Humans were born to change. We grow. We learn. We move. Yet in today’s climate crisis, change is the single biggest threat to life on Earth. Peter Dupont is the 23-year old Danish model and activist harnessing the beauty in change by marrying mankind’s innate receptiveness with a direct call to action. Driven by a fierce sense of purpose, Peter co-launched non-profit company Dura Solutions last year to light a fire under the conversation around climate change and encourage others to take action, for it is through words that action follows.
Photographed by Jessica Mahaffey through the drizzle of east London, Peter is the hope and the grounding that we need. Stylist Nathan Henry frames the young model in neutral tones whilst thick knits cushion the blow as the season begins to turn. Natural daylight softly illuminates Peter, and we discover the understated determination of a man on a mission to help change the world.
Originally a student of city planning and climate sciences before being scooped up by agents on a chance encounter in Berlin, Peter tells me that his goal of fighting the climate crisis hasn’t changed. "My way of getting there maybe has a little bit", he smiles. Now represented by IMG Models and a household name at Dior, Peter is using his rapidly growing platform in the fashion world and beyond to support environmentally active organisations and help raise awareness. We delve deep into questions around sustainability within the fashion industry and how best to change the system. For if you can change the game you can change minds, and Dura’s first project, a sustainable t-shirt line titled No Hope for Our Kids, is doing just that.
You are rapidly building a name for yourself in the fashion world as a model, an entrepreneur and an activist. Tell me, who do you think Peter is?
I think I'm all of those, but I have identified with the ‘activist’ part the longest. Since I was 13-14 I have been involved in the political-DIY scene and campaigned around different political matters. It’s something that I always knew I would do and needed to do: organise and help organise action around matters that are urgent to me. Whether that was doing communal kitchens to help refugees or mass direct action to shut down power plants. I have organised football tournaments against racism for my community and around Christiania. Being involved from such a young age helped develop a skill set that I'm now using in building my company: I can organise and keep stuff together, but also build a company with an ethical spine.
The whole model thing started two years ago. It’s quite new still, but it gives me a platform that I can use to put all of this out there. It’s something I never thought about or sought, it just kind of happened when I was in Berghain in Berlin.
In what other ways has your childhood shaped the person you are today?
My parents were really good at giving me freedom with responsibility. So, I was allowed to do a lot of stuff - even though they knew what I was up to, they kind of gave me space to do it, which developed a curiosity and confidence that I feel is very much part of my personality. I owe that part to them.
Were your parents involved in the activist scene as well?
My dad is quite theoretical - he is a university teacher and very into books etcetera so he would introduce me to these things and challenge me. My mum has always been involved in activism around communal spaces and in student movements when she was younger, as well as the whole squatter movement in Denmark. So yeah, I come from a political background. Same as my older brother, he is involved in it all too.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by a lot of different things. A lot of it comes from people I meet through my job. But in fashion, I'm really inspired by Kim Jones and Lulu Kennedy because of the things that they have achieved - and what they're doing on a professional level is so magical.
You have a close working relationship with Kim Jones. How did that evolve?
So I worked with Kim on his last Vuitton show and we clicked. We were talking about Denmark because he has quite a strong relationship with Denmark, and we spoke about Japan because we both love it there. We easily found common ground and had a lot to talk about and it just went from there.
Our recent AW19 print issue is centred on ‘glede’ which is Norwegian for ‘happiness’. What does happiness mean to you?
I mean in general, it’s about all the clichés! Being around good people, spending time with my friends. I really like to cook. I value nature - I go hiking a lot and try to do as much stuff outside as possible. I always like to be physical. So moving - whether that's dancing, boxing, hiking or climbing. That’s always been important for me to be happy and feel good in my body.
Do you think glede is a destination or a continuous search?
I think it's a continuous search. I think everything keeps evolving - for me at least, I don't think that there's an end goal. It’s more about this road that leads somewhere, then you find a new road and follow that. You might eventually go back onto the road you were first on, but it's not an end destination, for sure.
