Finding Your Tribe As A Woman Of Colour In The Sustainable Fashion Space
By Emma Slade Edmondson
I’ve worked in and around the sustainable fashion space for over a decade (almost fifteen years) and I’ve seen it evolve hugely over time. It has grown and flexed, been bent in and back out of shape, in a way that it is hard to characterise in a single article. There are things about the work and the space that I love, beautiful things about the community that are unmatched by any other industry I have traversed. And yet there is still so much work to be done to foster inclusivity and diversity in a meaningful way. It is for this reason that I know how important it is to encourage fellow women of colour looking to bring their powerful insights and talents to this area of work to find each other and to carve out their own community within the wider movement.
I’ll never forget one particular week in which I attended two sustainability events that left an unsavoury taste in my mouth. I had asked my sister-in-law to come along with me to a panel talk, and as she always did pre-Covid time, she agreed. It was hosted in the downstairs area of a swanky central London hotel and one of the great icons of fashion and activism of our time was in attendance as a speaker on the panel – so I had high hopes that it would be a great evening. I was initially asked to be on the panel myself but was later told that the organiser had decided to ‘go in a different direction’. Whilst I can only speculate on what this direction was, I was disappointed to learn that it didn’t seem to involve anyone of colour when the panel finally came around. As a result, I spent much of the night stifling a sense of embarrassment when I realised that there was nothing relatable about the conversation we were sitting through. In fact, at times it bordered on offensive.
In all its deciphering of the many challenges we face in regards to the climate crisis, there was no recognition of the sacrifices people of colour make and have made historically; the intersect of European imperialism and colonialism, climate and science, nor any mention of the knowledge held by indigenous communities on climate science or protecting planet and people. There was not one representative on the panel that could hero the creative fashion innovation that I know to exist in abundance amongst my friends – the women of colour working to make great strides within this space and industry.
In all my time working in this area, I have only been on one panel myself where I was not the only Black woman or woman of colour. But I have been lucky enough to meet some incredible women of colour doing amazing things. It is my hope to bring my friends and my tribe together on a panel, on many panels, and in forums where we will be able to amplify melanated voices, protect each other from the gaslight and share stories and knowledge amongst one another. Until such a time comes when we can gather at events more safely, I want to mention just a few of the incredible women that have become part of my tribe. I want to tell you that WE EXIST, we are here, and when we find each other, we become even more brilliant.
Isabelle Landicho is a stylist and Art Director. Her work is focused on introducing people to the beauty of conscious fashion. Isabelle’s artistry is rooted in storytelling that more often strives to shine a light on the need for racial and social justice. Landicho is also the Director of Fashion & Art of The Earth Issue – an artist collective, educational platform and intersectional in-house creative agency. Through The Earth Issue’s Isabelle has been instrumental in driving initatives such as The Freedom Fundraiser, “In support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests against George Floyd’s murder in May 2020 – raising financial support to frontline organisations through a print-sale featuring artwork donated by over 300 artists and photographers. 100% of proceeds were distributed to George Floyd bail funds and other organisations fighting for racial justice.”
“I believe that everything begins and ends with the earth and positive change is achieved through collective community. My goal with The Earth Issue is to collaborate with wholehearted individuals to create artistry that harbours a respect for the environment, upholds social justice and excludes no-one by encompassing racial and cultural inclusivity in-front of and behind the lens.
Before embarking on my journey of conscious and mindful living personally and professionally, there was no-one that looked like me within that sphere that I knew of who was a change-maker. Truth be told, it was an isolating and often confusing experience to be a Filipino woman. I belong to one of the most marginalised groups of people affected by the climate crisis, we are often depicted as ‘victims’. But I didn’t want that to be my narrative, I wanted to be a voice of change and be a part of the journey that re-writes the systems of colonialism and oppression that has bound us and dictated the script for so long. So I guess I became the change I wanted to see and with it, and found a community of like-minded people who hungered to flip the script just as much as I did.
In the knowledge that babies get through seven sizes of clothing on average in just two years, Eve pioneered fashion rental for baby clothes in the UK with Bundlee Baby, which stands as the first
rental subscription model for baby clothes in the UK. She has built a community of pioneering parents who really believe in what Bundlee is doing to reduce clothing waste and promote a new way to access baby clothing without contributing to overproduction, overconsumption and waste.
“I started Bundlee after seeing how quickly my siblings outgrew their clothes. It felt like our home was always overrun with mountains and mountains of outgrown clothes!” Eve says. “With babies outgrowing clothes at an alarming rate, it feels like the ultimate fast fashion that no one’s really talking about. Babies easily grow out of over a hundred pieces of clothing in just a year, leading to so much waste. I founded Bundlee to give parents a better alternative to the wasteful cycle of buying clothes. Bundlee is the sustainable subscription for parents to rent baby clothes and swap as their little one grows.”
“Sustainability is built into the core of our model as we reuse clothes, but we also place the planet at the heart of our decisions throughout the service, like with our reusable packaging and eco-friendly Ozone clothes sanitisation process. Our mission is to create a better future for babies to grow into, and already our community has saved over 20 tonnes of CO2e and 4 million litres of water.”
Rosette founded Revival – a sustainable and slow fashion label creating positive change through fashion redesign and the repurposing of discarded textiles into bold, contemporary designs. Revival promotes an ethos of fresh thinking and creativity in the fashion industry whilst slowing down the fast fashion system we’ve become accustomed to. Revival aims to be the antithesis to fast fashion – instead encouraging individuality and true self-expression.
‘I started Revival out of a combination of my different interests – being a lover of fashion (content creator), maths and management studies graduate (business and problem-solving obsession) and my aspiration to leave a place better than I found. The fusion of these led me to build a responsible brand to inspire more sustainable, circular and conscious ways of creating and consuming fashion. We have partnered with Making For Change, a social enterprise supporting women prisoners and ex/prisoners to gain skills and qualifications. We believe in giving back to our local community and prioritise people and planet in everything we do.’
Renuka is an artist, writer and practitioner of bio-based material innovation made from onion skins, as part of a zero-waste circular system. Her work is cross-disciplinary, honest and relentlessly detailed.
“Ultimately, the potential barrier for bio-based materials comes as a result of the distance between the public and the process. To overcome the miasma of greenwashing, both consumers and legislation need to focus on supporting localised bio-based processes. This means demanding more transparency from those touting innovations.” ‘Renuka For Footprint Mag
“It is an amazing resource to begin unlearning some of the ways the system has commodified our creativity to the point where our humanity and community come second.” Renuka speaking to the Slow Grind Manifesto she contributed to.
Audrey is the founder of Yala Jewellery – the first jewellery company to become a certified B Corp in the UK. Yala is Audrey’s dream realised – to create a business working with local artisans and showcasing their skills across the world. Audrey works with over 150 artisans in Kenya, ensuring they receive fair wages, safe and healthy work environments, and real recognition for their talent. Audrey is dedicated to true transparency across the production process, and a genuine connection between the people who created Yala jewellery and Yala’s customers.
‘Yala comes to you from a whole community of talented Kenyan artisans and creatives who represent the country’s diversity and potential. Authenticity is everything: we work with Kenyan makers, models, photographers and stylists to embody our rich culture, and empower the people who have all played a part in creating our jewellery.
Emma Slade Edmondson
Emma heads up ESE Consultancy, a creative strategic marketing agency working to elevate brands, initiatives and organisations who are looking to focus their business to harness social or environmental good. She is renowned for her transformational approach and has worked with some of the UK’s biggest brands, charities and social enterprises.