For the past four years, I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about the clothes that I wear. In the Growing a Minimalist Wardrobe series on my blog, and in my book, Simple Matters, I’ve encouraged readers to interrogate their relationship to clothes alongside me. How do they make us feel? How do we wear them? Who’s making them? And what’s the impact on people and the planet? In the course of that work, I’ve had the privilege and honor of working with small designers to spread the word about their efforts in the slow, sustainable, and ethical fashion communities. But in my call for conscious consumption, there has been plenty that I’ve overlooked. This year, I’m hoping to hand this platform over to some of the folks who are currently instrumental in expanding, enriching, and diversifying the conversations happening in the slow fashion community.
This week, I invited Emi Ito, founder of the #BuyFromBIPOC Instagram challenge to write about why she’s spending the next year buying from Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) designers and BIPOC-owned and operated businesses. In addition to her personal shopping challenge, Emi created and is co-moderating the newly launched @BuyFromBIPOC Instagram account. The account will serve as meeting space and megaphone for sharing the work of BIPOC creatives in the slow fashion community, from designers, to business owners, to influencers.
Here’s more from Emi:
Slow and ethical fashion became a part of my life more than three years ago when I was pregnant and began the work of deeply reflecting on my core values and aligning more fully with who I want to be for my child. I realized that my love of fashion could merge with my commitment to be more sustainable in all facets of my life. But as I began to follow more slow fashion brands and influencers, a common theme emerged: The familiar, uncomfortable sensation of being an outsider in a white dominated space. Time and time again, I saw white influencers and white-owned slow fashion brands being centered and promoted in ways that were not consistent with what I saw happening for their Black, Indigenous, and other people of color counterparts.
The oppression of white supremacy meant that despite their significant contributions to creative work in these fashion spaces, BIPOC-owned slow fashion brands and BIPOC makers and influencers like Dominique Drakeford of Melanin and Sustainable Style, Deb Shepherd of Clothed in Abundance, and Aja Barber, among others, weren’t being amplified at the same rate. I craved a slow fashion community that more fully represented the range of people, product, and brands that I knew already existed—one that didn’t deny the talent and lived experiences of BIPOC creatives.
Last year, I decided to create a public Instagram account in an effort to find that community. I wanted to connect with more slow, sustainable, and ethical fashion lovers, who, like me, are people of color sharing our experiences and working to make these online fashion spaces more inclusive. On Instagram, I formed new friendships that led to my participation in the Fall 2018 10×10 style challenge—a sustainable capsule wardrobe challenge started by Lee Vosburgh of Style Bee. My friend Bo of @linednotes came up with the idea to create a new hashtag for the challenge and to invite testimonials about representation in slow fashion. I came up with the hashtag, #10x10RepresentationMatters and eventually the hashtags #EthicalFashionRepresentationMatters and #SlowFashionRepresentationMatters as a way to keep the conversations going.
The experience of sharing, witnessing, connecting, and holding space for these narratives during that ten day challenge was profoundly healing and cathartic. Because of that experience and my ongoing frustrations around the lack of representation in the slow, sustainable, and ethical fashion communities, I decided to create a personal fashion challenge. For a full year, beginning in February of 2019, I am committing to making all my personal fashion purchases exclusively from slow, sustainable, and ethical BIPOC makers and brands and I’m inviting others to join me. I created the #BuyFromBIPOCchallenge hashtag so that participants can connect throughout the experience.
Because the response to the challenge has been so positive, I decided to create a new dedicated Instagram account, @buyfrombipoc. I am incredibly grateful to work with such a brilliant team of co-moderators: Brooke, Bea, and Elaina!
We still live in a world where so many of us are not allowed the dignity of being our whole selves in the spaces we occupy. I wanted to be a part of creating a space where BIPOC can be our full selves, centered, and celebrated. I wanted to deepen my commitment to what “ethical fashion” means to me, which is amplifying the work of BIPOC innovators and creatives who have been doing this work for many years. Finally, I wanted all of this to result in putting money directly into the hands of BIPOC makers.
BIPOC creatives are deeply rooted in ancestral knowledge of craft and traditions. There is a profound honoring of heritage and familial ties that have been passed down through the generations through the pieces that makers create. In my own family, I have kimono and haori sewn by my great grandmother. I have wrapped them around my body and will one day wrap them around my child’s body so that she feels the textured connection to her matrilineal line. The @buyfrombipoc account is about showcasing how BIPOC honor our ancestors and pride in our cultural heritages through craft and through speaking up about representation and inclusiveness in slow, sustainable, ethical fashion.
Through the @buyfrombipoc account and #BuyFromBIPOCchallenge, I hope that people who are interested in slow, sustainable, and ethical fashion will grow their awareness and inquiry regarding the diversity of leadership at brands, be more mindful of making purchases that are investing in BIPOC communities, and will use their voices to speak up for accountability and representation when they find it is lacking.
My hope is that the work of @buyfrombipoc can be a small offering toward the collective efforts of BIPOC to take up space to celebrate, heal, and transform. Ultimately, it was born out of love—love for honoring my ancestors and my child, love for BIPOC communities, love for equity and the right to be whole people, wherever, and whomever we are.
Here are a few other simple ways to support BIPOC creatives in slow fashion:
Join the #BuyFromBIPOCchallenge or create your own personal challenge such as buying gifts for friends exclusively from BIPOC makers, or committing to at least one slow, sustainable, ethical fashion purchase from a BIPOC creative this year. The @buyfrombipoc team invites anyone who is unable to do the year long challenge, to utilize the #BuyFromBIPOC hashtag as a way to connect and share brands and makers!
Use social media to follow BIPOC makers, brands, and creatives and then amplify their work regularly on your platform (with credit and tags, of course).
Take the time to comment on the social media platforms of BIPOC creatives to thank them and express why you appreciate their work.
If you have local brick and mortar shops that carry slow fashion brands, suggest BIPOC brands and makers they could partner with and carry.
Most importantly, do the work of learning from, following, and paying for the labor of Black and Indigenous teachers such as Rachel Cargle, Layla F. Saad, Rachel Ricketts, Allen Salway, and Adrienne Keene among others.
What about all of you guys? Anyone out there taking the #BuyFromBIPOCchallenge? Favorite BIPOC-influencers and designers to share? I’d love to know.
Emi Ito is a mother and an elementary educator. She is a Japanese American of Mixed heritage and is part of the transracial adoptee community. Emi taught in Bay Area public schools for twelve years and has been an intervention teacher and coordinator for the past three. She founded and co-directed an arts based summer camp and after school club for youth of color who identify as multiracial, mixed heritage, and/or transracially adopted/fostered. Since becoming more active in slow, sustainable, and ethical fashion, Emi has spoken out against the appropriation of the term, “kimono,” and recently wrote a guest blog post for Densho on the subject. In the past year, she has worked with several makers and brands to change their “kimono” garment names. You can find her on Instagram @little_kotos_closet musing on social justice topics and her toddler’s shenanigans.