Photography by Natasha Gerschon. Hair and Makeup, Sierra Elliott for P1M.ca/Saie
An early environmental awakening led to stylist and activist Sarah Jay’s sustainable stockpile.
By Annika Lautens
Date April 1, 2022
Sarah Jay’s collection of sustainable and locally made styles had a bit of a brutal beginning. “Early in my career, I had an existential crisis,” admits the Toronto-based celebrity stylist, eco activist and conceiver of the documentary Toxic Beauty. “I just felt like I was drowning in excess. I loved fashion, but I was concerned about where our clothing was coming from and how it was being disposed of.”
Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, is partially to blame for Jay’s self-reflection. “That film really fact-checked me and opened my mind, but it also coincided with the worsening of my chemical sensitivities,” she says, referring to the by-product of her days submerged in chlorine as a synchronized swimmer and her self-described addiction to hair dye and beauty products. As her health declined, Jay adopted a new and more organic wardrobe to keep her skin (and environmental conscience) satisfied — and thus her collection commenced.
One of her first sustainable pieces was a dress by Ukrainian-Canadian designer Katya Revenko. “I was working for her when she won the Elle Canada Toronto Fashion Incubator New Labels Fashion Design Competition in 2006, and she paid me with clothing,” recounts Jay. Sixteen years later, Jay is now a freelancer, but she often brings stylish souvenirs home from work.
Jay bought these white wares from Daniel Silverstein of Zero Waste Daniel as a nod to their time working together in the early 2010s on The Green Shows, a sustainable runway event presented during New York Fashion Week.
“I first discovered Patrick Salonga when I was creeping social media for sustainable designers to showcase on the runways of Fashion Art Toronto,” notes Jay of this double-denim ensemble.
La Belle Époque
A frequenter of fashionable markets, Jay found this flared favourite by Montreal brand High Horse Studio (formerly 3_3_4_7) at Inland, an online and in-person shopping platform that promotes emerging Canadian talent.
Before purchasing an item, Jay asks herself a series of questions to ensure that the ware is worthwhile: “Will I wear it more than once? Can it be styled multiple ways? Will it last over time?” As she clothes her clients exclusively in ethically and environmentally conscious outfits, the answer is almost always yes. “It’s important for me to actually walk the walk and not just talk the talk,” she says of her reasoning behind starting her fashion reservoir. “It’s also a product of being involved in the local designer community and fall – ing in love with what they’re creating.”
And she truly does love it. Over the years, the collector has acquired more than 100 sustainable fashion items, ranging from handmade hoodies to bejewelled fanny packs. Despite her citing Courtney Love as her fashion inspiration, the extensive mixture of eras and aesthetics in Jay’s collection is hard to categorize. Vintage Wayne Clark skirt suits hang among contemporary pleated pieces by Toronto-based Sid Neigum. Upcycled denim is bundled beside silk dresses. Geode jewellery by Black Line Accessories is intermingled with her kitschy handmade creations. And the list goes on.
Jay acknowledges that being a fashion fanatic turned sustainability superhero does have some challenges. She sometimes struggles with the paradox of loving looks but hating the industry. “How do I sleep at night?” she mockingly asks. “Sometimes I don’t feel authentic, but I suppose I’ve learned to understand and respect that sustainability is a spectrum. There’s no such thing as a perfectly sustainable lifestyle, garment or brand. It’s about getting in the game…starting where you are.”
But no matter the time or the textile, the appeal for Jay is always in the story. “I’m proud to support these artisans,” she says. “What can I say? I love it! I love the love that has gone into these pieces. I love knowing and celebrating the design process. And I love starting a conversation about sustainability.”
“I have learned that heels are not sustainable for me,” laughs Jay. Hence these Nike sneakers featuring a pastel colour palette achieved with plantMemory based dyes.
“The future of fashion consists of hyper-local fashion systems,” says the stylist. “This brand, It’s a Weird Time to Be Alive, is my hyper-local fashion system. The design studio is only a couple of blocks away from me.”
Around the World
Jay doesn’t hesitate to call this Bronwyn Seier blouse, which features a series of garment tags sewn onto a map, her favourite piece in her collection. “ It’s a visual representation of where our clothing comes from,” she proudly shares.
Jay’s ability to mix high and low labels makes her a star stylist. Case in point: She wore this blouse from one of H&M’s first Conscious collections to the World Wildlife Fund’s Panda Ball in 2012.
Put a Ring on It
An adamant admirer of rings, the stylist couldn’t decide which colourful commodity by Sofias Stuffs she wanted, so she bought them all. Rings from The Hippie Market.
Do It Yourself
As the daughter of “an artist, sewer and master crafter,” Jay took inspiration from her mother and adorned this Value Village vest with laser-cut leather letters to create a one-of-a-kind offering.
Lock and Key
“To me, this is luxury,” says the stylist of this hat from It’s a Weird Time to Be Alive. “ The artistry in each of designer Cassie Germann’s pieces is unmatched, and she captures the zeitgeist like no one else.”
This article first appeared in FASHION’s April issue. Find out more here.