Talking Clean and Eco Living with Braina Laviena
Talking Clean and Eco Living with Braina Laviena
Puerto Rico-born, Los Angeles-based photographer, model and wellness guru, Braina Laviena shares a tea with WestwoodWestwood and discusses all things clean and eco-friendly: fashion, food, skincare and more — and let’s us in on the sappy secret behind her hand tattoo.
Do you differentiate between when you’re modeling and when you’re getting your portrait taken?
Modeling is different because it’s not about me. When its about me, I get weird. I don’t know how to explain it. When you model you have a team: a hair stylist, makeup artist, stylist. I’m serving this purpose and it’s something that is separate from me. But when it’s about me, I feel really weird.
When you’re getting your photo taken as a model you’re being given direction? Is that the difference?
Not necessarily. I like moving a lot, I’m always doing weird poses and stuff. I really enjoy that part of modeling of doing whatever I want in that moment within the barriers that are established. I feel like a mannequin; it doesn’t necessarily have to be me — although I guess it’s different now because lately I’ve been getting hired on jobs for being me.
When did that start?
I don’t know? I guess it’s been a while.
Have things changed for you since transitioning from being a model, to being a bit more of a personality?
Yes definitely. There’s this difference in how people treat you. I definitely don’t think that’s right. You shouldn’t have to be a personality or whatever to be treated well. But there’s definitely a difference in the amount of respect that people give you, how able you are to speak up about something that might make you uncomfortable.
For example, because I’m vegan I now always request that there is no leather on set. But when I started, I couldn’t say that.
Because they didn’t respect your wishes.
And sometimes it still happens; the stylist will be very upset and be like, “The leather looks are the most important we can’t leave those out.” And I’ll just reiterate that I’m not comfortable with it.
Good for you.
There are so many brands like Telfar that do all this stuff with vegan leather. I don’t understand why it’s not more prevalent, faux leather — especially with vegetarian/vegan diets being so popular.
Vegan leather can sometimes be less sustainable than leather. I still wear leather shoes sometimes or like vegan purses if they’ve been gifted to me, because it’s been created I’ll at least honor its life, you know? But for the most part, I don’t like wearing big leather pieces. I don’t want to make the statement that leather is cool. I don’t believe that, so why would I pretend that I do for a shoot?
Yeah, that makes sense, especially now that you’re in a position of being a personality. Vegan leather is made from polyurethane, oil right?
Yeah, it’s mostly made from plastic. I mean, there are alternatives, like pineapple leather or recycled-plastic leather, which is more eco-friendly. But for the most part it’s polyurethane. If it’s recycled plastic it’s okay, because you’re honoring something that already exists. But if you’re using new plastic, it’s not eco-friendly.
We already have so much plastic.
Yeah, and it will exist forever. It’s like the lesser of two evils sometimes, you know?
Yeah, also, I just don’t want to hurt my buddies, animals.
I don’t understand how people can love dogs so much and still be totally fine with eating meat. And I think leather is a little bit of a lesser evil because at least you can wear a leather belt or a leather jacket for the rest of your life and hand it down to somebody else. It can last a century or longer. Whereas when you order a steak, it lasts for how long? It’s ridiculous.
Yeah, I think it’s just the cognitive dissonance that people have is really interesting; it makes no sense! At the same time, everyone is doing their best. If someone goes and volunteers at a shelter and then eats a burger, at least they’re caring about something. Not everyone can care about everything all the time; it’s a really hard thing to do. The more one chooses sustainable practices in everyday life, the easier it gets. It’s still a hard thing and it’s easy to beat yourself up when you do something that is not good.
What is the most difficult for you to stay on top of?
There’s so many things that I’m not doing well that I beat myself up about all the time. I use way too many skincare products that come in plastic packaging. I try my best to recycle them in the proper ways. I don’t compost yet, I don’t have a compost.
Oh I do that! It’s oddly satisfying.
I haven’t figured it out yet, I need to look more into it. Do you live in an apartment?
Yeah I live in New York. I keep a brown paper bag in my freezer and I fill it up and twice a week I bring it to the drop-off spot down the street and the city composts it.
