“If you want to be on the wave of the future, and you want to actually paint the future and break with the status quo, you have to be willing to make bold decisions,” McGuire adds. “For corporate brands, that can be difficult with the landscape of venture capital funding. But we try to emphasize the importance of really paying attention to your responsibilities [as a brand] within intersectionality. Any brand that is on that wave is automatically willing to at least do some introspection to ask, ‘Where is our accountability, and how can we make more intentional actions? What is our responsibility to our consumers?’ These brands can’t operate in silos anymore, and can’t think that ‘business as usual’ is going to shield them from the impacts of an unstable social climate. Brands have to really understand that they have much more responsibility now than they have been given in the past.”
Who are the designers that can distill those issues and information into a company that supports communities, takes a stand, is accountable for its actions, and offers truly sustainable and ethical products? The corporations with bottom lines and billionaire shareholders to please aren’t going to be first, though they do need to start moving in that direction if they want to stick around. In the near term, it’s the smaller, independent designers who are best equipped to make significant change and deliver the message to their communities in an honest and authentic way. First, because they’re nimble and may not have shareholders to report to, and second, because they already speak directly to their customers and understand what they want from fashion. Just as importantly, they have plenty to lose; failing to respond to the moment or embellishing their efforts could result in backlash or potentially going out of business, something that isn’t as immediate a threat for heritage brands. “I think the collective consciousness of fashion has no choice but to shift at this point,” Drakeford says. “It’s a trend now, but there will be a time where it needs to become sustainable and regenerative and actually stick. It will take that two-fold process of accountability and responsibility to make it happen.”
That goes back to one of the reasons McGuire and Drakeford started working together in 2018, as the aesthetic around sustainability was became increasingly “aspirational,” breezy, and white. Not only is it boring and limiting to only see images of thin blonde women lazing around the beach or tending to their herb gardens in linen caftans, it incorrectly casts sustainability as a “new” concept. If we didn’t understand its Black, brown, and indigenous origins before, we can’t ignore them now. “When we met, we shared mutual frustrations with the [industry’s] lack of acknowledgement of BIPOC contributions to sustainability throughout history, as well as a lack of that history being correlated to what is happening now in our communities, with the climate crisis and other events that disrupt our sustainability,” McGuire says. Climate change disproportionately affects Black, brown, and indigenous communities, who also happen to be the people who have done the least to cause it. (As Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson pointed out in her viral Washington Post story, Black and Latinx people are significantly more concerned about climate change than white people, too). Recent studies have found that climate change has dire implications on Black women’s pregnancy outcomes as well; it’s quite literally threatening their future existence.
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