Sophia also shares:
- What equity is and how we must address exploitation in fashion at its core;
- The realities of racism and colonialism in not just fast fashion, but the conscious fashion space as well;
- And why we need to decentralize (and decolonize) the Eurocentric understanding of land and labor in the fashion space.
Tune in to this episode of the Conscious Style Podcast below, or on your favorite podcast app.
The transcript of this episode of the Conscious Style Podcast is below.
ELIZABETH JOY: Hey there, and welcome or welcome back to the Conscious Style Podcast.
We are diving really deep in today’s episode with Sophia Yang, who is the Founder and Executive Director of Threading Change a youth-led ethical fashion organization that works at the intersections of climate, gender, and racial justice, in alignment with the necessary transition to a circular economy.
You are going to hear about how colonialism not only shaped fashion but is still embedded in how the industry operates today;
what equity really is and how we must address exploitation and fashion at its core, and how colonialism is connected to fashion’s inequities;
the realities of racism and colonialism in not just fast fashion, but the conscious fashion space as well;
and why we need to decentralize and decolonize the Eurocentric understanding of land and labor in the fashion space.
As I said, this episode is diving really deep!
So if you are newer to ethical fashion, I definitely recommend listening to the first five or so episodes (such as What is Ethical Fashion? and What is Sustainable Fashion?) because the discussions here will make a lot more sense and you’ll have more context for some of the references made.
We are going to dive in in just a moment here, but I wanted to let you know that this is part one of the conversation with Sophia so part two will be going live next week!
So make sure that you are subscribed or following on your podcast app so that you do not miss the second part of this conversation because I promise you it’s just as good as this first part is going to be.
And also if you are liking the Conscious Style Podcast so far, it would mean so much if you could rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts.
This really helps the show and the content reach new audiences and shouldn’t take more than like five seconds for a rating and a minute for a review. Thank you in advance!
Alright, now let’s get to what you have been waiting for — the interview.
Sophia is going to start us off here with an introduction sharing some background on herself and how and why she founded the ethical fashion organization Threading Change.
SOPHIA YANG: My name is Sophia. My Chinese name is Yang Ya Cheng and I use she/her/hers pronouns. And I’m joining you today from the traditional unseeded ancestral territory of the Musqueam Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples, aka Vancouver in Western Canada.
So my story starts when I emigrated from China to Canada when I was eight years old. We first lived in Calgary, and then I moved to Vancouver when I was 17 to go to the University of British Columbia studying Natural Resources Conservation.
I was inspired to really dive into a career in environmentalism and sustainability when I read an article at the age of 11 that was by Dr. David Suzuki discussing what kids can do to raise awareness about global warming (it was called at the time).
So I’ve always been a climate activist at heart, advocating for planetary health, and also the need to ensure that we keep our planet not just good for future generations, but for current generations as well.
It was when I attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s COP conference in Madrid in 2019 in December, where I stumbled into the one-year anniversary signing event of the UN Fashion Charter.
And at this event, it was essentially a convergence of industry leaders, government officials, and also those working in the fashion industry and also banking institutions coming together to talk about sustainable fashion.
For the first time in history, this was a landmark agreement with industry and also governments working via policy instruments and other forms to transform the industry.
It was when I was at this event that while I really felt like while they did a great job capturing the need for environmental protection and ensuring that we reduce climatic conditions in the fashion industry… I didn’t feel like we really touched on the intersectional aspects of fashion.
As we know, fashion has many issues ranging from climate injustice, unfair and inequitable labor practices, not centering gender equity.
And there’s also the lack of racial diversity.
I felt at this event that there was not enough recognition of those in the Global South.
Millions of garment workers around the world, 90% of them being women that are spending 90% of their day either making 10 cents an hour or not making any money at all making our clothing.
So I really want to start Threading Change — which is a play on word of spreading change — to really encapsulate the importance of upholding intersectionality and also justice and equity in our fashion conversation.
