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Model and Sustainable Stylist: Terumi Murao

Posted by Rhea Cortado on

Fashion is an inherently wasteful industry that thrives on the cycle of new trends and covetable products—creating a conundrum for style-minded expressionists like us. What if you love dressing up but are conflicted by fashion’s heavy carbon footprint? 

Enter model, stylist, and modern outdoorswoman, Terumi Murao. In her work, she’s committed to collaborating with responsible brands and her eclectic personal wardrobe and styling incorporates vintage and used clothing—a rising sustainability hack to extend the life of garments while infusing newness.

As Seea seeks to design more mindfully of our impact on the environment, we immediately felt a kinship with Terumi’s philosophy about making sustainable choices in her everyday life. Between seaside road trips, and climbing adventures we caught up with her to talk about surfing in New York and the biggest mistakes she’s learned from. 

Photos by François Lebeau.

Terumi wears the Carmel 2mm Yulex Spring Suit in Cocoa made out of natural rubber and recycled materials. 

Walk us through a typical day in NY. 

What I love about my work is how different the day to day is, so there isn’t a super “typical” day. But I can walk you through my ideal day in NY! I wake up early, make myself a matcha latte, and take Pasta (my puppy) to the park for off-leash hours where she runs free with her dog friends. I get home, grab my suit and board, hop on the A train to the Far Rockaways, and go for a surf at Beach 67 street. My girlfriends are usually out there too, and we laugh and cheer each other on. Sometimes we will throw in beach sprints and ab workouts when the surf is too mushy!

After surfing, I hop back on the subway from the beach into Downtown Brooklyn (which itself is one of NYC’s best amenities). I’ll smarten up, throw on a whimsical vintage outfit, head to meetings, maybe go to a casting or a shoot. After a day’s work, I head my favorite bouldering gym, GP-81, and climb and train with friends. Once I get home, my partner and I take Pasta out for evening off-leash hours, and that’s our family time to catch up and share stories from our workdays. I like my days to be long and busy, and I like to be mentally and physically exhausted before I go to sleep each night. That is the key to my happiness :)

"This suit is my favorite! First off, the Yulex is really warm. It’s a 2mm suit, but I was fine in California Spring temperatures when most other surfers were in full 3.2mm suits! I also felt like water didn’t flush through as much and that the backside stayed put—none of that wedgie nonsense!" Terumi wears the Carmel 2mm Yulex Spring Suit in Cocoa.

Surfing seems like a big part of your life and friendships. Tell us more about your California Coast trip with your friend François!

My two favorite ways to bond with people are over food or outdoor adventure. François and I met at a climbing gym in Montréal eleven years ago and have been best friends ever since. He’s the kind of friend you call to tell about an exciting new job, a really tough day, or a really stupid funny story. I wanted to have him answer this question: 

Francois: We’ve known each other for a few years, and since day one, she is always down to do cool projects. The energy she emanates is contagious and it pushes you to commit to what you’re doing. The California coast trip was something I wanted to do for a little while and the stars aligned because she was visiting California at the perfect time. Everything was awesome, even though we weren’t in the high season for the biggest swells.

We found some breaks with awesome waves against the odds. One of the highlights of the trip was roaming in the van until dusk, taking in the beautiful landscape, not knowing where I'm gonna sleep. We did this in Big Sur and enjoyed the day until the very end. After seeing the last light set on the Pacific horizon, we found a quiet spot to sleep and left the next morning at first light for our next break! 

What does it mean to be a sustainable stylist and why did you make the choice to focus your work with sustainable brands/vintage clothing? 

When I saw the movie, "Toy Story" as a kid for the first time, I thought to myself, “my clothes have their own stories, personalities, and lives too!” I’ve always had a deep respect and soft spot in my heart for clothing. The thought of throwing away something that can be reused makes me sad, and I find a lot of joy in rediscovering the beauty of secondhand clothing. 

