CHANGEMAKERS SERIES | JESS MILLER

The spirit of our NEW DAWN Collection embodies change, evolution + collaboration. These fine qualities are the very essence of the women we have featured in our series of inspiring Changemakers. 

Creating exacting change in many areas, from the environment to art and health and nutrition, these women bring our collection alive with their passion, power + persuasion.

Councillor Jess Miller is a powerhouse and one of the youngest people to hold elected office at the City of Sydney. She served as Deputy Lord Mayor from 2017-2018 and is currently Deputy Chair of the Environment Committee and the Cycling Advisory Committee, and a member of the Southern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils. Jess is a veritable inspiration and she chats to us about her passionate approaches to sustainability, strategy and innovation…

You have championed so many notable causes in Sydney such as the Liveable Slow Streets pilot in Redfern and the NSW Food Security Strategy… How do you pick your causes? Can you outline the ones that have affected the most change?

There are so many things that you can turn your attention to, and I generally have quite a few things on the go at any one time. But generally, I’ll get captured and invested into an idea when I can clearly see the benefit(s), a pathway toward achieving a practical outcome, and good people to work with. It also has to be fun and resonate with me on a deeper level, otherwise I find that the energy can wane. 

It’s also true that nothing is ever ‘done’ or really finished. Change is a continuum not a destination, so I am enthused by projects, events, people, campaigns that I can see can contribute strategically to a larger movement or can help bridge a gap or make a connection. 

It is difficult to choose one thing that has contributed the most change, as everything does in different ways. When I was involved with anti-coal mining campaigns in the mid-2000s using non-violent direct action, I fantasised about climate change being on the cover of Vogue or activism being written about positively in The Australian (as was the case when David Pocock took a stand and was praised for doing so). But it has since happened. So, I think that all the work that we did then contributed, as did all of the work that was done by people before us, and it’s that cumulative contribution that has led to change now. And we see the next group of people coming through to add to what has come before i.e. the school strikes. 

My work with Greener Spaces Better Places has a slightly more tangible outcome. I’ve been working on this project for seven years, so have witnessed the process of urban forestry not being discussed, to now having more than 80% of local councils with an urban forestry strategy (or equivalent). The beauty of working with trees is that they remind you of what time really is. With trees you work in ‘decades’ not weeks, months or even years. It humbles you and teaches you both patience and perseverance.

The point is to make a conscious decision to be a person who gives, and not just takes. The rest then kind of takes care of itself. You become surrounded by likeminded people and find that there is always enough. 
 

We love your creative and inclusive approach to sustainability, which is so important to the Ginger & Smart brand too. Where does this passion come from?

Maybe I’m just a frustrated artist! When I was a little girl I wanted to be a fashion designer, which is a far cry from where I grew up (on a herb farm), but oddly close to where I’ve landed, well today at least. 

Creativity is just permission to imagine how other people feel and view the world. It’s about being open to possibilities, solutions and other points of view. The idea of a fabric being stronger due to the number of threads that runs though it is a neat analogy for inclusivity and what it offers. Ideas are better, communities are stronger, stories more interesting, and ideas more appealing when they are a consequence of tension, discussion, resolution and diversity. 

Is sustainability in the fashion industry important to you?  

100% yes! One of my first real jobs was with Climate Friendly, which in the days of carbon offsetting was at the vanguard of understanding and introducing renewable energy into supply chains. At that time brands like Ginger & Smart, Moral Fibre and Sara Victoria led by embedding sustainability into their operations. Then it was a pretty hard sell: to persuade businesses with already tight margins to pay more for voluntary offsets. 

I’ve seen the fashion industry evolve over time, and find new solutions, but most importantly entrench sustainability into something that is fundamental to what they do, as opposed to something on the side. Brands like Ginger & Smart have also been instrumental in leveraging the social and cultural capital that fashion has, to invite a much broader audience of people to contribute through their buying choices.

Can you explain the work you do for Greener Spaces Better Places? 

GSBP is one of the world’s leading examples of a ‘collective impact ‘ program. It is designed on the premise that to create change you need five things:

  1. A big unifying vision. For us it’s to ensure that as our cities and town grow, so too does our green spaces. 
  1. Good measurement. For us this is regular greenspace benchmarking whether green space is increasing, decreasing or staying the same. 
  1. Mutually reinforcing activities. This means project & research that enables different groups and individuals to work together to achieve a common goal.
  1. Constant communication to remind people why you are doing this work.
  1. Backbone support. That’s a large part of what I do. Facilitating introduction, promoting work, plugging gaps etc. 

Success for the program at this stage means more urban greening - especially on private land, where we are experiencing the most loss. 

You eliminated 12 million single-use plastic straws as part of the #SydneyDoesntSuck campaign… tell us how you managed to do this?

Through collaboration, with venues, Timeout Sydney, the AHA, good timing: it coincided with the war on waste and dressing up as a seal (a career highlight!).

What do you want to share with the world?

Care. 

What is your wish for change in the future?

That everyone has the opportunity to reconnect with themselves, with one another and the world around us.

To feel that the things you do and the choices that you make matter. 

And to notice how absolutely wonderful, brilliant, delicate and supremely beautiful the world around us is.

A great place to start is in the garden. 

Five handy hints Jess Miller incorporates into her daily life:

  1. I try to take it easy on myself (and others). For the last 15 years I’ve been doing martial arts and this helps me to switch from being in my head to being in my body, focus, breathe, be grateful, and get over things that are difficult.
  1. Ride my bike to get places - it actually saves me time and I feel better when I arrive. 
  1. Grow things - I have a very small garden, but it’s covered with plants and I even have a couple of native beehives, that are surprisingly entertaining!
  1. Buy local and buy carefully. And before I buy something, I walk away for five minutes to a) decide if I really need it/not want it, and b) consider how it got to where it is, and c) think about who benefits from the purchase.
  1. Do my best to learn about viewpoints that I don’t know about or that make me feel uncomfortable. This means everything from First Nation’s stories and what reconciliation means, to why people support Trump, to the rules of NRL.