And in order to ensure that we are moving into a better and newer fashion system that really centers ethical fashion, which means we’re not just thinking about the planetary bounds of fashion, but also thinking about people as well.
So, beyond just emissions reduction, but more into how we can envision a better fashion system that’s fair and equitable for all.
And for me, I’ve always had a really strong interest in fashion. In 2018, I made the switch to change all my clothing to be thrifted, secondhand, clothing swap, and vintage. But another reason why I want to start Threading Change was I noticed that a lot of people around me are resorting to retail therapy, or shopping a lot as a way to cope with a pandemic.
And while I totally understand that,(I even did a bit of that myself in the beginning) I think it’s a very dangerous method, how fast fashion companies have thrusted this model of gross capitalist consumption upon us.
As Orsola de Castro said… (she’s a great activist in the fashion space, she founded Fashion Revolution) she was saying that ‘no one was born to want to buy 30 pairs of jeans in one year. We’re not born to be fast fashion consumers’.
These fashion brands have put these capitalist models on us and almost tricked us in a way with clever marketing schemes for us to think this way.
And I think that’s a very true sentiment in that in truly changing the fashion industry is all about people coming together and working within the intersectional realms to ensure that we envision a better fashion future for everybody.
ELIZABETH: Absolutely. So, a lot of your work with Threading Change is centered on equity. And today, in the fashion industry, while we are seeing some small efforts made by brands to be more diverse — or really appear to be more diverse — but we’re not really seeing any real shifts in power or real efforts towards equity.
For example, we see fast fashion brands with more diverse marketing campaigns, while they continue to exploit garment makers, who are disproportionately women of color in the Global South, and also sometimes in countries in the Global North as well; appropriate cultures or even steal designs; and lack inclusivity and representation in positions of power, such as the executive suite or the board, these people who actually have the ability to make important decisions in these brands and organizations.
Given your work in this space, how do you think we can get fashion to move beyond tokenism and actually be more equitable?
SHOPHIA: Yeah, this is a great question. I think to answer this question, we have to start first by defining equity.
So equity in the very formal terms is essentially ‘the quality of being fair and also impartial’.
So, I think when we say we are working on equity and justice, that’s never to be confused with equality. We don’t use the term equality, because you may have heard or seen that graphic that really showcases the difference between equity and equality.
Equality is when there’s a systemic barrier in place. So an example… can be, a picket fence and people can’t see properly, and you give everyone the same height of ladder to make sure they can see over the fence for someone that’s shorter, they still can’t see over the fence.
Whereas, equity is giving people different levels of support to ensure that everyone is able to be on the same level playing field in accessing resources. Whereas, in reality, what happens is that there’s many times more support for certain groups of people, namely people in the Global North, in the reality of today in the fashion ecosystem.
And there’s not very much support for people in the Global South whatsoever. In fact, they’re mainly being exploited. And then the end goal is liberation.
Whereas, this systemic barrier such as defense is eradicated and everyone has equal access to resources without any further help because this barrier has been removed.
In the case of the fashion industry, when it comes to centering equity, the level of support that we must give — whether it’s garment workers or smaller brands — is ensuring that they have the same level playing field when marketing the products or when ensuring that they have equitable and fair pay.
And this is a hard reality to even envision nowadays, because the fashion ecosystem, the big fashion train, as you’ve probably heard many times, it’s among one of the most polluting industries in the world.
There are so many different actors in the fashion industry, ranging from suppliers, government workers, retailers, and, people working out on the design side consumers government regulation, that sometimes it’s even hard to understand who has the power to actually make these shifts in place.
And this is also the issue we run into. I have previously been talking to some Clubhouse rooms… which government body, which legislative body in your region has the power to actually try to get there to be less textile waste going to landfills?
Because I tried to explore this issue in Vancouver, Canada, and there was a lot of ping-ponging of responsibility between regional governments, provincial governments, and also different retail wholesalers. So as you can see, the ecosystem is incredibly complex and sometimes it’s not easy to see who actually has the power to enact change.
But I think once we address the issue at the core — the issue of why we don’t have equity in the industry — is that the exploitation of workers is something that needs to be eradicated.
