HE SINGS and the world claps and dances and his style is emulated by youngsters
everywhere, but lately Pharrell Williams has been using his influence to galvanise the masses to support environmental causes. It was announced yesterday that he has become the style director for Woolworths, a collaboration that will see the star and the business align their values and actions to make a difference to people and the planet.
“We hope Pharrell will help us make sustainability cool for the next generation of South Africans and help us create a better future for our children,” said Ian Moir, chief executive of Woolworths.
It’s a cause Williams has wholeheartedly embraced. In an exclusive interview in Los Angeles for Independent Media, Williams reveals he became an eco-activist because he began to realise the importance of the environment. “You realise that this is your home,” he says.
“If you can tend your lawn, field or garden, you can tend the Earth because it is the biggest lawn we have. “It’s this big rock; it’s the only thing we have. It’s our biosphere, it’s where we live… we have to think about it,” says them musician and designer, who was not wearing the vintage Vivienne Westwood mountain hat he made famous but rather a dark green cap.
“To have a corporation like Woolworths understand that and for them to have the kind of matching initiative in South Africa, in the middle of that precious gem and continent… I have to be a part of that,” he says.
Williams is spoilt for choice when it comes to the number of people knocking on his door to work with him, so what does it take for him to lend his name to a corporation or collaborate with an artist?
He says he first examines their intentions and then asks himself whether he can contribute. “If I don’t feel like there is much I can add to it, I don’t want to get in anyone’s way,” he says.
As the creative director of Bionic Yarn, which makes ecologically sustainable yarns and fabrics from recycled plastics, he has helped forge eco collaborations with clothing manufacturers.
The biggest of these is RAW for the Oceans, an initiative that recycles plastic from the sea into G-Star denims. Addressing an event at the UN in New York last month to celebrate the International Day of Happiness, Williams highlighted the importance of
tackling climate change. He asked supporters to sign a petition to put pressure on world leaders to commit to climate action.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, he joined Nobel peace prize laureate Al Gore in announcing a Live Earth music event on June 18 to demand action on climate change. He is serving as creative director of the event taking place across all the continents, including Antarctica. Cape Town is one of the cities hosting a Live Earth concert, about which Williams says: “Expect energy and intention. There will be music that will be played with intention so you will feel it. You feel the intention.” At Davos, Williams called for the support of everyone who believes in clean lakes, rivers and oceans, who cares where their products come from and who is giving to make sure every kid gets
the best shot at a great education, an issue he regards as close to his heart.
Although Williams’s mother, Carolyn Williams, was a teacher, he has admitted
not doing well at school at first and says that words of encouragement from his teachers kept him interested.
“Don’t give up,” he advises youngsters. “Keep looking for that one spot that makes you interested in learning.”
He adds: “It’s super simple. If you figure out what you love to do, what you would do for free, that is usually where it starts.
“Then you ask yourself: ‘Is there a way to actually service humanity while you are doing it?’ If you can, then that is a dream job.
“And if you are helping humanity at the same time, now God loves you too.” Williams feels that process starts as early as primary school. And if the Woolworths fundraising programme, MySchool, “is going to offer that, I want to be part of it”, he says.
Currently one of the judges in the eighth season of TV singing competition The Voice and with a new album out titled GIRL, Williams is a busy man – and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I don’t want to take any of it for granted,” he says. “I would rather stay focused on the work.”
He says he appreciates his success “because I know where it comes from. It comes from the seed which is the work, being curious about what you do and being appreciative to be able to collaborate with people. That is where all of this comes from”, he says.
He says he was humbled by the success of Happy, the song from the Despicable Me 2
soundtrack, and had no inkling it would become such a global phenomenon. It was
the best-selling single of last year, peaking at No 1 in the music charts of over 20
countries, and sold 12 million copies.
“You never know that,” he says, “because it’s not up to you. It’s up to the
people. “That is why I’m always saying ‘thank you’ and ‘I am so grateful’.
I really mean it. “To be supported in that way, and to the magnitude that I felt,
As we shake hands at the end of the interview, he says something which will excite
his many fans here: “I am looking forward to coming to South Africa.”
●Nontando Mposo was flown to Los Angeles courtesy of Woolworths.
This feature was first published on April 10 2015, in the following Independent Media Newspapers. The Star, Cape Argus, Pretoria News and Daily News.