Our fearlessly cool leader Greg Alterman recently sat down with the multi-talented Teresa Herrera—model, actress and activist, among other things—to talk about her work with the Global Mala Project. Teresa produces the Manila chapter of GMP, an organization which uses yoga as peace in action. By obtaining sponsorship and collecting donations, the GMP raises funds and awareness for global issues. All proceeds are donated to environmental organizations such as Trees for the Future and Tubbataha Foundation for marine conservation. Greg and Teresa sit, grass-sprawled, on a sunny California day...
Teresa: Hey, I got some killer socks too.
Greg: I don't know what it is about socks these days, but they've made a pretty big comeback. Tell me about the moccasins you've got going here, T.
Teresa: You wanna hear the story of these shoes?
Greg: You know it.
Teresa: Well, in 2008, I was in Thailand for a magazine shoot and the photographer and I decided to take a boat across to a little island for a full moon party and I found these boots while partying on the beach from a ladyboy. Is that the right term? So I said hey, I love your shoes, where can I get them? And he says, well you're in luck because I have a store nearby. So he takes me to this store at 4 in the morning, this little shack that was off the beaten bath. And in the wee hours of the morning he grins and tells me to choose any moccasins I would like. It was one of those experiences you never forget.
Greg: Boots with a story… I love it. So how long have I known you, T? About 6 years now?
Teresa: You know it.
Greg: And in all this time, you have never ceased to amaze me. You are a one-of-a-kind person, leading a bi-continental life, and always marching to the beat of your own drum. You're constantly immersing yourself in all kinds of hobbies, pursuits, interests, professions… the list is endless. You seem like this kind of eternal world traveler. Tell me a bit about your charity work and how that plays a part in your life.
Teresa: Well, I'm from the Philippines and I come from a family where it is important to give back. Whoever you are, whatever you too, there is nothing more humbling that contributing to a cause or to those less fortunate. My grandmother was a healer and instilled these values in me from a young age. She taught me to find a cause that I believe in and that I support wholeheartedly. I believe it healthy to find that balance as a person… because it keeps you sane, keeps you real. For me personally, I produce the Manila chapter of an event called Global Mala Project. Over 150 cities in 35 countries all over the world participate. We partner up with different corporations for sponsorship and even take donations throughout the day. We use yoga as peace in action. We offer all-day yoga for the price of one class and all of the proceeds go to environmental organizations such as Trees for the Future, which spearhead tree-planting projects all over the world, and Tubbataha Foundation, a marine conservation organization. We're smaller, grassroots, and based out of Puerto Princesa in the Philippines. Our foremost mission is to protect the marine parks. Because the country is an archipelago, there are over 3,100 islands in which it is comprised of… thus the majority of our environmental issues stem from the sea. Being overfished is one concern. Another is dynamite fishing. This organization not only helps protect the reefs, but it also facilitates in educating the young kids in local schools, as they are the ones growing up to become the next fishermen of their generation. Our goal is to educate these young minds and to teach them to fish in a sustainable way. Dynamite fishing may generate mass results in the short-run, but in the long-run, you are killing off the fish populations for the next two decades. These locals aren't aware of the potential damage that arises as a result of such drastic fishing measures. Thus, our ultimate purpose is to generate awareness for the future of the fishing livelihood in our country. Longevity is key.
Greg: Yes, awareness is the first step. This is a great thing you are doing. And because the population is ever-growing and there are so many people to feed now, it is so important to be earth-conscious, always thinking about the consequences of your actions, on both an ethical and environmental level. It is really about a lifestyle choice.
Teresa: Yes, we all have to do our parts. Just like you, Greg. You have integrated this into your brand of clothing, something I personally admire. I believe it to be the core identity of what you do and who you guys are.
Greg: Yes. We strive to do our part when it comes to sustainable cottons, recycled plastics, recycled polyester yarn, etc. and are only expanding.
Teresa: And one of the things I've really noticed with your clothing is that there is always an awareness factor involved.
Greg: Definitely. We are trying to bring community awareness into our brand to show that we are real people living day-to-day lives, trying to do good and give back. It's one of the reasons why I'm talking to you today, T. I know you are one of these kinds of people, likeminded and forward-thinking. It's admirable.
Teresa: Thank you, Greg. That means a great deal coming from you.
Greg: What would you say makes you different from the norm? What are you doing to not take the path of least resistance? Something that is true to you...
Teresa: Right off the bat, I would say, I don't like being comfortable.
Teresa: Meaning, the moment I am in a comfort zone, I feel I become creatively stagnant. So I always like to put myself in situations that make me uncomfortable. Whether you call it facing your fears or being challenged, or whatever. These are the things that catalyze my personal growth. And for me, those are the situations I am interested in. For example, in the Philippines, I had the best rated show, I was at the top of my game, and I had endless contacts… Yet, I decided to move back to LA. Why? Because it's a challenging environment. You can only up your game if you are playing with the best players.
