“Leaders within fashion must acknowledge the industry’s deeply racist system inherited from a violent colonial past.” Lawfully Chic chats to Ayesha Barenblat, founder and CEO at Remake, to hear all about the company’s mission to ignite a worldwide conscious consumer movement to turn fashion into a force for good.
LC: Tell us about Remake. What you do and why?
AB: Well, it’s our mission to turn fashion into a force for good; in just five short years since Remake was founded, we’ve been able to grow our sustainable fashion movement to over 76,000 Instagram followers and 400+ ambassadors in 33 states nationwide. Our growth proves that people are not only interested in sustainable fashion but are wanting so much more from fashion brands they purchase from. Broadly speaking, we make an impact in four main areas:
- Education – We’ve created over 450 films, fact-filled stories, campaign assets and workshop materials to empower our community, inspiring them to buy less and better through our #wearyourvalues campaign.
- Leadership Development – We have over 500 ambassadors, across 33 states and worldwide hosting workshops, panels, and webinars to educate, inspire, and grow our conscious fashion community.
- Transparency – Through a rigorous vetting process that looks at brand traceability, maker well-being and environmental impacts, we have assessed over 200 fashion brands, promoting those who have received our Seal of Approval and directing conscious shoppers to their marketplaces.
- Advocacy – Through our campaigns like No New Clothes and PayUp Fashion, we’re able to amplify our messaging and lead movements dedicated to a better future for the industry, our planet, and those who make our clothes.
LC: How has your work and the nature or success of it has changed during the COVID-19 crisis?
AB: As COVID-19 has spread globally, it has disproportionately impacted the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. In the context of the fashion industry, COVID-19 has meant devastation for the women who bring our fashion to life. As the pandemic spread globally, retail stores closed across the US and Europe and online sales plummeted. Subsequently brands and retailers pushed the risk down to suppliers, en masse invoking force majeure clauses in their contract to cancel orders already produced and in production, where suppliers had fronted the materials and labour cost. For example, in Bangladesh $3 billion worth of orders were cancelled, which meant the country’s 4.1 million workers, a majority of whom are women, were furloughed or laid off without severance, savings or access to healthcare.
LC: That’s fairly devastating. What was your reaction?
AB: We mobilised immediately, collecting over 272,000 signatures on our #PayUp petition, and sparking a worldwide movement including actress Nat Kelly, models Cameron Russell, Arizona Muse and Amber Valletta, and our own Remake community to engage in the campaign. The campaigning led to H&M becoming the first brand to #PayUp, then Zara and now 21 brands agreeing to pay for back orders totaling upward of $1 billion in Bangladesh. Conservative estimates are that the #PayUp campaign has helped unlock $22 billion in unpaid orders globally and allowed many workers to receive back wages. Although these may seem like victories, there’s still more work to be done since brands like Walmat, JCPenny, Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters have yet to #PayUp.
LC: How do you feel about life in this pandemic world?
AB: It’s pretty simple really. Going back to business as usual is not an option. For us to feel good in our clothes, fashion’s most essential workers must be paid fairly and have safety and security at work.
LC: What do you see as the present and future challenges for the fashion industry?
AB: As we do at Remake, the fashion industry needs to take on sustainability in an intersectional way, because environmental and social justice go hand in hand. Leaders within fashion must acknowledge the industry’s deeply racist system inherited from a violent colonial past. We need better representation and the uplifting of black designers and black-owned brands. For the established luxury and high street brands, we need structural changes to create better protections for their retail and factory workers and a more equal footing for supplier partners. Currently brands push all the risk down onto suppliers and subsequently workers, who all happen to be people of colour. We have seen this exacerbate during COVID-19, with brands and their executives shoring up cash by refusing to #PayUp for placed orders dating back to March and April, and pushing all risk onto suppliers and ultimately to vulnerable black and brown garment workers who already live paycheck to paycheck. This is a moment of reset. As I previously mentioned, going back to business as usual is not an option. We need to work together to build a more sustainable and just fashion industry that works for many rather than a few.
LC: What should consumers be focusing on when we approach fashion?
AB: Consumers should start by asking themselves and the brands they love “Who made my clothes?” By keeping in mind the origins of how your clothes are made, you begin to form a connection with the human hands that made them. One other thing to remember is that changing your fashion habits can be done step by step. When I first started my sustainable fashion journey, I got overwhelmed, thinking I had to quit fast fashion cold turkey and start an ethical wardrobe from scratch. I later realised that there are big and small ways to be involved in the sustainable fashion movement from choosing to buy less, repairing the clothing you already have, upcycling, buying second-hand, or investing in brands who care about those who make their clothes as well as the planet. With time, I’ve been able to get rid of my bad habits and build the closet of my dreams.
LC: What’s the latest big project you’re working on?
AB: We’re excited to announce that we launched PayUp Fashion, the next phase of our #PayUpcampaign. The seven actions within this campaign were written by a coalition of garment workers, union leaders, labour activists and concerned citizens. We are here to centre worker voices in any future of fashion conversation. The most immediate way you can help is to sign and share our petition, inspire your friends and colleagues to sign on as well, and share your support on social media. Please continue to tag brands using the #PayUp hashtag on social media that have yet to pay their bills per our Brand Tracker. We will continue to update the website with new ways to get involved in the coming weeks and months.