We’re starting a new series called “Feature in Five” where we shine a spotlight on someone who inspires us and ask them 5 questions.
At MeeraMeera, sustainable fashion is fundamental to our business philosophy. By choosing to rent, you are consciously making a decision to consume less and reduce your fashion footprint without sacrificing personal style. That’s why it was so important for us to speak with Ayesha Barenblat, CEO and Founder of Remake, as our first feature.
Based in California, Remake is a community of millennial and Gen Z women who pledge to put an end to fast fashion. Remake does this through:
- Leadership Development - they've trained female leaders around the globe, hosting workshops, panels, and webinars to educate, inspire, engage, and uplift the voices in the community. In turn, these communities host film screenings, clothing swap parties, and educational panels to mobilize others in the fight against fast fashion
- Education - they've created documentary films, fact-filled stories, campaign assets, and workshop materials to empower the community, inspiring them to buy less and better through their #wearyourvalues campaign.
- Transparency - their Remake Seal of Approval process makes it easy for the community to call out greenwashing and support better brands. The Seal of Approval process pushes brands to be more transparent in their production and business practices.
Remake’s mission is to make fashion a force for good.
Check out our interview with Ayesha:
Q1: Ayesha, you founded Remake because you are passionate about where fashion comes from. Why should the modern shopper want to know more about the garment workers who make our fashion and what their lives are like?
A: As consumers, we have let the fashion industry guard itself for too long, and while we have made progress, it has been slow and not enough. Our clothes are coming to us too fast and too cheap and the only way for us to consume and dispose at this alarming pace, is to oppress the women who power this industry. We as shoppers are powerful. How we buy is how we vote. Supporting brands that have Remake's seal of approval is a way to vote for fashion that benefits those who make our clothes and our planet. The fashion industry's myriad of problems are wicked and it will take all players: governments, manufacturers, brands and civil society to make this industry do more good. A missing piece in this puzzle today is consumers. The more we show the market that we want fashion that is conscious, the more we signal to brands and retailers that ethical and sustainable is no longer optional, it's how our clothes must be made.
Q2: Prior to founding Remake, you led brand engagement at Better Work, a World Bank and United Nations partnership to ensure safe and decent working conditions within garment factories around the world. What was the most eye opening thing you learned in the course of doing this work?
A: Having worked on the inside of the industry for a long time, I had made the business case for retailers to invest in the lives of garment makers. When Rana Plaza fell down on April 24th 2013, killing 1,134 young factory workers, it became clear to me that it would take a groundswell of consumer demand to truly move the needle. What we needed was a people’s movement to say no more deaths, human rights abuses and environmental degradation in our quest for cheap clothes. This is the inspiration to found Remake.
I realized in my years working alongside labor advocacy groups that we had given consumers too few options to engage in the movement beyond boycotts. I have had the pleasure in my career to sit down, talk to, break bread with thousands of the women who make our clothes. The resilience, hard work of this forgotten #girlboss at the other end of the supply chain was always a source of inspiration for me.
So I thought, if only millennial consumers could meet her in a more textured way the way I have and see themselves in her life’s narrative. Perhaps then we can move away from feeling apathy for the people toiling in sweatshops faraway and instead advocate for the women who make our clothes in factories around the world. Our meet the maker series and film shorts do just that. We want to remake the connection between consumers and makers, who are mostly women on either end of the supply chain as a way to mainstream conscious fashion.
Q3: COVID-19 has impacted all our lives in ways we couldn’t imagine. The fashion industry has been no exception and is enduring the negative impacts of COVID-19 globally. How do you believe COVID-19 has exacerbated fashion's problems? What can be done?