Greg: That's a very interesting word choice. "Uncomfortable." Because at the very root of the DNA of Alternative Apparel, we strive for people to be comfortable. So it's ironic that you chose that one word, "comfortable."
Teresa: It's more of a life philosophy.
Greg: I know exactly what you mean, T. You are comfortable with who you are, with your choice in clothing, and all of that. But you are always seeking the next level and conquering the next obstacle.
Teresa: Exactly. I'm constantly searching for new opportunities and new challenges.
Greg: You do seem comfortable with who you are. Living in a world where people tend to get too comfortable, they do fall victim of simply existing and nothing more. But Teresa, I have to say that you are one of those people that continue to push, to seek, to strive for more, never settling. You want everything the world has to offer- constantly learning of new places, new cultures, new ideas and incorporating this into the woman that sits before me today.
Teresa: I gotta keep it fresh! Here is the starting point, the seed if you will…I'm a naturally curious person, every since I was a little girl, I was constantly exploring the world and wanted to learn about everything I could. But with school, education, conformity, they try to get you on this path, on this 9-5 train so to speak, and that wasn't for me. What brought it to the forefront for me the most was when my father passed away. I was only 24 years old and my father was young as well. He didn't get to experience a lot of things he wanted to experience. So I told myself this: life is short—live it. Period. And I mean in all aspects- traveling, trying new restaurants, learning a new language, meeting new people, throwing yourself out of your comfort zone like I just touched on, everything and anything you can do to live, I mean really live. I have met the most interesting people that way, including my mentor, Jeffery Deitch. Jeffrey is currently my guide in the art world. It's something I am very passionate about. You know, I was originally supposed to pursue painting and sculpture at Parsons. I have always been a creative person and at the time I was torn between performing or staying visual. But now I'm trying to figure out a way to merge the two.
Greg: Well you are on a nice path for that. You have a lot of interesting history that you are building for yourself. You have a strong foundation and a following, no less.
Teresa: I just like to share. If I find something interesting to the point of telling others than who knows, maybe it could spark the same kind of interest for other people. The possibilities are endless.
Greg: I just wanted to talk a moment about the timeline of your life- from school, to the modeling world and how that has led you to become to host of Project Runway Philippines and so forth. Anyway you could give us an abridged version of that?
Teresa: Well I was just a normal kid, graduating high school-
Greg: No way. You were not normal.
Teresa: I was! Baby fat, the works! So my mom moved back to the Philippines and I went to visit her one summer and just like that, I was discovered. And I don't come from a family of acting or performing so I never knew that was an option. At that age, my next option was school. I was 17 and offered my first commercial, having no experience whatsoever. Then one thing led to another and I was working all over Asia- Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, then back to the Philippines. I was given a tremendous opportunity. After 3 years of this, I asked myself, so what's next? As I said before, I like to always challenge myself, even if it means entering into a mentally uncomfortable place. How can I step up, I wondered? So I decided to move back to LA to study acting and performing. After a year of hard work, I got an agent and suddenly I was doing commercials, television and film. Meanwhile I was still going back and forth to Asia, as I will always have a footprint there. My family is there and it is my home. Then about 3 years ago I was offered to host Project Runway Philippines… and I said, sure! Another challenge was presented and I took it!
Greg: Let me get your thoughts on one more issue, Teresa. Since the ocean is such an integral part of your charity work and your home country, I wanted to know where you stood on a major problem in the ocean today, and that is plastic. The krill-to-plastic ratio is something like 10:1-10 being plastic, 1 being krill. This is something that is problem beyond anyone's imagination or comprehension. The photos do not even being to divulge the harm that this is causing our planet.
Teresa: I know, Greg. There is a mound of plastic in the ocean the size of an entire island, something that many people are not even aware of. It's something that makes me sad and something that makes me angry. To think that our world does not respect the ocean (when over 70% of our world is comprised of the ocean) is something that I cannot wrap my head around. It is truly shocking. This is why I do everything in my power to bring awareness to issues like this. I am very vocal about it. Destroying the ocean is something I take personally. Preserving the environment is something extremely important to me because if we don't take care of our environment, who else will? The power lies in us.
Greg: Spot on. It's key for people like you to aid in awareness of issues as such, especially when it affects the world as a collective body. Well it's been a pleasure, Teresa. Thank you for the privilege of getting to know you on another level, allowing me to ask you questions that you can share with others; and with hope, to inspire, propel and motivate other likeminded individuals to constantly seek their own challenges and to live as you do.