By Lola Connelly
It’s Black History Month. A time to come together and celebrate the achievements of influential black voices. However, as a white woman who feels strong about sustainable fashion, I have had to ask myself how I can educate and address the link between sustainability, diversity and racial equality. Not only for Black History Month, but for continuous and recognizable change for the months and years to follow.
In general, sustainable clothing has to take into account three functions: economy, society and environment. After all, there is no doubt sustainable fashion has preached ‘slow fashion’ and environmental issues. Yet, there is a lack of BIPOC representation and support. Ultimately, sustainability has to be inclusive and considerate of the brands supply chain.
“If you’ve got issues in your supply chain, if you can’t ensure your workers are treated well, then which lives matter?” – Aja Barber
Supporting racial diversity within sustainable fashion is a must.
Support Ethical BIPOC Owned Businesses
Specifically, purchasing clothing from sustainable black owned businesses promotes diversity and real change. But, this cannot be a trend. With this in mind, here are a few BIPOC businesses promoting ethical employment as well as sustainability as a necessity.
Zola Eve (Empowering Activewear brand)- Infusing her West African heritage, founder Ncheta Dasilva creates bold and sustainable activewear. Ethically produced in the UK, these beautiful and vibrant designs are made from discarded plastic bottles, fishing nets and carpets. Additionally, Zola Eve is all about body positivity (editorials are never photoshopped!) with the intention of supporting women in their own skin. Moreover, every sale donates 10% to ‘Women for Women International’. A charity supporting women survivors of war in the world’s most dangerous places.
Bare Boutique (Inclusive and sustainable underwear brand)- Secondly, Maori designer Kara Kupe, showcases strength and beauty within editorials of Indigenous femmes. Preaching an emphasis on slow production and fair wages within her non-traditional factory.
Tandi Fashion (Contemporary slow fashion)- Finally, to reduce waste Tandi Fashion will only introduce a new bold print once other designs sell out. So, every item becomes a limited and unique edition to your wardrobe. Founder Thandi Ojeer produces clothing from lightweight East African fabric ‘kanga’. This fabric is known for Swahili proverbs and slogans, with messages such as caution, love and self-expression. Empowering women to ‘wear their emotions’. Thandi has also formed a partnership with ‘mothers2mothers’. An African charity dedicated to the support and treatment of HIV pregnant women.
In fact, leaving great reviews will enhance black owned businesses on Google and encourage support on a wider scale. You will not only strengthen Black communities, but local Black economies. And subscribing to newsletters will keep you educated and up-to-date. These are free to do!
Consequently, Black-owned businesses have been the worst affected during Coronavirus. And with the Black Lives Matter movement intensifying, we can be a part of lasting change through the signing of petitions and pledges.
Coronavirus has resulted in a much-needed slow down towards fast fashion. Yet, this has led to closed factories within marginalized communities. According to Remake more than $3 billion orders have been cancelled. Leaving garment workers without a wage and unable to pay for rent or food. By signing the #PayUp petition you will encourage an ethical supply chain and honour oversea workers.
Founder of sustainable shoe line Brother Vellies, Aurora James launched this petition for Black economic empowerment. Major retailers dedicating 15% of shelf space to Black-owned businesses will make a huge impact towards authentic black culture. Particularly to underrepresented ethical black-owned businesses. This petition also brings about hidden racial inequalities within companies. You can sign the petition or even tag brands with @15percentpledge who should be taking part.
Fair Wear Foundation aims for lasting racial equality and sustainability. To gain a real insight into a brand, these ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ practices are inspected:
- Labour conditions
- Inspection of working conditions
- Talks with garment workers.
Look on their website and subscribe to their newsletter to find an extensive list of brands with the Fair Wear Foundation. This level of transparency is something I found to be very helpful when researching the respect and fairness towards garment workers.
Take To Social Media
First of all, social media is a sure-fire way to be part of the activism. You can support Black influencers, activists and businesses. Hoping to reach a total of more than 175 million followers is #ShareTheMicNow. This campaign aims to amplify black female voices, by taking over Instagram accounts of high-profile women. #ShareTheMicNow has given a platform for Black women with three intentions:
- Magnify Black women’s lives and stories
- Form relationships among white and Black women
- Create a network of trust to make change
#BuyBlack will highlight Black makers support for your fashion purchases. It will also help those businesses affected by COVID. Look up @buyfrombipoc for a celebration of BIPOC makers.
“An inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the Earth are interconnected”
She recognises how marginalised people of colour are often the most vulnerable. In light of this, she uses her Instagram platform to uplift and recognise the voices of BIPOC women and men.
It is important to remember, supporting BIPOC ethical fashion designers and creators is essential for long term change. Yet, it is also important to support ethical, white-owned brands whose goal is to be inclusive and transparent.
Poor communities of colour experience the impact of fashion landfill. For this reason, Eshita Kabra-Davies’ goal is to end systemic racism within the fashion industry. Her By Rotation app prolongs the life of items already in circulation. Avoiding excessive waste.
Founder of zero-waste brand, Rachel Faller is the only white person at the company. In fact, she believes having a diverse team is pivotal to the sustainability movement. But, warns us to look out for performative diversity. It is not enough for a brand to treat diversity as a checkbox.
With 2020 having opened our eyes to racism, there is no better time to support and educate ourselves on the injustices that still exist today. These small steps can make a big difference for our BIPOC communities.