This is 2019. Being a model isn’t just about looking your finest in images and having the best hip sway on the catwalk. Boys and girls who front campaigns are using their public platforms to make a change in the industry and the world as a whole. That’s why we decided to spotlight some of the trailblazers in the modelling world. The spotlight is now on Grace Mahary, the Canadian model providing renewable energy to communities where energy poverty is a primary concern.
After walking a Givenchy exclusive for AW12, a show that would prove breakthrough for her career, Mahary took a solo trip to Eritrea. Riding high from an exciting fashion week, the Edmonton-born model decided it was time to make her first visit back as an adult to the country where her parents were born and a place which her family still has strong ties. Seven years later, Mahary still remembers the black smoke looming over the sewing district where she went to do some shopping: “I specifically remember going into the sewing and fashion market that they have downtown and just seeing black smoke spewing out of these shops. I’m like ‘Oh my god, how are these people working in these conditions.’ If I can hardly breathe walking through this market, going to look for fabric and to shop, I can only imagine how these people are living and breathing in this air. It got my gears turning.”
Grace Mahary has served face for the editorials of Vogue, W, and CR Fashion Book and has walked the runways for the likes of Chanel and Dior, in addition to Givenchy. Now, she adds being the face of renewable energy to her running list of accomplishments. In 2017, Mahary launched Project Tsehigh, a nonprofit dedicated to providing clean energy to energy impoverished communities. Their initial project equipped the entire community of Maaya with solar panel units; all in all 101 households, a church, a mosque, and a school were upgraded. It’s important to note that Project Tsehigh not only installed the solar panels, they also educated the townspeople on how to independently use the technology to their advantage. Nonprofits doing outreach have been criticised in the past for dumping new appliances onto locals without facilitating the necessary education needed to operate them; more often than not, this leaves those on the receiving end with more problems than solutions.
Making sure women felt empowered throughout the installation process was also something she paid special attention to. With the addition of solar panels in Maaya, the plan was to create a huge shift in how energy was created in the town and Mahary wanted to make sure the women had a say in the role this renewable energy would play going forward. “In our last project, we made sure each solar unit that was installed was made useful to each woman in the household,” she explained. “We [then] took a survey on what they wanted next, because once we install there’s a checkup and we realized they want solar-powered milling machines. For us, that means the world, because we’re giving them an opportunity to run their own businesses. It gives them an opportunity to have an input into what kind of economy and energy is being used in their community. And it gives them a voice that previously they didn’t have.”
Not surprisingly, the fashion industry has shown out with support for both Grace Mahary and Project Tsehigh. “It’s been super welcoming,” she said. “People in the [fashion] industry have been, maybe surprised, but also really supportive.” Project Tsehigh currently has two other projects in the works, one based in Ghana, the other in Ethiopia. For the Ghana project, the nonprofit is partnering with Studio 189, a fashion lifestyle brand launched by Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah that was awarded the CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative Prize for its sustainability efforts last year. Collaborating with brands like Nike and Fendi in the past, Studio 189 makes clothing inspired by the African continent. Project Tsehigh is in the process of powering their Accra-based factory entirely with solar energy.
The next big project coming up? Installing solar energy in a primary school based in Tanzania. The school has 800+ students plus 10 teaching staff — and zero access to electricity. Right now, Project Tsehigh is in its final month of fundraising for the mission and has announced an official partnership with Wildland Trekking, an international tour company offering hikes across the globe. Those who sign up for Wildland’s November hike on Mount Kilimanjaro will help install solar panels at the school and hand out inflatable solar lights to students for the first two days of their trip. If there’s one thing Mahary and Project Tsehigh want to make clear about the field of renewable energy, it’s that we all have a part to play in making access to it a priority. “Even if you’re in a developed nation, we still have our work to do,” she shares. “We are actually the number one polluters in the world, with the amount of traditional fossil fuels we’re using. It isn’t just a developing nations issue, it’s a worldwide issue.”
You can read more about the latest projects underway at Project Tsehigh here.