And I say that because there’s so many aspects of fashion industry that consumers don’t even know that’s beyond just exploitation and lack of diversity.
But it’s also the fact that right now the fashion industry is one of the leading contributors to modern-day slavery.
As you may know, right now in the Uighur population in northeastern China, so the Uighur population, they are in that region of China and they are being enslaved to work 90% of their day farming for organic cotton, and they don’t get paid at all. And there is incredibly tight restrictions on who is able to access these areas — it is very heavily government-sanctioned and patrolled.
And UNICEF and also Amnesty International have deemed it as one of the highest forms of human rights violations currently.
And the reason why it’s so problematic is because even though leaders such as Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, have said previously that they are not shipping Uighur-made products into Canada, and they’re banning it, stores like Zara are still able to sell their products.
The reason why this is problematic is because when there was people that were investigating into if there was Uighur slave labor in Zara supply chain, they had a sentence or they had like a web page on their website about a month ago that was saying that they don’t tolerate any form of slave labor.
But then about three weeks ago, this web page mysteriously disappeared with no explanation. And when further asked him to comment on the questions, Zara did not provide any more clarification. So, it’s one of those business practices like this that really makes you raise an eyebrow.
And even if we’re trying to better the situation, it’s still increasingly at a slow pace because these workers are still subject to various forms of abuse.
The other thing I would say that when we try to push for more circular fashion and more equity, it’s also the fact that we need to think about how these century-old business models of consumption and production needs to stop.
So the fashion industry really got a head start because they were able to really get lots of cheap labor overseas. There’s a reason why Bangladesh and China are two countries where there’s so much clothing being made.
The reason is because it’s rooted in colonialism. The reason is because there’s different trade agreements, that were enacted as early as 1930’s, that are now able to have really cheap clothing and other goods produced in these countries and up-selled for much more without people really batting an eye.
So these century-old business models of consumption and production need to stop. And the thing at Threading Change that we always say is that to get to this notion of change, of spreading the change, we need to stop viewing our clothing as commodities as materialistic goods.
And instead view them as stories, as memories, as the gateway to understanding and realizing the difference you want to see in the world.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, definitely. There was so much there that we could explore deeper, but something I’d like to discuss a little bit more with you is colonialism and racism in fashion.
So in the ethical fashion space, we often talk about these big retailers, these fast fashion brands perpetuating exploitive systems, specifically the exploitation of women of color in the Global South, as well as often immigrant women of color in the Global North.
And brands, like Zara, as you mentioned specifically, are perhaps the worst in this system enabling, maybe profiting off of slave labor, and it really does not get worse than that.
But while we don’t necessarily see this overt exploitation of garment makers in the ethical fashion space, we can still see some of these racist colonial systems that play with things like say, white saviorism, and Eurocentrism.
So, could you share your perspective on that, and maybe how we can do better in the ethical fashion niche or space?
SOPHIA: Absolutely. I just want to bring it back to Zara for one second, because I think this concept of white saviorism, I want to relate it back to this company.
One of the things about Zara is that they’re originally made in Spain and one of the true inequitable parts of the industry that really grinds my gears is that when you talk about fashion, a lot of people think of fashion as a very girly industry or a very feminine [industry].
First of all, there’s nothing wrong with that. But part of that is if it’s really a quote-unquote girly industry, then how come 9 out of the 10 largest fashion company CEOs are men?
So some of these companies I’m talking about are Uniqlo Zara, Nike, Adidas, Hermès, Louis Vuitton — these brands all have male CEOs, right?
So it’s a ‘girly’ industry… Well, then how come people with positions of power or executive power the top are not women at all? H&M is the only one that has a woman as a CEO.
Second of all, 9 out of 10 of these CEOs are white, of the 10 largest fashion companies in the world. The only one that’s not is the CEO of Uniqlo, who is Japanese.
Third of all, 8 out of 10 of the CEOs are based in Europe, with only two outside Europe. The only two being Nike from the US and Uniqulo from Japan.
