Why Sustainable Fashion Needs More People of Color

It's an unfortunate fact that the people and communities most negatively impacted by the fashion industry are those of color. The fashion industry is built on the oppression and suffering of black and brown women yet when you look at the visual representation of eco/sustainable fashion you hardly ever see women of color. 

"Thin white women are not the only people who care about sustainable and ethical fashion and yet these are the faces who are chosen to represent ethical and sustainable brands. We need to include all women, all sizes, all ages, all races in the design, research, production and marketing of sustainable fashion brands. It’s just that simple." Mary Alice Duff

As a woman of color myself when I came across Dominique Drakeford and learned of what she was doing with her platform, MelaninASS I had to connect with her and learn more. While POC aren't well represented in the sustainable fashion sector, Dominique is working overtime to give them a voice and a space to shine. Perhaps it's not that we need more people of color to join the movement. Perhaps we simply need to give them a voice and the opportunity to tell their story. 

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Tell us a bit about yourself— where are you from? Where did you go to school? 
My name is Dominique Chanel Drakeford and I'm from Oakland, California. I received my Bachelors degree from University California - Riverside and I received my Masters Degree from New York University. I'm the founder of MelaninASS and I'm also an educator and influencer. 

What is MelaninASS? 
Melanin & Sustainable Style AKA MelaninASS is an online digital platform that discusses the issues and celebrates the success of communities of color in sustainable fashion, green beauty and wellness spaces. It’s a content-rich, vibrant, and communal space that elevates sustainable development, social innovation and holistic living. MelaninASS features exclusive interviews and creates original editorial content in collaboration with sustainable fashion designers and natural beauty brands. After hitting our one year anniversary on July 2nd since it's official launch - MelaninASS is a bridge to connect people to resources, products and conversations that are not commonly visible in the mainstream ethical movement.

Why did you feel it was necessary to create this platform? 
Not to be cliche but I feel like this platform chose me. The Universe has an interesting way of continuously blowing wind into my afro and setting off my antennas. After being in the environmental / sustainability / sustainable fashion space for over 10 years across various industries and levels of interaction - I found this movement was becoming quite stagnant. I was frustrated by a number of things:

  • Not seeing enough black centric publications talking about sustainability, environmental justice and non-toxic/ conscious living.
  • Not seeing nearly of enough black women and melanin women across various ethnicities being represented on panels and in the audience. 
  • There was this overwhelming energy and advocacy from the sustainable fashion community in particular that lacks so much knowledge, understanding and experience with the original pillars of sustainability. These spaces oozed savior complex, lacked representation and visibility and very rarely crossed the historical context of colonization, appropriation, white privilege and lack of acknowledgement and respect for our ancestral roots.

I just wanted to praise, be super happy and show genuine love for various melaninated people doing amazing work in their own way! 

Why is ethical/sustainable fashion so important to you? Why do you care?
I think when you break it down in its most simplistic language - we all participate in fashion in some way shape or form. Your social economic background, your culture, your geographic location and your overall style share a political message and fashion is a non-verbal vehicle for communication. When you add the ethical/sustainable methodology to fashion it literally transcends style, activism and ecology all into one. 

For me, especially being a Black Woman in America with African roots, ancestry wise - how we adorn ourselves has so much meaning and even healing properties. Fashion has such a rich history of power and influence. Additionally, I'm from Oakland, California which has a prolific and rich history with radical activism through the black panther party. Black folks have used fashion as a means of protest while fighting for liberation and freedom from Miriam Makeba to Angela Davis. 

My overall understanding and passion for sustainable fashion combines African ancestry, black and POC liberation, environmental preservation and creating a circular relationship with the Earth to the best o my ability. Fashion has the potential to be a huge catalyst in changing systemic racism, corrupt industry and bringing pure peace and happiness to communities.

Why do you think people of color aren’t represented as much by ethical/sustainable fashion brands —especially since it tends to be people of color (POC) who are largely negatively affected by the fashion industry? 
It's a massive domino effect. White people have governed their existence based off of exploitation, wealth and power. Black people (and POC) have a rich history with the environment but also a complex one. Although today it's a bit more abstract for the average person to see, the same exploitation is still happening and it will NEVER properly get corrected unless the truth is spoken, taught to the younger generation and acted upon accordingly. America only works the way it does because of capitalism and the controlling of the narrative which many of us don't take the time to see how powerful marketing, propaganda and media affect perception of racism and nationalism. 

POC aren't represented because they were never intended to! Black people and POC literally come from land, linage and relationships that have all of the resources, have all of the cultural antidotes to set trends, have the traditional discourse of innovation - without America's power of manipulation - POC would be wealthy Kings and Queens and Earth wouldn't be bleeding. I interview and study many brands by POC who are doing AMAZING work but again, they don't get the love and notoriety as white owned brands. I also think there's an INSANE amount of appropriation especially with ethical fashion because many brands work with indigenous communities - again a platform for subtle exploitation. When looking at fashion specifically, there's so many inputs and outputs and a strategic massive disconnect in understanding the life cycle so it's a perfect mechanism for exploitation of black and brown poor bodies. Exploitation is literally the DNA of non- ethnic communities and it will take a hell of a fight to curb it and I'm here for it! It's very complex. 

At any point in creating M&S Style did you worry that people wouldn’t support a platform dedicated to people of color considering how white the industry is?
Nope. Not one fiber in my body was nervous about that. I knew that even at the time I created MelaninASS, my immediate sustainable fashion circle of influence was white - but because my mission was not to please or make the mainstream community comfortable or happy - I had no worry. My focus was finding all of these amazing Vanguards that sadly initially took some research and now it's like vegan butter.

What’s the biggest misconception/thing you want people to know about minorities & sustainable fashion? 
That - that word right there! It's about dismantling so many things that we have been taught. POC are not at all the "minority" ... contrary to what the skewed education systems have taught us and normalized - people of ethnicity are the Global Majority and have an influential potency beyond our understanding. 

Who are some of your favorite ethical/sustainable fashion designers of color? 
I get asked this question a lot and the answer remains - I don't have a favorite. There's so many different designers that I love that bring out so many different cool and exciting ways to be sustainable. I love Aliya Wanek, Kanelle, Two Fold, Chelsea Bravo, Printed Pattern People, Bhoomki, Remuse, Chan & Krys, Studio 189, Proclaim, Born Again Vintage, Iyla ... the list goes on and on. 

Who are some of your favorite ethical/sustainable fashion bloggers of color?
Samata (more of an influencer)
Places of Bliss
Sustainably Stylish
Lindsey Gene

Just to name a few

Where do you see your platform going in 5 years? What are your long-term goals for M&S style? 
I would love to start producing events consisting of Global partnership to really give the brand a pulse. Some creative formers of interaction, connection and forward movement through curriculums and conferences is definitely in the works. 

What advice would you give to designers, bloggers, creatives, and makers of color wanting to find their place in the industry?
Don't look for a place in the industry! I found my authentic purpose not by trying to fit in but by sticking out and doing so with intention and authenticity. The best way to tackle such an over-saturated space is really understand it as a progressive journey. Talk to people, do your internal market research, fuck up, journal, get angry, journal some more, force yourself to network in spaces that you normally would, READ books, create and collaborate on personal project with no outside funding, get your hands dirty, say affirmations daily, cry when you're overwhelmed .... - Understand that it's a journey and become your own ambassador with each step you take!