The 24-year-old model, performer and climate activist has accumulated an impressive following for her enviable grid of outfit shots, chill selfies and sun-washed snaps of her breezy Sydney life. But look a little closer, and you’ll realise there’s more going on beneath the (admittedly attractive) surface. Post by post, shot by shot, caption by caption, Gao-Hollitt is writing her own rules about what “good content” actually means.
“Welcome to my messy room,” says Gao-Hollitt, beaming down the lens during our Zoom call. Breaking out from the phone-screen perspective on her life (ok, to a computer-screen one) I’m greeted with a slightly more relatable snapshot of a model’s “real” world. A guitar rests against the wall, there’s a rumpled collection of frequently used tote bags on display and a pair of trackpants hang casually over the back of her chair. There’s no doubt this unfiltered realness only adds to her considerable charm.
“In the past I think I’ve shared too much,” she confesses.
On that point, I have to disagree. Openness, and a willingness to invite her followers into her life and passions, is one of the factors that’s set Gao-Hollitt apart in a sea of photogenic cool kids online.
In 2016, when Gao-Hollitt was 19, she left her hometown of Melbourne to pursue a modelling career in the US. The experience was transformative. Although probably not for the expected reasons. While chasing your dreams overseas is a romantic prospect, the reality she found there was stark. It exposed her to the enormous scale and impact of the global fashion industry in full swing. In particular how the resource-heavy and seasonal fast-fashion and e-commerce sectors were wreaking havoc on the environment.
Returning to Australia in 2020, she was determined to cut an alternative path for herself – one that allowed her to celebrate everything she loves about fashion, while prioritising her environmental values. Which is where we come back to that impressive Instagram account.
Unlike so many people who you literally can’t take a bad photo of, Gao-Hollitt wasn’t immediately drawn to the platform. “I was kind of anti all this [social media]. I came up in that time where there was a lot of artifice on Instagram and I was really against it…I was just like ‘fuck all these lies’,” she explains. But soon she realised there was an alternative to artifice. “Social media is a place where people get to see the world through your eyes, even though we often think of it as people getting to see into our lives,” she reflects.
Gao-Hollitt’s online world is filled with responsible fashion brands, stylish vintage goods, reusable purchases and trips to the local farmers’ markets. Stories and posts are populated with climate news, as well as personal reflections and advice on how she is working to reduce her environmental impact. It’s a celebration of the countless small ways we can live better: not only to protect the planet, but also to enrich our own experiences. “When it comes down to the future of the planet, I think we all have a responsibility – it’s not even a responsibility, it’s almost self-preservation,” she says.
Gao-Hollitt’s skills lie in not only acting as a megaphone for brands and people striving to do better by the planet. But also in presenting this approach as being as aspirational as it is moral. Her easy relationship with her followers has created a space where she’s able to bring thousands of individuals into the issues that matter most to her. Through her content, issues around climate change, environmental protection and responsible consumerism aren’t intimidating and dry subjects. They’re relatable, tangible and personal topics we can all weave into our own lives and choices.
Her approach is clearly working, not only capturing the attention of followers but also leading brands. Bassike, Maggie Marilyn, Afends and most recently Camilla and Marc have all worked with Gao-Hollitt – connecting to her style (obviously) but also her passion and values. Sydney photographer Isaac Brown even featured her in Camilla and Marc’s recent FUTURE NOW campaign: “a digital art series to celebrate a renewed sustainable vision for the future”.
For models, success is often a numbers game. The more work you appear in the better your career is going. Although, as attention and success have swelled, Gao-Hollitt has remained committed to ensuring the values that set her apart aren’t compromised. In particular, she’s dedicated to vetting any brands she works with to ensure they align with the “sustainable vision for the future” she so perfectly embodies. “I’m pretty privileged to be in a position to be a little bit choosy,” she notes. When selecting collaborators, she explains: “It’s a bit nuanced, but it’s about brands moving in the right direction. I’ll often google a brand if I don’t know them or look them up on Good On You to find more information about their ethos and operations.”
Of course, you don’t need 60k followers to create a positive and constructive space online. “I think the most practically helpful thing you can do is to think about this slightly confronting question: who are you?” Gao-Hollitt says. It’s a deceptively tricky task. One that presses you to define the values you stand for, and then commit to making them central to everything you do (or post). At first, that can feel like an overwhelming prospect, but one she clearly demonstrates can be deeply rewarding.
For Gao-Hollitt, this approach has allowed her to build a career that’s difficult to quantify: she’s a model, a writer, a storyteller, an activist and a soon-to-be actress. Recently, it’s also seen her return to the US. Although this time around, her experience has been considerably more positive. Armed with a clear perspective on the future and career she wants to build she’s already finding considerable success and has been cast in a new US TV series, the details of which are unfortunately still under strict embargo. “It’s really exciting. It’s something I’ve wanted and have been pursuing for six years,” she admits. While specifics remain vague, one thing is clear. There’s no doubt that this fresh momentum will push her further into the spotlight and bring thousands of new fans into her values-driven orbit.