It’s easy to pull out a list of keywords that were born from the sustainability movement: “ethical,” “organic,” “conscious,” “transparent,” even “sustainability” itself. Intersectionality was never on the list, nor was it mentioned in the mainstream media; the only silver lining is that it was never co-opted or considered meaningless, either. But a brand cannot really be “sustainable” – even by its own definition – if it does not think of intersectionality, which is defined as “an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for human and planetary protection” by Leah Thomas in her recent Mode op-ed. “This identifies the ways in which injustices occur in marginalized communities and the earth is interconnected,” he wrote. “This brings injustice done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront and does not minimize or silence social inequality.”
This also contradicts many of the long-held beliefs about fashion about sustainability: that once a designer starts using organic cotton, it’s “sustainable”; that designers work with craftsmen in Africa and India to give them jobs and “preserve their craft,” not because of their unmatched quality (even though the white savior in fashion is another story); and, more broadly, that social justice and protecting the environment are separate issues. You cannot fly a flag to protect the oceans without considering the effects of climate change on Black, brown, and native populations; You don’t have to dedicate your life to veganism without an understanding of food security in a low-income environment.
There shouldn’t be the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and Tony McDade and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protest to wake many of us up to that difference, but the power behind this movement is pushing the industry to be more serious about change than it should be. Black Lives Matter has also empowered consumers to join in conversations and use their voices like never before: When high and low fashion brands rushed to post black boxes on #BlackoutTuesday in a lazy display of signaling, which failed to really take a stand – and contribute to BLM goals, set actionable goals to increase diversity in their organizations, “share microphones” with Black voices, or simply acknowledge past mistakes and vow to do better – immediately called. Others were found to have a problematic corporate culture that was at odds with their positions of doing good and was quickly canceled and, in the case of Reformasi, Refinery 29, and The Wing, Their CEO was removed. Last night, it became much more difficult for brands to hide behind empty slogans, beautiful photographs, or unclear campaigns, whether it was about social justice or the environment. Consumers want to see real action and real change, not marketing. Your supply chain is 100% organic? Show me You say you pay a living wage for your factory workers. Can you prove it? You claim to be aware of how climate change is affecting the communities around you … but what do you do to support them?
“What Black Lives Matter has done so strongly is to show that we need to have accountability, and that cannot be just words,” Maxine Bédat, founder of the New Standard Institute, said at a recent call. “We need to do a demonstration about what is actually being done [by a brand] to overcome the problems of racial injustice and racial justice, and what is done for the environment. This movement highlights the difference between real change and green washing, or green confusion. We turn to the accountability paradigm in space, which will actually lead to a more sustainable industry. “