While we’re unable to celebrate Earth Day at in-person events and discussions this year, we find it important to still be connected to our community and the local organizations doing work to fight climate change. We could argue that this time of solitude and reflection is most ideal for considering our impacts on Mother Earth, and how humans have fundamentally changed the makeup of the natural world, thus leading to a more vulnerable ecosystem susceptible to pandemics.
Rather than becoming discouraged, we want to focus on all of the inspiring work being done locally to change the conversation around climate change and sustainability. Specifically, women-owned companies with new models and ways of engaging the public on the topics of fashion sustainability and the people most affected by climate change. We’ve rounded up three local organizations that continue to produce thoughtful content during this time. We hope you follow their work, and become fans of them like we are!
Dominique Drakeford and Whitney McGuire of Sustainable Brooklyn
Drakeford and McGuire founded Sustainable Brooklyn a few years ago with the goal of bringing black and brown people to the forefront of the conversations about sustainability. Through programming, consultancy work, stakeholder partnerships, and education, they envision a more inclusive future by “fashionably bridging the gaps between sustainability and targeted communities.” Their signature symposiums are meant to bring more people into the movement and elevate black and brown voices who are already doing the work.
With Drakeford and McGuire partnering to form the duo Sustainable Brooklyn, their hope is to shift Black Indigenous People of Color to the forefront of sustainability, as much of how we discuss fashion and wellness is framed from a colonial perspective. McGuire would love to see people awaken to the idea that Brooklyn is an ecosystem. “If we as a community are 50% insecure, then the other 50% who aren’t should be aware of these statistics,” she says. “Questions we can all ask ourselves include ‘what is my role in the climate crisis?’ and ‘what can I do in my capacity to make some changes?’”
While the initiative of Sustainable Brooklyn is new, the founders drive home the point that the work is not. “For us, it’s not a conversation, it is literally our heartbeat, our livelihood,” says Drakeford. “Sustainability is this insane ecosystem, to food, fashion, it hits EVERYTHING that has to do with how we take up space.”
Both Drakeford and McGuire hail from other U.S. cities, Oakland and Dayton respectively, but they’ve seen similarities between Brooklyn and the neighborhoods they grew up in, specifically white flight and the loss of resources with it. “The beginning of me realizing that we need to bring sustainability literacy to our community was when I saw what was happening in my city: industries closing and the end of white flight affecting my community, with it the closure of social services and essential gathering places,” says McGuire. “We can’t escape blackness. We can’t escape the experience our community is having all over the world.”
“We’re just getting started in Brooklyn,” says Drakeford. “We want to scale our work to other systems, densely black and brown populations that need political anchors.”
But much of the way the public is engaged with conversations around sustainability primarily taps into a white demographic, and Sustainable Brooklyn wants to change that. They want to be intentional with how they’re giving access to their events and spaces, and how they’re sharing information. “A lot of the moment is predicated on access to social media or attending certain events. We really want to be more hands-on and on the ground in spaces where people don’t have access to this conversation in a traditional way,” says Drakeford.
They’re also excited about the deeper connections they want to make through their work, from shifting curriculum in educational systems, building more community-led initiatives, finding ways to partner with people throughout the supply chain and people working in public policy, and engaging with waste management in some capacity.
While COVID-19 has obviously upended in-person experiences, for now, follow them on Instagram for announcements about their upcoming symposium events (like a hackathon!) and online conversations.
Céline Semaan of The Slow Factory
The Slow Factory Foundation is, in our opinion, a jack of all trades in the sustainability movement. As a non-profit working on environmental and social impact through education and action since 2013, The Slow Factory has been at the intersection of climate and culture, starting new conversations on many levels through partnerships with other nonprofits, academia, and global brands.
When asked what one of the top priorities is for The Slow Factory as of now, Semaan emphasized that education is power. “It empowers the public into informed action,” said Semaan. “Making information accessible to the public contributes to shifting culture on critical topics such as climate change and social justice. It then can create pressure on policymakers and elected officials in addressing these issues at scale.”
The Slow Factory’s tagline has always been, ‘Good for the Earth. Good for the People.’ They embody that motto by taking a whole approach to sustainability, from hosting Study Halls accessible to the public to brand partnerships that change the conversation around climate change, like their recent Landfills as Museums initiative with Adidas and local leaders in waste management.
Semaan understands that there are different entry points to sustainability for people, but that a larger approach is necessary for change. The Slow Factory doesn’t frame their work to be only about the supply chain of materials, or worker’s rights, or as a plea to brands to be more transparent. As stated on their site, The Slow Factory takes a “holistic, human-centered approach.”
“Like many individuals and groups around the globe, we’re strategizing how to navigate our current reality during this pandemic so we can continue to be a resource for our audience,” says Semaan.
“There are so many unknowns right now but we’re working on some exciting projects,” says Semaan. For example, this week we’re launching a new interview series on Earth Day called SlowTalks where we’ll be talking with different leaders about sustainability. The first one is with Amy Hall, Vice President of Social Consciousness at Eileen Fisher.” Stay tuned for more conversations, partnerships, and published content from The Slow Factory by following them on Instagram.
Jessica Schreiber and Camille Tagle of FABSCRAP
FABSCRAP is another relatively new initiative that has revolutionized the conversation of fashion sustainability. Rather than approaching the issue from the individual consumer’s perspective alone, founders Schreiber and Tagle joined forces to help large brands and companies reuse and recycle their unused fabrics.
With a storefront in Chelsea and a warehouse in Brooklyn, FABSCRAP has ramped up its capacity to work with 450 brands to recycle and redistribute hundreds of thousands of pounds of fabric each year.
“If we are all aware of what we throw away as consumers, we can then educate people about what that means for how much more commercial waste is being thrown out,” says Schreiber. “For every pound of textiles we throw away as consumers, the fashion industry’s upstream is throwing away forty pounds of waste. We want to ask businesses what options they have and what steps they’re taking to fix that.”
“The work we do at FABSCRAP with pre-consumer waste ties back to climate change. Keeping things out of a landfill ties back, and our goal is to prevent that in all ways related to textile waste,” says Tagle. “It’s been a bridge that I need to make sure everyone understands – the connection between climate change and textile waste.”
FABSCRAP has found ways to start a conversation about sustainability at various points in the supply chain, from design students being educated on their power of persuasion in the industry to large brands recycling their deadstock fabrics at FABSCRAP’s warehouse. “There is a value to things that people think are disposable,” says Tagle.”Until we worked with them, it was inconvenient for brands to find ways to handle their volume. And design schools used to have to deny donations because they didn’t have anywhere to hold and take care of fabrics.”
While things may feel on pause at the moment, it’s incredible to see the impact FABSCRAP has and will continue to have on the fashion industry. “We ended 2019 with 425 brands using our service. In two years we quadrupled. I think it shows both the need and the growth from brands who are aware of their impact and a desire to make a difference,” says Schreiber.
For now, FABSCRAP’s storefront and warehouse are closed due to COVID-19, but they’re holding plenty of online workshops, fundraising happy hours, and is shipping scraps from their online store. Follow along on Instagram to stay in the know.