Advocates stress that the two are inextricably linked, yet many brands touting sustainable values fall short on inclusivity.
Failing to overcome internal systemic racism in the fashion industry limits career opportunities for black employees and alienates customers. It also shortchanges brands’ efforts to reduce impacts on the environment.
“All of these issues are connected,” says Aja Barber, a sustainability consultant and advocate. “If the humans where you manufacture don’t have clean drinking water, then it doesn’t matter if you’re using less water in your manufacturing.”
Countries where the majority of clothing is manufactured — as well as where much of it ends up at the end of its life — are among the world’s most vulnerable to climate change, and many grapple with contaminated or insufficient water supplies and other environmental ills. Since the pandemic began, a number of brands saying they stand with the black community have left suppliers in Bangladesh and Cambodia in millions of dollars in debt and unable to pay their workers, who are overwhelmingly women of colour. In wealthier countries, it’s communities of colour who tend to live in the most polluted areas — including the thousands of garment workers who make clothes in Los Angeles.