A:1. Sustainability means resilience
COVID-19 has cracked wide open the fragile nature of supply chains. First with material shortages from China in February 2020 and then the global collapse in demand starting March when the pandemic spread globally. We have seen supply chain connections ruptured and a domino effect of devastation on workers. This pandemic has shown us how vulnerable the fashion supply chain is to shocks and is a lesson to brands to build more resilient supply chains to weather future pandemic and climate change shocks. This includes building deeper and more meaningful partnerships with supplier partners, consolidating supply chains and investing in communities where brands are made.2. Small and locally produced brands thrive
We have seen some smaller US brands that source fabric locally to have weathered the COVID-19 storm better. My hope is that some of these smaller sustainable players build resilience by relying on US cotton and energy efficient yarn, sourcing from co-operative worker owned factories and distributing from unionized warehouses. To me this would be a model for a truly sustainable and resilient brand of the future. I hope COVID-19 also results in smaller collections, a more thoughtful approach to production planning rather than the current mass production of highly seasonal garments. However I don’t believe manufacturing will ever fully come back to the United States at scale because we simply do not have the manufacturing capabilities and dominance that China has.3. An overhaul of contracts and financial payment terms
Currently the entire fashion industry operates on debt. All the financial risk is pushed onto suppliers and in turn borne by workers. It is standard industry practice to not pay suppliers for 60, 90 to 120 days post shipment, with the supplier bearing the raw material and labor costs. By using purchase orders, suppliers have no legal recourse when brands have evoked force majeure contract clauses and cancelled orders in the COVID-19 era. Going forward we need to go back to irrevocable letters of credit, so that banks guarantee a buyer's obligations to a manufacturer. I also hope there is more inter country manufacturer collaboration and sharing of experiences to hold brands accountable.
4. Fashion systems center diversity & inclusion: Leaders within fashion must acknowledge the industry’s deeply racist system inherited from a violent colonial past. We need better representation and the uplifting of Black designers, creatives, models and Black owned brands. Most fashion brands have very little Black representation at the board and executive level and mistreat BIPOC workers from retail, warehouse to the factory floor. For the established luxury and high street brands we need structural changes, to create better protections for their retail and factory workers and a more equal footing for supplier partners. Currently brands push all the risk down onto suppliers and subsequently workers, who all happen to be people of color. We have seen this exacerbate during COVID-19, with brand executives and shareholders shoring up cash by refusing to #PayUp for placed orders dating back to March and April and pushing all risk onto suppliers and ultimately to vulnerable Black and brown garment workers who already live paycheck to paycheck. We need to work together to build a more sustainable and just fashion industry that works for many rather than a few.
5. Consumers buy less and better: The closing of retail stores and rise in unemployment has had consumers questioning the volume of non-essential products. Remake is here to inspire 1MM women to embrace a sustainable fashion lifestyle by 2025 and buy fewer, better things. Our wallets and the planet cannot sustain the pace at which we have been buying. We have already seen our fast growing community embrace sustainability, wanting experiences over cheap mounds of clothes. My hope is that the global pandemic exacerbates this shift.
Q4: What would you say are conscious choices that regular consumers need to make every day to reduce their fashion footprint?
A: Changing your fashion habits can be done step by step. Don’t get overwhelmed! There are big and small ways, regardless of your wallet size, to be involved in the movement. Some ideas include:
- Marie Kondo your closet: take stock of what you own. Are piles of clothes sitting there and making you unhappy? Only keep what you think you will wear at least 30 times and host a swap party for the rest.
- 30 wear rule: the next time you want to buy something consider this: will you wear it at least 30 times? if not, best to walk away. Oh and if it costs less than your favorite cup of coffee? Know that women were exploited in the making and also walk away.
- Budget-friendly ideas: check out vintage, rental or consignment options. Consider shopping in a good friend or siblings closet.
- Loved clothes last: care for your clothes like the good friends that they are. Wash on cold, line dry, skip the dry cleaner and mend.
- Invest in quality not quantity: check out our platform for inspiration on fewer better fashion pieces that are good for women and our planet.
- Vote with your wallet: Be curious and don’t be afraid to speak up - challenge brands, ask them questions! One misconception people have is that their voice doesn’t matter. They think, “how can I make a difference? I’m just one person.” The truth is that everyone has a voice and the power to make change happen. Take your questions and concerns to brands you love. They’ll appreciate the feedback and they’re always listening even though it may not seem like it.
Q5: And lastly, just for fun, what is your favourite place in the world and why?
A: My fav place is Petra Jordan. It’s one of those places where you can see the civilizations that came before us in the architectural details. Petra is magical. Jordan’s beauty and hospitality really touched my heart.
Thank you for the interview Ayesha, we have learned so much from you!