by JANELLE OKWODU

“Parley Ocean School shattered the misconception I had of the oceans as this huge, indestructible force. I’d always felt the oceans were so vast, they were untouchable. Then I learned the reality: The oceans are about to die; the damage is already so big. We live and act as though we cannot alter the sea, we cannot break this ecosystem, when in truth it’s just the opposite. Everything we do has an impact on the oceans. They are more sensitive and marine life more endangered than we ever imagined. And then to learn how little time is left to change the ways we are living on this planet—it was eye-opening. Shocking, really.” Photo: Courtesy of Maryna Linchuk

Love it or hate it, plastic is a part of everyday life. Whether you’re sipping from a Starbucks cup or wearing synthetic fabrics, it’s hard to escape its presence. Still, Maryna Linchuk is committed to getting people to rethink their relationship with the material. Teaming with eco-organization Parley, the Belarusian modeling star spent her winter break cleaning up the refuse-covered beaches of the Maldives. Though she’d visited the island for photo shoots in the past, getting a bird’s-eye view of the destruction was an eye-opener for Linchuk. “It’s shocking to me that this material that is so unfriendly, so dangerous for animals, and potentially toxic to us has become so normal in our society,” says Linchuk over email. “A plastic bottle you use for 10 minutes will be here forever. That was a hard thing for me to learn—to understand that every piece of plastic ever produced will stay on this planet.”

It’s a lesson that Parley hopes to spread. Dedicated to finding inventive ways to combat pollution, Parley’s A.I.R. strategy targets contamination caused by marine plastic waste—not only on cleaning up the oceans, but also one day eliminating the material entirely through awareness campaigns and the eventual development of sustainable alternatives. The process is involved and ambitious. “We see the key to the solution in creativity and collaboration,” says founder Cyrill Gutsch. “We’re trying to take something devastating and potentially catastrophic to our own survival and turn it into a movement of positivity.” With the effect on air quality, not to mention the thousands of animal species reliant on clean water, the importance of Parley’s mission is clear. But as with many environmental problems, the impact can be too large for many to contextualize. “When people hear or read about what’s happening in our life support—global coral bleaching events, horror stories of shark finning and whaling, the warming and rising seas—these issues all seem so far away,” explains Gutsch. “Until something is happening directly in front of you, it’s very difficult to picture and connect to the reality.”

Making the trip to the Maldives lead Linchuk to develop a deeper understanding of ocean pollution and the motivation to make changes in her day-to-day life. Working alongside marine experts, Maldives locals, and fellow volunteers helped her to stop using disposable items and switch to reusable bags, but she’s hoping to make a far larger change by inspiring the fashion community. “The fashion industry is a huge polluter. So for me, my challenge is to find ways I can use my contacts, my network, and whatever influence I have to convince my business partners, team, and friends to change,” Linchuk says. “It doesn’t have to be this huge solution right away; we can fix this item by item.” The first step? Branching out with her own line of swimwear, crafted by recycling those ocean plastics. The forthcoming label will be Linchuk’s first work as a designer, but she’s hoping it makes waves. “I think people don’t just want to buy stuff; they’re ready to put their money where their hearts are,” she adds. “And I think that’s the idea that Parley has. It’s not a burden or sacrifice to heal our environment—it’s an opportunity.”