Dura Solutions’ first project has been a series of t-shirts made from recycled cotton and plastic bottles. Where are these sourced from? Can you talk me through the whole process?
So, the first project we've been doing in India. We had a bit of a discussion around that because obviously, a lot of people try to make sustainable clothing closer to Europe, in factories that are closer to wherever they ship from. But we think that it's important to work with places that are traditionally involved in textile production, like India and Bangladesh. Areas where this is a big part of the country's logistics. Supporting a project in an area that works on a sustainable level and has fair work relations is super important. We found a factory that we trust – we read all their reports and looked into what they do and how they produce. There was a long back and forth but they produced t-shirts that are of really good quality.
What kind of organisations do you support through Dura Solutions?
For this first project, we're working with World Land Trust which is a save-the-rainforest alliance that go in and support projects in areas that protect natural habitats. They either buy these places or plant trees and work to preserve the area. It’s really important for us to work with these organisations because they're vital in the climate crisis: they're working on the front lines and are very hands-on. But more important than the project itself is the need to create awareness and have people talking - to create a platform. We’ve been working with other friends that are models: they wear the t-shirt at a shoot and people start talking about it. Now they actually have a way of communicating these things that they care about, whereas before they didn't know how to get into the conversation.
How do you choose which on-the-ground organisations to support in such a saturated field?
It depends on who we do the collab with for the t-shirt. With the first one, for example, we worked with Lulu Kennedy’s 5-year old daughter, Rainbow. So it was important for us to pick something that she could support and understand. Saving natural habitats is something that is universal, so it was an easy choice. For the next one, we are working with the collaborators and figuring out which organisation suits them the best: what they want to do and how radical-political they want to be. There's a lot of different things going on and we could come at it from a lot of different angles.
What has the reception for Dura Solutions been like?
It's been way better than I thought. People are really supportive. During fashion week people were stopping me on the street. These young models that I don't know at all would be like, "Oh, you're that guy doing this, it’s so cool. Can you tell me about it?". I've been really happy with those experiences because it shows me that people care. People want to have something that they can wear and talk about, and it actually works. I was a bit worried about the whole ‘model doing a clothing line’ thing. It’s kind of stigmatised - it sounds quite stupid. But that hasn't actually happened with Dura. I think that's because what we are doing is different; we’re not just making jewellery or something like that. I think it's beautiful. We're doing something very real.
Do you feel there is a desire for change within the industry, from the inside out?
Oh yeah. I think everybody wants to change it right now because it's such an urgent subject. But I think that we also need to draw a line between what is fast fashion and the brands we’ve been working with, for example. As you’re aware, the fashion industry can play a huge role in changing all of this and also has big ideas about how to change. But there may be big retailers that have a different approach.
That’s interesting. A lot of people may not necessarily see the differences within the industry: they just see the fashion industry being a problem as a whole.
There is quite a big divide. And especially in who is driving the change. There's a lot of interesting people right now working with sustainability in high fashion, like GmbH. They are doing it in a way that's really interesting and very cool, whilst being real about it.
The world of fast fashion has certainly transformed over the last year. Boohoo has introduced a new ‘for the future’ collection made from recycled clothes. Fundamentally, however, they are a company that promotes rapid consumption. Is there a danger that brands are simply using sustainability as a greenwash?
I don’t think we should point fingers at individual fast fashion companies - it doesn’t make sense - because there’s a whole industry built around it. Fast fashion has to end full stop. It's not sustainable at all. It’s not a way of business that works - even companies admit that and are trying to transform because it's not a business model that works due to overproduction.
But fast fashion companies tapping into this ‘trend’ of what they think climate movement is, is not how it should be. There's a lot of young people involved now, and brands want to tap into that and maybe go green, but it should be a core principle in their structure. It should be how all companies from now on works. It's what all companies should transform into because if we don't, we face mass extinction.
Are you hopeful that the industry will change?
I think it will change because it has to. Already now we're seeing stuff happening that is changing people's minds about how the climate crisis is affecting us. Japan had the same rainfall that Denmark has in a year yesterday. It's totally flooded. 7 million people have been evacuated. That is not normal at all. And these things will keep on happening.