Yeah, I guess I need to find a drop-off place. But my freezer is also so small I don’t know where I would put it.
I mean if you go twice a week, it’s not so bad. It’s good to start somewhere, especially if it’s close by.
That’s one of the things that I’ve been thinking about the most lately because obviously I’m vegan so I eat a lot of vegetables and most of the trash I produce is just food scraps that are compostable. So that’s one thing I definitely need to get on.
I’m pretty much all vegan, but I’m stuck on like dairy items: cheese, yogurt. I’ve started buying coconut yogurt, but it’s so pricey.
Have you tried making coconut yogurt?
No not yet. How hard is it?
It’s a bit time consuming. You buy the pills with the cultures in a powder and a whole coconut. You cut the coconuts, take the water out, then scrape out the meat. You put the meat in a blender and add the culture. Then you can add like honey or vanilla for flavoring or sweetness.
That’s so easy. I had no idea it was that simple.
The hardest part honestly is opening the coconuts. There’s a round part at the top of them that’s weaker. You just have to find it and cut into it. And you’re good.
Definitely trying that. So what caused you to become so interested in skincare?
It’s just something that I enjoy and it makes me feel good — like I’m caring for myself. But also the reason I got really into it is because at one point I developed an allergy to parabens, which are preservatives which are in everything.
When did you realize you were developing an allergy?
I had my hair shaved for three years and I was bleaching the little amount of hair I had on my head so the chemicals went onto my face a lot and I was also bleaching my eyebrows. The last couple of times I bleached my hair, tiny boils developed all over my face. So obviously I had to stop modeling for a couple months. I had to call my agent and be like something’s wrong with me; I need to figure out what’s happening.
That’s so stressful.
Yeah, and I thought initially it had been a food allergy; I didn’t even put two and two together. I thought that since I was bleaching my hair, it was making my skin sensitive to something else. I stopped using everything except for a face lotion and mask — both of which had parabens. I finally went to an allergist and got the full back allergy test.
What does that entail?
They test like 85 substances using drops on pieces of paper, which are taped to your back and kept there for three days. It was itchy and since it’s just taped to your back, you can’t shower for the duration of the test. So they found I was allergic to this paraben mix. There are maybe six different types of parabens and they have different names also.
So they have the word paraben in it?
There are the six different ones with paraben in the name, I think. But then if the formula is changed, even just a small amount, it can be named something else. That’s why it’s very tricky to navigate clean skincare. Or they can hide the parabens in the fragrance, which is listed on the bottle — if it’s a part of the fragrance, they don’t have to list it.
Because then they’re giving away some secret formula or something?
Yeah, so it’s really tricky. I go into this crazy research mode; I read so much months and months — researching all the possible names for parabens. Because I’m technically allergic to all parabens. Clean skincare is really interesting. It’s like potions for your face, like magic. When you take out the chemicals and unnecessary stuff, you realize it’s like food; it’s herbs that you’re mixing and putting on your face.
It must get easier all of the time to find the stuff you want.
Yeah you can get clean skincare brands at CVS and Target. There’s this new clean skincare brand that was launched by the people at WhoWhatWear called Verse and everything is under $20. All of the packaging uses minimal packaging to avoid wasteful materials.
What about the shelf life of these brands? Don’t they need preservatives?
That’s the thing; there are natural preservatives. They don’t need to be harmful chemicals. Like vitamin E, for instance, is a natural preservative. And also most skincare should be kept in the fridge — to extend its shelf life.
Tell me about your hand tattoo.
It says, “Your hand on my hand” and “To love,” in spanish. I got them right when I moved here. It’s kind of a cheesy, sob story. I’m a very emotional, dark person. There’s this poem I really love that says, “Your hand in my hand, wherever we go.” When I first moved here, I was really sad. I moved here by myself from Puerto Rico and I was really lonely. And you know it’s hard. People back home were cheering my on. So you don’t want to call them and tell them that you’re a failure. You have to put on a face and say that you’re doing great. I needed something to remember and to remind me that I’m okay. Maybe I’m alone in LA, but there are people that care about me. There’s someone out there that’d really love to hold my hand, or give me a hug. That reminded me that I was okay; I wasn’t alone.