Shailene Woodley Opens Up About Her Mission to Protect the Environment

At the height of what could have been a low-key, Netflix-and-banana-bread winter in quarantine, Shailene Woodley was instead on a plane. Four, actually. That’s what it took for her to land in Patagonia to meet a relative stranger, Thomas Kimber, who had sent her this proposition: Would she like to partner in reimagining ocean plastics into sunglasses? (When you’re on a mission to save the planet, Zoom just won’t do.) Intrigued, she Googled him and set up the call that clinched the collaboration — and this 20-hour, masked-up odyssey to the heart of the South American rain forest.

“The first conversation we had, we were finishing each other’s sentences in a way that I had never experienced,” says Shailene. “Our ideas on what a future world could look like were so similar.” The longtime nature evangelist was fresh from a Greenpeace mission on which she traveled many nautical miles off the coast of nowhere in the Sargasso Sea to quantify the microplastics floating therein. Kimber’s company, Karün, upcycles fishing nets and other castoffs into slick eyewear, like the rectangular prescription glasses Shailene wears to effortless-hip effect.

“Those microplastics — there’s no way we will ever clean them up,” she says of the enormity of recouping the millions of metric tons estimated to be floating in the Atlantic’s top layer alone. “No matter how many eyeglasses we make. No matter how many other material goods we create using them.” But she and Kimber have an alternative goal. The partnership is really an act of radical kindness, “of inviting the world to see things from a different point of view in which we are one with nature,” as Kimber puts it. Says Shailene: “What we can change is consuming that plastic in the first place. I’m always much more focused on the human side of the environmentalist mission because until we address that, nothing will happen.”

With more than 20 years in Hollywood under her belt, Shailene has always seemed to veer from the win-at-Instagram playbook you might expect a megawatt star her age (29) would follow. She still carries a flip phone, in fact. So it makes sense that she spent the past year hands-on with the movement to give our oceans the ultimate detox. Oh, and she was also making movies, and getting the guy of her dreams. Her new film, The Last Letter From Your Lover (debuting on Netflix on July 23), is an eye-candy romance with some gravitas twists that lands as just the escapism we could use right now. “Our classic stories of love at first sight and soulmate kind of love are just not something a lot of people get to experience,” she says.

Only, some do — which brings us to her engagement to star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “Starting a relationship where you immediately move in with someone — because it’s a pandemic and you can’t just get on a plane and go back and forth on weekends — taught us a lot about each other very quickly,” she says. “We jumped in headfirst and got some of the sticky bits out of the way early.” It’s not something Shailene foresaw in those first dark days of lockdown. “I was by myself with my dog and didn’t see anyone for three months,” she says. “It forced me to be still and quiet.” The captive introspection was “really uncomfortable” but worthwhile.

Seven months later, she and Rodgers would be hunkered down together in Montreal, she on the set of her next film, he binge-watching Jeopardy to prepare for a two-week stint as host. It helped that they could jell without the speed of their regularly scheduled lives, Shailene says, “but I have the perspective that I would have met Aaron in any context, any space in time, because I feel we were meant to be together.”

It doesn’t hurt that Rodgers is also an environmentalist — who happens to favor the aviators in the Karün by Shailene Woodley collection. As the shades were selling out just weeks after launch, we caught up with Shailene and Kimber in Los Angeles. Pull up a chair for a couple of inspiring takeaways.

Her moves for a healthy headspace.

“One thing I really prioritize is sleep, and it has changed my life genuinely. Another is focusing on how I can nurture and help my self-talk. When I notice negative self-talk hap­pening, how I can sit with it and be friends with it instead of constantly feeling I’m in this rat race of not good enough, not this enough. Becoming a witness to it instead of a victim to it has also dramatically improved my health.

“Plus, I use astrology: It’s simply a tool to give ourselves permission, to accept ourselves and understand ourselves more. The minute I understand that I was built to think this way, instead of judging myself for it, I have acceptance for myself. It’s an allowance to have more self-compassion.” (Related: Why You Should Reconsider Astrology Even If You Think It’s Fake)

Shailene: “I was raised by two psychologists, so empathy was a big deal in our household. Everything was about trying to understand everyone else’s experience. Not necessarily agreeing with it, but having empathy for whatever they were going through. From there, I looked at nature and the natural world the same way.

“I don’t want to save the ocean because my mind says it’s the right thing to do. I want to save the ocean because I can feel that she’s suffering. I can feel that turtle drowning from the plastic in its belly. I can feel the temperatures rising on the algae that is killing other species. For me, everything is based in feeling and emotion. I’m a progressive, and I want to change the world — I feel a responsibility to try to do everything I possibly can to make things feel a little better.” (BTW, shopping for sustainable activewear is one easy way to reduce your impact.)

Kimber: “A wise friend of mine says that if we want to make a change, the first thing we need to do is connect with the pain of the world. It’s from that feeling, not from logical thinking, that you will be driven to do whatever to make happen. I definitely relate to that so much.”

Shailene: “So much of what people are doing today is fighting against, and standing against, something. That’s important obviously because it helps educate us and helps awareness. But what I’m really interested in is: What if we completely take ourselves out of the narrative of “I’m against oil and gas, and I’m against these things,” and just start building new systems and new foundations that are in alignment with all the things we want to create. I believe that offers more inspiration and easier, quicker access to the change we all seek.”

Kimber: “I’ve always seen companies — in my case, Karün — as a tool to make change. I don’t mean recycling. We’re aiming to have millions of people wearing our eyewear, because they’re going to start reflecting. That reflection, that questioning, is going to make them question many other things.

“We’re taught that companies are a means to get more financial profits. I just couldn’t believe that. Because when you define a company like that, it means that everyone who works in a company needs to use all their life, energy, intelligence, and time toward one goal, which is giving more money to the shareholders of the company. That’s when negative external things come in, like choosing to pay low wages and use synthetic materials. But if we understand that human beings are just one more living thing, you change that perception, not only of business but of what our priorities are as people in this world.” (Related: 11 Sustainable Activewear Brands Worth Breaking a Sweat In)

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