So as you can see, the powerhouses of fashion where most of the decision is made — all that power is mainly concentrated in Europe, the root of a lot of colonialism in today’s world. This is not a coincidence.
And the reason why I also mentioned Zara is because Zara actually made over $10 billion in profit since the pandemic has started, whereas many other companies, a lot of smaller clothing brands have lost a lot of money.
I was on a podcast previously and a host when I said this part, he said: Yeah, I remember, I live in Toronto, in downtown Toronto, and every other store was being closed. But Zara kept changing the window displays.
It’s because they have a model that people will still want to consume even when a pandemic is happening because they have cultivated a culture that’s easy for you to consume because your clothing is applicable for every single situation.
While it is a clever marketing scheme… it is incredibly dangerous because Zara is also one of those companies that really popularized the really, really fast design fashion term.
Like Zara has been known to get a design, from initial sketching to the garment factory to the warehouse to the reseller, in as little as four days.
Can you imagine drawing up a dress, and then literally 72 to 96 hours later, it’s in store?
That’s how fast it is. And if that’s not the definition of fast fashion, I don’t know what is.
And in terms of what I’ve seen, the conscious fashion space and how can push for better. I’ve seen a lot of people kind of call these brands out, Zara included.
And I’ve also seen people that’s talking about the intersectionality of fashion, how it must also center people before profit, and also the planet as well.
But something that’s happening that I think is very dangerous is the white saviorism that’s happening in the industry.
And I say this, because, when it comes to talking about ethical fashion, there are a lot of people working in the space that are approaching the topic from a very Westernized point of view.
And that’s not necessarily their fault, because some of the earliest people discussing ethical fashion and sustainable fashion are from Europe… there are lots of companies doing great work in those regions.
But what’s happening is that they have a Eurocentric view of the different solutions they want to be put on to kind of advance ethical fashion and to combat fast fashion.
But we cannot apply a bandaid one-size-fits-all solutions across different continents in the fashion ecosystem.
It’s just not the same. I mean, take Netherlands, they can have lots of different programs and educational programs on ethical fashion, but they don’t have as many sweatshops right in that region.
Whereas you can talk about ethical fashion from the lens of China. But because China has so many more sweatshops and different factories actually making the clothing, there’s going to be different solutions apply to these different regions.
And I actually, unfortunately, experienced white saviorism in the fashion industry for the first time recently where I heard of someone that was working to bring Fashion Revolution to a certain country, but they don’t even speak the language of the country.
They don’t speak any dialect of the country. They’re not from that country, they just worked there recently, and they think that they are the right ones to bring the Fashion Revolution to that region.
And when I heard this, I thought to myself, hang on. That really, really bothers me. Because how can you ensure you’re working in a way that benefits the country, if you don’t even speak the language, you don’t even have the lived experience?
If you don’t even truly understand what’s required there, you’re still coming in from a Eurocentric perspective on what needs to be, quote unquote fixed, what needs to be saved.
The people in this country don’t need to be saved, they don’t need you to fix them or fix anything, they need you to stop exploiting them.
As a Westerner coming to a country and saying you’re gonna bring the Fashion Revolution, have you thought about how the word revolution in certain countries that still have different government structures that are a little bit more communist, or perhaps their government structures are more conservative... the word revolution might actually really, really cause government bodies to get very frustrated.
So there’s just these things that when I heard that this person is going to bring the Fashion Revolution to this region, I really was like, I don’t know if you did your research. And even if you did, you are not the right person to be leading this work.
You can be working, you can be supporting the work, but are you doing this work because you want the glory, the recognition, or because you are the one to do this work because you care?
And I think this happens a lot when Westerners come in and they care a lot — you can hear in their voice, you can hear in the way they communicate, you can see you can feel the passion.
But that needs to be coming from a place of deeply rooted understanding that colonialism is the reason that many of these countries are in the situation today. And you as a Westerner coming in and putting these Band-Aid solutions is not helping.
