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There Is A Difference Between Empowerment And Exploitation: Aditi Mayer, A Sustainable Fashion Blogger

  • IWB Post
  •  October 5, 2019

Aditi Mayer is the creative mind behind ADIMAY, a sustainable fashion blog exploring the ties between style, sustainability, and social justice for over four years, and focuses on intersectionality and representation within the slow and sustainable fashion industry.

On Instagram live with IWB, Aditi discussed cultural appropriation, patriarchy, racism, and labour politics in the sustainable fashion industry. Here are the excerpts:

On lack of representation and intersectionality

“When I first got involved with sustainability it was a homogeneously white group and being one of the few women of colour I noticed a lot of problematic tropes. Like the imagery would be a lot of starving black and brown children and the consumer base was always white. That got me thinking about racial politics in sustainability.

So I’m trying to establish diversity of thought, it’s not enough to have people of colour if we’re perpetuating the same problematic cycles. There hasn’t even been one panel that I’ve attended that has included workers’ voices in the dialogue. We need to pivot our approach to sustainable fashion and say which voices are being silenced. It’s not enough that we speak on their behalf; we need to make them central to the dialogue and let them speak themselves.”

Responsible fashion has been central to my work for some time now, and in 2019, I’ll be creating more content about responsible travel. And by that, I don’t mean staying in luxury yoga retreats around the world wearing elephant pants. More than just commodifying wellness. I want more dialogues around things like… displacement of local communities, deconstructing the Orientalist gaze, to defining “Home” as a daughter of the diaspora. TLDR; Whose ready for some WOC-led, beyond-luxury-yoga-retreat, anti-Orientalist-travel content in 2019? 🙋🏽‍♀️✈️

887 Likes, 75 Comments – ADITI MAYER (@aditimayer) on Instagram: “Responsible fashion has been central to my work for some time now, and in 2019, I’ll be creating…”

On the ties between style, sustainability, and social justice

“When you think about the fashion industry, the two main elements are the fashion capital and the environmental capital. And it is often the most marginalized groups in society making our clothes, be it women, immigrants, etc and those are the communities that are disproportionately affected by pollution as well.

The traditional fashion industry has profited off the erasure of workers and that’s intentional because once you know how these systems operate, it isn’t as sexy anymore.”

On how the workers are exploited by the fashion houses

“A lot of people’s opinion of labour exploitation is that it only happens overseas. But the garment industry is the second biggest in LA and most of the workers are predominantly undocumented immigrants. What I’ve realized is that their identity is ‘weaponized’ to create a workforce that can be manipulated, one that doesn’t speak out against their employers fearing deportation.

There is a rule that says even if you are undocumented you are entitled to the minimum wage. But here workers have a piece rate, they’re paid for each piece they complete and that rate hasn’t changed in the last 30-40 years. Three cents per piece, so around five dollars an hour is what they have to make do with, in an expensive city like LA.

You don’t have to go overseas to make a difference, there’s so much you can do in your own locality if you want.”

RECAP | From the panel on Cultural Appropriation at USC’s Pacific Asia Museum earlier this month! Being in the ‘#fashionactivism’ space, the topic of cultural appropriation can often feel as a distraction to larger issues- e.g is my energy worth a problematic white teen in Utah who wore a qipao to her prom, when we should be focusing on the labor exploitation/environmental degradation of (systemically) marginalized POC around the world? But what is always useful is looking at cultural appropriation as an observation of GOVERNING STRUCTURES > INDIVIDUALS; there will always be a problematic Karen, folks. Culture is not an autonomous sphere of it’s own; Culture is an observation of how various issues interlock, from economic, social, and cultural relations. To work against cultural appropriation is to consciously #decolonize our practices and systems; how the labor of POC is exploited for corporate success, how cultural elements are de-contextualized/de-politicized for #aesthetic gain, how the language #diversity & #representation is tokenized for companies to be relevant and engage in #pseudoactivism. Long story short, these nuanced conversations are relevant and necessary- especially in the bounds of institutions (Museums!) that have often profited off of imperialist visions of “the east” or “the other”. A ton of work ahead of us to revamp these systems, but I’m glad to see this generation disrupt existing paradigms ✨

461 Likes, 23 Comments – ADITI MAYER (@aditimayer) on Instagram: “RECAP | From the panel on Cultural Appropriation at USC’s Pacific Asia Museum earlier this month!…”

On cultural appropriation in the industry

“Colonization has basically left the world into a global south, which is considered the poorer section that is the producers, and the global north which is the consumers, to put it simply.

Indigenous craft is prized globally but how much of it is actually coming from that community and are they being compensated fairly?

One example of resisting this is a group of indigenous women in Mexico and Guatemala, a group of Mayan woman, have started a campaign that if any fast fashion brand, like Forever 21 or Zara, wants to use their designs they must first come to them for permission or monetary compensation or they’ll sue the brand.

Cultural appropriation is about two things, power and profit. And as we see those two things are related. We have to be very intentional about ensuring that such a product is coming from a person belonging to that identity because when that doesn’t happen it’s very easy to de-contextualize it and in the process that object just becomes a commodity and lose the cultural weight it carries.

Another instance is, I think, last winter in a fashion show Gucci had a lot of white models walking wearing a Sikh turban. Post 9/11 where the physical bodies of brown people like myself have been stereotyped, where people wearing a turban were immediately seen with a sense of threat, nobody is allowed to just use our identity as an accessory while erasing the violence and the oppression that these people have to face. You can take it off at the end of the day without facing any consequences but when it’s part of someone’s identity they have to navigate hate crimes and prejudice.”

On gender inequality and patriarchy in the sustainable fashion scene

“Right now in the fashion industry, people say ‘it’s employing so many women so it is a form of empowerment’, but there is a difference between empowerment and exploitation that we need to be aware of. You can give women employment, but they could be paid less and manipulated.

There isn’t a set definition of words like sustainable and ethical and because of that people are able to greenwash it, as we like to say, where they use these terms to sell a product but don’t have the authenticity behind it. We have to be careful of what is actually being progressive and what is being opportunistic.

Developing countries are competing to work for MNCs at the cheapest price point possible. Which is why they employ women, and that is a great marketing campaign. They can say ‘yeah we’re giving women jobs’, but these women are cheaper labour and they get paid lower salaries for longer hours.

Factory owners have been taking advantage of women’s unequal position in society for a long time, instead of challenging patriarchy a lot of these are reproducing it. But the scenario is changing now.”

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