Amid a global pandemic, people look to heal together and connect once again. This longing for positive change has recently sparked a passion for issues around race and justice. When this passion converges with an age of misinformation, true allyship gets called into question, especially in the sustainable fashion realm.
We look to movers and shakers in sustainability, like Reza Cristián, founder and editor-in-chief of SUSTAIN the Mag, to shine their unique light on today's hot topics in sustainability, but also recapture the simplicity of an eco-conscious lifestyle and celebrate the fun in giving a damn.
Now celebrating SUSTAIN's second anniversary in 2020, Reza was kind enough to share her experience as a thought leader in sustainability with Normou, and even share some tips for those taking their first baby steps into this world of sustainability amid these charged times.
AG: Since the onset of protests, more consumers have called into question the ethics behind their favorite brands. How can a consumer decipher true allyship from brands with a performative response to today's fight against systemic racism?
Reza: With the rise of the BLM movement happening worldwide, more and more brands have been called out on their anti-black and racist company culture and tactics. In all honesty, if it seems like your favorite unethical brand is getting off easy, it's because they aren't trying enough and being performative because they feel their customers. We need to call out brands and call them in to bring actual change. It will take time, but it's needed. Support BIPOC-owned companies instead!
AG: Last month's SHEIN swastika necklace and Muslim prayer mat scandals have come as a surprise to customers of this fast-fashion brand. Why do you think advocates for sustainability are not surprised by this negligence? Do you believe the brand can sidestep this criticism and thrive?
Reza: Sustainable advocates understand that brands will do anything for profit. Brands will take advantage of their BIPOC communities, turn it around for profit, make something like a Muslim prayer mat trendy, and try to profit from this. The products they sold are incredibly insensitive, and I'm sure more and more people are becoming aware of fast fashion brands and their behaviors, which will drive change once they start losing followers/customers.
AG: Fast fashion companies like Shein and Boohoo are said to have fueled the fashion influencer. What do you think influencers previously under contract with fast fashion brands can do to take steps in the right direction and hold them accountable? Is there a way for them to move forward from this?
Reza: I understand that influencers are trying to make money by working with fast fashion brands precisely like Boohoo. Still, it comes with a particular influence to bring change to these brands when influencers can stand up to them by mentioning rules such as how the brands should take more of a sustainable and ethical approach and work with more BIPOC influencers as well. If a fast fashion brand wants to gain consumers' trust, they need to make an actionable change and be transparent. It all starts with their corporate leadership, as well as making sure those who are making their clothes are paid fairly. Ironically, a women's brand will be the opposite of what feminism stands for, and most likely, all fast fashion brands, like Zara, for example, are run by a white man.
AG: As charges of hypocrisy reveal racism and inequality among major brands, some consumers are finding ethically and sustainably made fashion more attractive. What would you tell someone taking their first baby steps into this world of sustainability?
Reza: I would tell them to do their research, check out the brand's sustainability page on their website, and see what sort of steps they are taking, the more transparent and the better. You can even check out The Good Trade, which curates a series of sustainable articles based on different categories.
AG: What role does SUSTAIN the Mag have in amplifying melanated voices? As a non-black woman of color, have you experienced specific inadequacies in the fashion industry yourself?
Reza: Our whole mission is to focus on creating an inclusive space for people who are making a change for the planet and the people, specifically the BIPOC community, who have been fighting for climate justice before it became more of a buzzword. For me being Mexican/Iranian in this space, I've felt with my economic structure growing up that I was not welcomed or judged for the zero-waste/sustainable industry because I couldn't buy or afford all these products that were thrown at me. This made me think I wasn't "sustainable" enough, even though I had been resourceful growing up and "sustainable" in my way through my community. That's when I realized this industry needed to change. I want to create a platform that transcended a non-judgmental approach to sustainability, equal parts inclusive, fun, and educational.
AG: What would you tell someone on the fence about shopping more sustainably due to its price tag? Do you think sustainable fashion brands have to do a better job of calling out their own issues with accessibility?
Reza: What I've told myself and others when it comes to investing in a piece, it's all about if you can afford something economically, then invest in an article that will last forever and interchange it with multiple outfits because repeating outfits is okay. We don't need to have a different look all the time. As for brands, I feel brands do need to have a few price points on their sites or in stores for more accessibility as well as size-inclusion too.
AG: What do you like most about sustainable fashion?
Reza: I love the uniqueness of each collection and each piece and how much more time and love goes into making each garment. It's amazing, too, as well as how amazing it is to know that the people making each garment are treated fairly and getting paid equally.
AG: Amid times of great strife, what has kept you grounded?
Reza: Knowing that I'm not alone in this during the pandemic. I feel lucky to be alongside my fantastic support group of friends, virtually who are also creators and entrepreneurs, and who have dealt with the same thing. I've also been finding more happiness in the little things, like fostering a cat and making meals that make my body feel good.
A special thank you to Reza Cristián for taking the time to answer our questions. You can get to know the team of creatives and thought leaders behind SUSTAIN the Mag, and read their June 2020 issue on "Navigating Healing & Creativity During Quarantine" by visiting https://www.sustainthemag.com.