It might provide some temporary solutions, but with an industry as corrupt as fashion, it really has to be systemic changes that need to occur.
And sometimes that needs to happen with the government body and you collaborating. Just coming in and not understanding isn’t really going to cut it.
And I think the last thing I’ll say in this is that there are many forms of change-making activism that work in the Western world. Examples of sitting outside Parliament protesting, doing artivism, which is combining art, maybe even doing different types of petitions.
But one type of change-making in a certain Western country does not mean it’s going to work in a different region. In fact, it can be very, very different.
This is when we need to be realizing that unless we have robust prior informed consent and consultation with the community you’re trying to change… people cannot be coming In here and saying that “this has worked in this region so I’m going to come and try to do the same for you”.
Again, we need to stop the exploitation. They don’t just need to be saved, it’s really much more complicated than that.
ELIZABETH: So many good points there. And these are things that we definitely need to be aware of. Not putting Western solutions as the solutions for the entire world, especially considering that it is Western colonizers and imperialists, that have continued to create many of the issues in these countries in the first place.
So you’ve mentioned colonialism a few times and I’d love to explore this deeper in the context of fashion. So could you speak to how fashion’s colonial roots have shaped the modern-day realities of the industry today?
SOPHIA: So I think when when we talk about colonialism, it’s important to define it, first of all.
But also to think about how are we embedded in these colonial structures? Sometimes we’re not even understanding or knowing that we are.
And colonialism is when the practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country. So we are still very much embedded within colonialism in the fashion industry, especially when it comes to economic dues, and in different business models that the fashion industry currently has.
So right now, China in 2016, produced about 46% of the global textiles.
(So that’s more than just clothing that also includes leather couches, and snow gear, for example. And also couch covers and carpets. So when we talk about textiles, it goes beyond just clothing, there’s many different fabrics that go into play. Just want to make that clear.)
That’s a lot. That’s almost 50% just coming from one country alone.
And Bangladesh is also very close up about 8% in 2016, the US of what they’re importing.
Now, Bangladesh is much smaller than China. And Bangladesh also has way less people in China.
So how is it these two countries are really at the forefront of all this clothing production?
Ding, ding ding, it’s because of colonialism.
And in both of these two countries circumstances, they were previously under the control of the British India East Trading Company, in which some of them didn’t really escape it until more recently.
In some circumstances, the government of these countries actually want the textile industry to be flourishing in these regions because they see all the different economic goods and all the different economic power it was bringing.
In the case of China, because there’s so much clothing made there, China is now really known as, that’s where everything is made.
And it started all in the 1800s, where lots of foreign imports from British India of cotton yarn, created a very large market for weaver’s in northern China, which is interesting because the Uighur population is currently being slaved in northeastern China.
So things are not that different than how they were about 200 years ago, even though we think they’re very different.
We just got better at covering it up, which is really, really shocking and really dismayed to hear.
In terms of Bangladesh, it was mostly before trading muslin and also silk during the 16th to 18th century. And, like most industries in East Pakistan were owned by Pakistanis during the region.
After that, lots of local Bengali entrepreneurs had set up their own large textile and also jute factories in Bangladesh. This later allowed a lot of British rulers and different garment factories to set up there, and then later also export their products overseas.
And another industry in Bangladesh that’s very up-and-coming is something called RMGs, which is ready-made garments. And they’re essentially a finished textile product from the Bangladeshi RMG sector, which is one of the largest growing sectors in the economy in Bangladesh with about 55% growth from 2000 to 2012.
So as you can see, there’s so much growth happening within these regions that sometimes we don’t understand why that is. But the reason why they’re there is because of colonialism.
Now I want to bring it back to something very important.
So 43% of clothing garments are made in China that are being exported to the United States and 7 to 8% of Bangladesh.
So and then some of the other countries are also Cambodia, Vietnam, Honduras, and Haiti.
But where does the clothing go after we’re done with them?