We should demand transparency. Because as soon as we see the numbers: Burberry burnt millions of items of clothing and have come out now, admitting that it's bad. People change their minds. So transparency is a key factor. And then in general, demanding that politicians should regulate and legislate clothing in the same way we do with logistics and food. There should be laws around how clothing is produced, how it’s sold and so on.
What was the plan prior to modelling?
I studied geography with a focus on climate science. So, my plan was to work within city planning with a climate science perspective, because we have to change our cities and the way we build them. It’s a big part of fighting the climate crisis. That was the plan, and my direction hasn't really changed - I'm still working on that. My way of getting there has maybe changed a little bit.
I noticed from your Instagram that you're a keen mountaineer. Tell me about that passion.
As I said, spending time in the outdoors has always been very important to me. My mum would always take me hiking and skiing, and that evolved into mountaineering. We climbed a mountain together, the highest mountain in Norway when I was around 15. I think it's 2400 metres which is an alright height but it's not huge...
What is the feeling of having just scaled a mountain?
Tired! You feel very small in a big landscape.
We touched on happiness earlier. On the flip side of the coin, what makes you sad?
When people are weak, and by that, I don’t mean vulnerable, but when people do not stand up for others: when they kick downwards. That's what I see as a weakness and that is upsetting to me.
Do you think there's a correlation between mental health and social media?
Yeah, definitely. I grew up when the Internet was slowly starting, and I'm severely affected by it! I can't imagine what it’s like being a kid now that it’s running full speed. I’m affected by social media and how it works. Both in a good way and a bad way. On the one hand, it's a really fun thing to do. It's a fun platform: you meet people and see things and get inspired. A friend of mine uses it to address mental illness, and I think I could have used that actually, as a kid. I have a lot of friends affected by mental illness and it would have been nice to have a place to talk about that. So that part of it is amazing. But on the other hand, it puts pressure on a lot of people. Especially if you're not part of a ‘cool’ group, it’s terrible.
What are your thoughts on masculinity and self-expression?
I think it's changed a lot and for the better. I don't really see stuff as gender-based. It’s old. As I said, I started climbing and mountaineering - which might be seen as a ‘masculine’ thing - because of my mum. I ride motorcycles as well, another ‘masculine’ thing, but I started that because of my friend’s mum. People should be whoever they want to be. And if you don't agree with that, you're definitely not on my team.
The system is changing, but that’s also where we are in the world. There are places in the world where it's changing slowly, and some other places where it’s actually going backwards.
How do you think we can change the system for the better?
I think we need to focus less on gender. We need to applaud people for doing their thing well and making space for others. But we also need to look into why it is easier for men than it is for women to do certain things, and then give everyone the same level of opportunities. Whether that’s an economical thing like equal pay or a cultural aspect.
I'm actually going to a talk next week on whether climate change is a feminist issue or not. And that's really interesting, I had never thought about how these different issues intersect in such a way before.
Yes, definitely. Especially if you look at where the climate crisis will affect first. There’s a belt across the globe - South America, Sub Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia - which are going to be heavily affected. In all these places, it is going to impact women more because they have another role in society.
What is one personal goal or challenge you'd like to overcome this year?
We are working on a lot of stuff with Dura Solutions at the moment in addition to some exciting projects across other platforms. The things I’m learning from Dura are presenting me with a lot of interesting challenges and problems that I’m looking forward to trying to solve, together with a lot of people around me. I can’t wait to share some of these ideas and solutions with everyone else.
So, what is the ultimate dream?
I would like to work on the stuff that I'm doing right now and succeed with that… I think that's already happening. I have an idea about starting acting. In general, right now I'm working towards more personal things. Modelling has been a really fun platform, but it’s never been a dream of mine. I’m now trying to figure out the ultimate dream - and acting may be a part of that.
If you had one message for aspiring activists, what would it be?
It would be: there is always a solution out there. And if you don't know it, somebody definitely will. So get organised!