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Sustainable fashion needs intersectionality & inclusivity

Ineke Ineke 25 Jun 2020 Sustainable fashion needs intersectionality & inclusivity

Over the past few weeks, the Black Lives Matter movement has propelled issues of systemic racism into global dialogue. Within the realm of fashion, sustainability and veganism, Black voices are demanding seats at the table - a table and industry that has been dominated by white women.

Over social media and in street protests, Black voices have amplified a need for a paradigm shift within the narrative surrounding sustainability.

A little while ago, environmental educator and advocate for intersectional sustainability Dominique Drakeford gave an incredibly informative interview with fashion brand Elizabeth Suzann in which she raises several important points for discussion surrounding sustainable fashion upon which I have framed the talking points of this article.

Update 29-03-2021: unfortunately, with the closing of Elizabeth Suzann, the interviews from the “Clothing is Political” campaign that are mentioned in this blog, are currently (temporarily) offline too. While we keep looking for an archived version of these valuable articles, we'll direct you to Dominique Drakeford and Aja Barber's own words on their Instagram instead.

Things to think, things to discuss

Fashion is political

Drakefords main line of thought emphasises the intersectionality of sustainability and the need to understand sustainability in a holistic manner.

“Sustainability is the most pressing political issue! We’ve boxed it into just being about the environment, but the global environmental crisis has everything to do with civil rights, Black and Brown Indigenous liberation, the medical industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, food apartheid, housing, wealth-building, and more. Sustainability is a very holistic political issue."

- Dominique Drakeford

BIPOC should be given the power, space and voice to shape sustainable fashion

If sustainable fashion and mindful shopping remains a narrative predominantly controlled by white women, long-term structures of inequality that have driven fast fashion will probably seep into sustainable fashion too - in the continuity of white supremacy and a capitalist, exploitative supply chain structure. In reality a symbiosis with nature and fairness can only be achieved if BIPOC are given the power, space and voice to also shape sustainable fashion.

“Just because the sustainable fashion industry is more conscious, does not mean that it is not complicit [in] the systems and behaviours that have systematically suppressed and oppressed Black and brown communities throughout history."

- Rae Price

The exploitative history of materials and slavery in fashion

We must never forget that our understanding of fashion and even what most of the world wears today is underpinned by systems of exploitation (by the West, of everyone else).

Materials like denim, rubber and cotton amongst many others have explicit links to slavery as they were traded as slave trade commodities. European powers grew their wealth and supremacy in the trade of these materials - materials that many of us wear on a daily basis, who’s dark past and often present has been erased. Fast fashion today simply continues exploitative supply chains largely from people of colour to white people.

A recent article in The Guardian states: “there are 74 million textile workers in the world, 80% are women of colour.” Fast fashion has maintained this historically exploitative supply chain to keep costs low and maximise profit. Intersectional sustainability will help to dismantle, regenerate and restructure this long and complex chain towards a colonial unlearning that will help people and the planet in the future.

What will the future of sustainability in fashion look like?

The dominant control of whiteness in the sustainability narrative needs to change.

A paradigm shift here is long overdue. For us as a mostly white company we are implementing this support in developing our mission statement and more importantly, its associated 5 values to include one for Black-owned brands, Women-owned brands, POC-owned brands as a long-term focus and priority.

Right now we are working on other related important additions to our criteria too, to make it even easier to shop by (more) value(s). While simultaneously prioritising on onboarding BIPOC sellers in particular and finetuning our policies about all this, we plan to bring you a thorough update about this soon.

Changing the narrative

The role of clothing and fashion in changing the narrative for a more sustainable future for both us and the planet is important as it is deeply and historically political, artistic and a sign of social solidarity. In the words of Drakeford (in the above mentioned article): “BIPOC have created sustainable fashion”.

It is important that we raise points of discussion and talking points surrounding (un)fair fashion and its historical contexts and give seats at the table to Black women. If you say fair, you have to be fair to everyone. Let me conclude this blog by stating: non-intersectional sustainable fashion is greenwashing.

Reading tips: words by Black women

To end - these are some incredibly educational interviews and articles by and about Black women I have read recently. I would like to invite you to read all of these:

Please remember to read, educate yourself, talk with your friends, family, coworkers and read some more 💚