Most people are thinking we’re going to donate them, maybe I’ll swap them, maybe I’ll give them to a local women’s shelter…
The truth is about 90% of clothing you donate to doesn’t get resold, especially after Marie Kondo really popularized the ‘does this spark joy?’, the Marie Kondo-your-life-movement in 2018.
Some different donation centers in Australia actually experienced over donations because people were donating too much. The problem with donation centers that we think that everything gets resold or they get donated.
We have this very fantasy, like in our mind, where people are using these products, and we’re helping someone in need.
The reality is 90% of the stuff you donate does not get resold and they get shipped to places like Kantamanto in Ghana.
Kantamanto one of the largest secondhand resale markets in the world where they’re getting tons, like thousands of tons of clothing, in superduper large blocks — like a port size block — shipped to their ports on a daily basis.
And workers… workers? More like volunteers or people that don’t even get paid for any of our work, are spending 15 hours of their day sorting through these gigantic blocks of clothing. So here’s pants, here’s shirts, to later resell them.
But we actually had Samuel from the OR Foundation who does work surrounding Kantamanto in Ghana and making sure people try and get a living wage and raise awareness on the topic.
He was saying that the clothing comes in, there are all sorts of things on there like blood stains, sweat stains, food stains — they’re absolutely just torn apart. It’s garbage.
And people are donating them thinking that they’re helping someone in need. What they’re really doing is contributing to diminishing textile sectors of many of Africa’s largest countries, because a similar situation is happening in Kenya as well.
And what they’re doing is trashing the clothing to a point, thinking that they’re helping out these people in these countries or in these regions, because they’re donating. What they’re really doing is just throwing their stuff away and then letting someone else pick up the scraps.
This is not ‘donating’. This is not helping people.
This is actually ruining the local economy in Kantamanto in Ghana. And it’s also the case in the Philippines and also Haiti.
So what do you notice?
The clothing is made in countries like China and Bangladesh and Vietnam and Cambodia — countries in the Global South where people are working 15 hours or more a day, sometimes for free, making less than 10 cents an hour.
What’s even worse is there are actually textile garment factories in New York that are mainly employing Chinese and Latinx women right in the United States, that are still paying them about 10 cents US (dollars) an hour. So still slave wage labor.
So even people of this geographic region, people of Chinese and Latina descent are producing this clothing in the US overseas [too].
So you have mostly women of color making these clothing in the Global South. And if it’s in the Global North, there’s still subject to various forms of abuse. And you have most countries in the Global South Philippines, Haiti, Ghana, and Kenya taking most of our clothing donations.
It is hugely colonial what is happening to the fashion ecosystem. Absolutely every aspect of it, from where it’s produced to where it’s dumped. It’s all at the hands of the Global South.
What happens in the North? These capitalist models of consumption are really driven by our desire to consume, to have a new outfit, to look good.
After the pandemic, Aja Barber — who is a great fashion activist — coined this term called revenge shopping.
[Revenge shopping is] where we will see a huge uptick of people buying clothing because now you can travel, now you can go to festivals, now you can go out. It’s going to happen.
And I just shudder thinking about it because even after I started working in this field, I really tried to minimize my shopping habits. But it’s hard to do.
So even a thrift store, right, it’s like affordable and it’s thrifting. So secondhand, so you’re thinking that it’s beneficial…
But after you go even go thrifting, you have more clothes accumulated. Things get very cloudy when you have too many things.
And this is why we’re really telling people to think of their clothes as stories are not commodities because this overconsumption and this overcapacity of choice is something that’s really hard for us to make more ethical decisions.
And I know I’m kind of talking a lot about this because I’m very passionate about that subject area. But I’ll just quickly mention that another example of this [colonialism in fashion] is India.
So India has one of the most diverse and just beautiful stories of textile manufacturing, and also the local textiles economy have some of the coolest fashions in the world today.
What’s happening is that with the digitization of fashion, the mechanization of looms (so, looms are the ones we put the thread on, and you’re able to make certain types of clothing), that previously was done a lot by women or even men that were really sewing by hand, button-making, seamstressing, and that’s what really fueled their economy.
