When I think about my relationship with sustainability, I’ve come to realise that sustainability has been embedded in my lifestyle since the beginning. As the daughter of immigrants from Punjab, I remember the little things that expressed not only our immigrant experience, but what I call “sustainability as a lifestyle”: reusing all of our food containers (read: opening yogurt containers to find daal, or opening tin cookie boxes to find a sewing kit); saving plastic bags for prolonged use; hand-me-downs; tailoring and mending skills as a cultural norm to prolong the life of our clothing.
Sustainability has always been inherent to communities of colour for multiple reasons. One is our historical relationship to the land; Punjabi heritage, for instance, is closely linked with farming culture – or stewards of the land, as I like to call it. This history has embedded a close connection with the land not only as one’s home, but the middle ground between one’s livelihood.
Next is a lifestyle of frugality that is inherently tied to the immigrant experience, or many communities of colour. Sustainability isn’t just a consumer choice: it’s a lifestyle.
I think one shortcoming of the sustainability movement is that it’s been led by the Western world, and has been re-branded, re-introduced, and re-contextualized as a consumer act, one that is often limited to those who can afford it. It leads us to question: who gets to represent the movement of sustainability?
Is it celebrities that are able to hone into the latest luxury sustainable market good, or is it BIPOC communities that have always integrated sustainability into their lifestyle and value system?
I’ve come to realise that true sustainability began at home – both as a cultural standard, and an economic necessity – far before we knew sustainability as the buzzword it is today.
That’s why I believe that true sustainability demands that BIPOC communities lead the narrative.
In 2013, I learned of the Rana Plaza Factory collapse. When the eight-story garment factory collapsed, more than 1,134 people were killed. It was one of the largest industrial disasters of our time. The day before the collapse, deep cracks had appeared in the eight-story building. The pressure from upper management to have workers finish orders facilitated this mass industrial homicide.
So my entry into the world of sustainable fashion was rooted in looking at the industry through a lens of social justice. After the 2013 Rana Plaza Factory collapse, my eyes were opened to the intersection between labour rights and marginalised communities (e.g. POC, women, immigrants).
From that point forward I decided that I didn’t want my love for creating to come at the cost of my values for justice, and my work became centered around the ties between style, sustainability, and social justice.
Now, I work as a full-time multi-hyphenate between a sustainable fashion blogger, journalist, photographer, and speaker.
Image: Sanjida Bintekamal
How I live
I approach sustainability in my everyday life as a pursuit for lesser impact, rather than perfection.
As someone with an inherent love for aesthetics and design, my closet was an easy gateway. I think the knee jerk inclination for folks entering the sustainability space is to buy a bunch of items from sustainable or ethical designers and labels.
However, I think the most important thing one can do is to limit their consumption and focus on reusing, repurposing and repairing.
Beyond fashion, think about the items you use daily, and think about the ways you can find alternatives that limit your waste. That can be anything from your usable water bottle, silicone food wrap, tote bags, shampoo bars, and more.
How I shop
When people ask me about my approach to shopping and fashion, I’m clear to express that my main stream of income (sustainable fashion blogging) places me in a position where I get products from brands.
I fully acknowledge that there is a privilege in this, and I’m not trying to push a narrative of folks constantly buying items – however, there is great value in supporting artisans, brands, and designers that are centered on bringing holistic change to the fashion industry.
Something I’m adamant about pushing is the idea of thinking about sustainability beyond a consumer context.
Sustainability can feel overwhelming in the beginning. But before you go down this rabbit hole of I need to buy this, I need to buy that – STOP RIGHT THERE. You don’t need to buy anything.
Sustainability first and foremost is a lifestyle. Our ancestors were sustainable before we knew what that term meant. Ancestral knowledge is where it’s at.