on PETA’s social media, our PETA Living blog, or by way of profile videos like these highlighting Vaute Couture’s wool-free coats or Stephanie Nicora’s vegan leather boots.” This also means awarding companies that are moving in the right cruelty-free direction, too. For instance, this year PETA awarded compassionate company Aritzia for carrying and touting self-proclaimed “vegan suede,” “vegan leather,” and “vegan fur.” The team has also recognized Free People for all of their great vegan offerings, which inevitably expand the circle of conscious shoppers. “All these actions send the message to companies that we value their progress, which motivates them to continue moving in an eco-conscious, animal-friendly direction,”Christina explains. We couldn’t agree more, nor wait to hear extra details about Christina’s daily animal devotion.
The fact that you work for PETA is awesome! Did you begin as a Senior Fashion Campaigner?
Thank you! I originally started as a Campaign Coordinator, hired to fill a gap in the Campaigns department where we needed to focus on changing consumer behavior around buying and wearing animal products and encourage shoppers to opt for vegan materials instead. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to make the position my own since then and go for opportunities that allow us to creatively promote wearing sustainable, innovative vegan fabrics and how that’s so much better for the planet and kinder than wearing animals.
After a couple years at the organization, I’m now comfortable speaking on the important work we do in the clothing industry and the future of vegan fashion at various conference and outreach events. It was definitely exciting to meet other activists from all around the world at this year’s inaugural Animal Rights National Conference.
Definitely! Brainstorming and executing campaigns can’t be easy, though. What has been your most challenging campaign thus far?
Campaigning does take a lot of brain juice! That’s why I’m so grateful to my brilliant, dedicated colleagues for coming together to share ideas often. Perhaps most difficult has been encouraging people to think about wool. We’ve tried a whole gamut of ways to direct attention to the cruelty of the industry, to include contributing an op-ed about our investigation findings to Bustle magazine, sending chunky vegan knits from Vaute to fashion editors for the holidays, producing a jarring video drawing parallels between the abuse to sheep in the wool industry and that committed against a woman walking down the street, putting up billboards drawing attention to the cruelty of the wool industry in various cities across the country, and giving our Facebook audience a unique look into the industry with our “Wool in Reverse” video. Behind the scenes, we are always talking with companies about moving away from wool and toward more ethical and sustainable options as well.
Despite our efforts, it remains challenging to get conscious consumers to make the connection between wool and cruelty to animals, since many assume that it’s just a hair cut for sheep. They don’t realize that shearers are often paid by volume, not the hour, which encourages fast, violent work that can lead to gaping wounds on sheep’s bodies. The wounds are then stitch closed—without giving the animals any painkillers. After years of abuse, when these animals are considered no longer profitable to the industry, they’re shipped by the thousands to countries in North Africa and the Middle east for halal meat, where they’re dragged off the ships and have their throats slits while they’re still fully conscious. I invite anyone who remains skeptical to view PETA’s several wool investigations that look into shearing sheds in Australia, South America, and the United States—they clearly prove that this heartbreaking mistreatment is a systemic issue in the industry.
Working with PETA and other non-profit vegan corporations is a dream for many animal activists. What advice can you give to those striving to be a part of these organizations?
Keep checking job openings! At PETA, there are always new positions popping up, so I would encourage anyone who wants to get involved to keep applying. Working for an animal rights organization like ours is rewarding, but it’s also hard, dedicated work that you must have a go-getter team player mentality to be successful in. I’d also encourage everyone who wants to get more involved to volunteer to table our various outreach events – you can learn more about how to do that at PETA.org/action. And if you’re a bit shy and that’s not your style of activism, raise awareness in your own way, whether that’s blogging about vegan food/clothing options, leaving vegan starter kit leaflets in your local coffee shop or dentist’s office, or simply wearing a cute slogan t-shirt that gets a conversation started for animals from PETA’s online catalog or some of the other great t-shirt companies out there.
Christina seen here with her GUNAS New York Cougar Backpack.
You’ve worked with so many eco-conscious brands. When did you come across GUNAS?
GUNAS is one of the first brands I learned of when I was making the transition to a vegan lifestyle, long before I started working at PETA! I love the brand’s mission of animal-friendly and sweatshop free production. The designs are classic, too, and so durable. Thank you all for existing, and making cruelty-free living that much more fun!
Thank you, that’s what GUNAS is all about! Given your own fashion experience, what do you foresee the next “hot” vegan material being?
Oh wow, there are so many! Cork is definitely becoming more of a thing, which is great since it’s not only animal friendly, but more sustainable than polyurethane or traditional vegan leathers. There are also some companies that are trying out mushroom and pineapple leaf leather now, which is very cool. I’m also always impressed with the amount of down-alternative materials taking on the market, like Primaloft and Thermoball offered by Patagonia and The North Face among others, the super soft PLUMTECH created by Save the Duck, HEATTECH by Uniqlo, and Wully Outerwear’s technology which is an up-and-coming outerwear brand taking Canada Goose down with their jacket trade-up program. They are always such exciting developments for innovative vegan fashion.
What is your ideal fashion look?
I would say my fashion sense could best be described as bohemian minimalist. I like to keep it pretty simple and don’t really splurge on a lot of accessories, especially because one of the things I’m best at is losing jewelry (ha ha). But I do love long, flowy, floral dresses (Christy Dawn is a favorite) that bring woodland fairy images to mind and a simple crossbody to carry the essentials. I’m also obsessed with high-waisted “mom jeans” right now (vintage stores have the best finds) paired with a statement loafer – it’s an easy, comfortable look that you can make work for any environment.
Sounds faultless, and minimalism is certainly beneficial for the enviornment. Beyond fashion, Is there anything (a movie, book, person) that has really inspired you through your life?
Oh my gosh, I’m inspired by so much. I suppose that means I’m surrounded by amazing people and opportunities, which is great. To narrow that down a bit, Carrie Janell, a yoga instructor at Yoga Vibe Los Angeles, leaves me feeling like a brand new person every time I walk out of her class. The World Peace Diet and The Kind Diet were the two books I stumbled upon in Barnes and Noble one day 3 years ago that put me on my vegan path and for which I’m eternally grateful. The new Cosmos series hosted by Neil De Grasse Tyson reminds me of how enchanting it is to be one part of this great vastness that is life and engage with our miracle of a planet and everyone in it.
What advice would you give to every other #gunasgirl in our community?
Do you! Follow your heart. Listen to your intuition. Stand up for what you believe in – it’s giving so many others the courage to do the same. Try out yoga and meditation if you haven’t already. Try your best to listen with an open, nonjudgmental ear to folks who are different from you or that you may disagree with – you may actually learn a lot from one another once the real communication begins (this especially true with the recent election results). Make time to go outside and soak up the sun. Own your feelings and keep working through the destructive ones. Figure out what is uniquely yours to contribute to the good of the world and make doing that a priority. Keep an open, grateful heart. xx
We knew Christina was an inspiration, but being able to interview her directly really confirmed it. In spite of a meat-friendly upbringing, Christina chose to make her own path by following what she believes is right. As a result, she can now challenge and inspire fashion companies and activists through her commitment to PETA and animals. Given the massive influence Christina has already instigated, we’d say she’s on the right track. Thank you so much, Christina!