But the rapid digitization of the looms and also of this growing demand in fast fashion has made a lot of the jobs where people are actually creating the clothing go out of business because they are being replaced by machines.
And what’s worse is that a lot of these women that have such amazing artistic ability in sewing their clothing, and also sewing for others, they have this skill that’s no longer needed. Because they’re quote-unquote, ‘too slow’.
Because these big companies want this clothing at a very quick rate.
And I think that’s just so incredibly unjust. That there are these women with these amazing sewing skills, that can put a machine to shame, that are no longer needed.
So we think about decolonizing fashion, there are a few different aspects.
There’s a labor aspect where we need to understand that we need to decolonize our understanding of labor from an intersectional lens and that there are so many different layers of oppression in the industry.
And when we are thinking about solutions for an ethical industry and thinking about it from the Western perspective, I’ve noticed a lot of language around how can we do XX to have the biggest impact and to drive and ensure it to the triple bottom line for people planet and profit?
This kind of thinking in thinking about how we do social change is inherently capitalist, and you guessed it colonialist. Because we’re thinking of how to get something out of someone else.
When in reality, the fact that they have their cultural heritage, their significance, and they have centuries of lived experience of sewing, and also of understanding how to do these different kind of sewing garment practices is really what’s good enough to quote unquote ‘drive impact’.
Because these are the communities that have been here for millennia, who can speak the language, who knows best practices, and are people that really should the ones that we should be listening to.
Not these huge, fast fashion conglomerates that are saying, we have a new ‘Conscious Collection. Oh, and by the way, if you take back, if you bring back your used clothing, we’ll give you $5 to buy more.
If we just stopped for a second to think about what they’re promoting to us. It’s kind of ridiculous, isn’t it?
SOPHIA: I’ll just end off by saying that the second aspect of decolonizing fashion is around the land aspect and realizing that we need to have a fundamental shift of how we see the land.
So sometimes, instead of looking at the diagram and thinking how am I going to farm all this organic cotton? How am I going to make the next poly-cotton blend? How I’m going to cut down this endangered or old-growth forests to make more plant-based materials because plant-based textiles are in right now?
We cannot see our land is really dead materials and something we have to extract from.
These extractive models are the exact ones that are fueling climate change, that are fueling growth capitalism. We need to think about how we need to live in relationship and in harmony with the land.
There are so many aspects of nature that are really in tune with how we should be thinking about fashion.
Nature is really able to encapsulate how we feel in the moment, and to take us back — and that’s something about fashion as well.
I have this jacket that I have worn to every single protest I’ve ever attended. And I’m probably gonna wear it to every single protest I ever will go to. That will be my protest jacket. That’s a story. And that is how I think we need to be decolonizing fashion.
ELIZABETH: And that wraps it up for part one of this conversation with Sophia! Part two will be going live next week. This second part of the episode will focus a lot more on the solutions for building a more just, equitable, and intersectional sustainable fashion future.
About Sophia and Threading Change:
Sophia Yang is the Founder & Executive Director of Threading Change a youth-led ethical fashion organization working at the intersections of climate, gender, and racial justice in alignment with the necessary transition to a circular economy.
Originally born in China but raised in Calgary, Alberta, Sophia draws on her multitude of diverse work and volunteer experiences as the drivers for her holistic approach and perspective on the protection of our environment. As a dedicated climate justice changemaker, Sophia has worked for over a dozen environmental organizations ranging from federal government agencies (Parks Canada, Natural Resources Canada), NGOs (Nature Conservancy of Canada, SPEC, Parkbus, CityHive), industry (CNRL), and academia (UBC, SFU).
Sophia is the recipient of the Starfish Canada’s Top 25 Under 25 Environmentalists award in 2017 and 2018, has attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 24 & 25) twice as a British Columbian Youth Delegate, and DJs as ‘THIS IS: KALEIDO’ in her spare time.
Threading Change was born because Sophia wanted to help raise young people’s voices in one of our world’s most polluting industries—the fashion industry. Doing so for our planet, and people.