As soon as I arrived in college, I subscribed to Vogue (using a postcard!) and eagerly waited my issue each month. During those years (2005-2009), Tom Ford was a god of fashion, and his full-page ads of Tom Ford Black Orchid were so hot they made me blush just by looking in my dorm room. It goes without saying I doused myself in the perfume on my first nights out as a young woman. Tom Ford was pure sex, luxury, glamour, but with class. Something that mid-2000s Tom Ford didn’t espouse, however, was sustainability or any kind of compassion. My Ford obsession faded as my personal style evolved to reflect my values.
Imagine my—and the fashion world’s—surprise when the mega designer came out as vegan in early 2018, explaining that his good friend Stella McCartney encouraged him. He had then confessed that he did cheat occasionally with non-vegan treats, and then he was banishing fur from his brand but keeping leather for the time being. It appears as though Ford’s activism for the animals and nature has developed further since then. He has just announced the launch of his Ocean Plastics watch made of recycled ocean plastic, as well as a $1 million Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize, which seeks to discover and implement a scalable solution to flexible single-use plastic. Woah.
Ford became alarmed by our plastic crisis five years ago, when he saw actor and activist Adrien Grenier talk about straws in our oceans. “I remember thinking, This is silly. What’s a straw? But then I thought, Oh, that makes a lot of sense: They’re a problem and they’re something we can cut out,” Ford told Vogue. He swapped out metal straws for plastic ones in his morning coffee and replaced Evian bottles with glass bottles. “I told everyone at home and everyone at the office we’re getting rid of all single-use plastic,” he notes. Side bar: when Tom Ford tells you to get rid of plastic, you get rid of plastic.
Ford became acutely aware of how “every single thing you buy is packaged, single-use plastic,” and how his own industry is contributing massive amounts of damage. “It’s endless. And once your brain is keyed into that, you see it everywhere.” He decided to create the Tom Ford Ocean Plastic Watch made of 100% ocean plastic to do something with our existing plastic—because even if you pick up plastic litter from the oceans, it’s not going anywhere unless we burn it or turn it into something else.
The watch features a striking black face with white letters, and a woven black watch strap. Each watch takes out 35 plastic bottles out of the ocean—a surprisingly large amount, since my ocean plastic sneakers by Adidas took out about 10 bottles. At a $995 price tag, I imagine this watch will appeal to the top 1%—and for once, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. “They’re not going to buy it just because it’s more sustainable, and to be honest they’re not going to not buy it because it’s not sustainable,” Ford says like the incredibly smart businessman that he is. To me, this says the uber-rich will buy what strikes their fancy no matter what—and so long as they will, it’s better that something eco is on offer. And isn’t it better if it goes to fund an innovation prize?
Ford is partnering with Grenier and 52HZ, the advisory firm behind the Lonely Whale, on the innovation prize. The winner will be chosen in 2022, and by 2025, the project will be brought to market. Ford is especially excited about finding an eco alternative to the polybag, a thin plastic bag used to wrap every single item of garment from factory to warehouse to store.
No one can accuse Ford of being naive, and he says that “we’re a capitalist culture. […] The ultimate thing that pushes us [is] changing laws.” At the same time, he believes he is making a difference with his watch. “As far as I know it’s the first timepiece made from ocean plastic. It’s inventive and I’m really proud of it. It’s like a straw—it’s a start.”
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Photo: Tom Ford