Styling secondhand takes more time and creative problem solving, no doubt. But because you spend more time and energy figuring out how to execute a specific vision with discarded pieces, you end up engaging more deeply with the concept and the elements. I’ve learned that styling secondhand forces me to understand a project in a much more profound and holistic way because you can’t just “paint by numbers” and pull whatever clothes are on the mood board. 

How do surfing and your love for the outdoors tie into your work sustainable fashion?

Surfing, climbing, skiing, and just being in the outdoors is at the core of my identity. In many ways, I feel like the outdoors was a third parent to me, teaching me about humility, compassion for all life, and toughness. The initial connection to sustainability for me was obvious—it’s easy to see the human impact on the environment first hand when you’re out adventuring and you see litter, pollution, erosion, and ecological damage.

Being in nature—along with the purest joy that it gave me—inspired a larger sense of responsibility to the planet and all of its people. I realized that sustainability also meant balance and justice because all beings play an equally important and beautiful role for the planet to thrive. Sustainability (environmental and social) became a guiding principle in all of my interests, and I decided four years ago to completely stop buying new clothing. I’ve been 100% secondhand (except for underwear!) ever since, and use vintage or upcycled clothing whenever I can in my styling jobs. I love working with companies like Seea who use recycled fabrics in their collections, we need more companies like you!

Terumi wears the Aura Pant in Ivory with an oversized hand-me-down cashmere sweater. "This sweater is a surprisingly amazing post-surf layer because it doesn’t absorb water from my wet hair and get all soggy–and it’s soo cozy and warm!" 

Reflecting on the past few years, what mistakes did you make in your career? 

I love this question because learning from failures is underrated! As far as mistakes in my career, I’d say that I didn’t learn to collaborate with women until much later in my career. I know times are changing fast, but when I first joined the workforce, it felt like there was a quota for women (especially women of color), and therefore other women were competitors, not teammates.

I had it all wrong! Competing against each other was just another way to ensure that sexism keeps working, and I have since learned that helping each other out and pushing each other forward is how we disrupt and overcome discrimination. women, people of color, LGBTQ other marginalized groups are still undervalued and underrepresented in many spaces, yet these voices are the ones the world needs most right now! 

Terumi wears the Billie Jumpsuit in Turmeric with her own pre-loved shirt. 

What mistakes did you make in your friendships that you learned from?  

Also glad you asked about mistakes I’ve made in friendships because I think many of you in the surf and outdoor world can relate. 

I can’t say that I always had a healthy relationship with nature and sports. I used to use it as an escape, a beautiful and societally justifiable excuse to avoid facing the emotional or psychological challenge. There was a point where I cared more about skiing, climbing, surfing, and adrenaline highs more than I cared about my family, friends, and future. I wasn't there for people who needed me, and I wasn't there to even listen to my other creative and intellectual needs.  

Eventually, I hit a few lows, including some injury that always slows me down and makes me question everything. I knew I needed to expand my thinking, and I forced myself to turn my energy towards other people instead of me-me-me all the time. It was through listening to other people's stories, learning about the pains and joys outside of my own little world, and feeling empathy with people completely different from myself. Through all of my experiences with nature–play, love, obsession, fear, challenge, injury, and humility–I am so grateful that it has provided me the space in which to grow and learn. 

When I feel myself getting a bit too single-track minded with a sport, I know it’s time to back off a bit. I make time for friends and family, have fun with other hobbies like cooking or reading, and allow myself to appreciate and enjoy a change of scenery once and awhile. After all, balance is everything! 

Where is your next dream adventure trip and why?

My next dream adventure trip will be to Spain and Portugal with my six best girlfriends next spring! We have an annual tradition of taking an all-girls adventure trip together, and it’s the highlight of each year! We will go climbing and surfing in the mornings, and spent the days exploring the towns and amazing cuisine and art!

What’s your advice for anyone that wants to live more sustainably?

Start with baby steps that make sense for you and your life! Don’t be intimidated because your sustainable efforts don’t look like someone else’s. Sustainability does not look the same for everyone :) As you build momentum, you can up the ante and keep getting better!

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