How Ayesha Barenblat is Working to Create a More Sustainable Fashion Industry
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Ayesha Barenblat founded Remake with the mission to create a more transparent fashion industry. And over the last six years, the non-profit organization (a “community of fashion lovers, women rights advocates, and environmentalists,” according to its website), has made some major headway. Its brand directory scores fashion companies based on what they’re doing to lessen their environmental impact and create a more equitable supply chain.
But she’s not just here to call out the industry’s biggest players for failing to keep the pace with societal change. With Remake, Ayesha Barenblat hopes to educate, too. “If we continually shout at people and make them feel terrible about their shopping habits, we are not going to move the needle — guilt and shame can only take you so far. Remake is very much rooted in love because I believe that’s where change happens. I truly think of it as a life calling and not just a job.”
In honour of Earth Month, FASHION spoke to Barenblat about what inspired her to create Remake and her favourite sustainable brands.
What was the turning point for you in terms of seeing the fashion industry differently?
I grew up in Pakistan and saw mass production first-hand. But it was around the time when I was working at the UN on a program called Better Work — which brought brands, governments and unions together to address the working conditions within the fashion system — that the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed and I reached a turning point. It remains one of the most significant industrial disasters of our time; no one should have to die for fashion.
What sparked the creation of Remake?
For me, Remake was the next incarnation of my work at the UN. I was trying to make the industry better from the inside, and I realized we need to build a community of everyday people who care about these issues. I wanted to create a platform that not only educates but also inspires.
What is Remake’s brand directory, and what factors go into calculating each ranking?
The idea behind our brand directory was to be an industry watchdog. Rather than encouraging mindless shopping, we are arming our readers with knowledge so they can make more informed choices and hold the industry more accountable. There is so much greenwashing going on, and many members of our community were confused about which brands were actually sustainable and ethical, so we developed a neutral way of looking at retailers and scoring them through an environmental justice and human rights lens. We are interested in whether brands are doing more good and less harm. We look at everything from wages and water conservation to where their products are being made and then discarded.
What type of feedback have you received from brands listed in the directory?
We’re not about cancel culture — we share our scores with the brands first and then have a conversation about their rating. But the responses have been mixed, for sure. There are some wonderful smaller and locally produced designers who are just so grateful that we are promoting them. But some of the bigger retailers are more interested in improving their score than having a conversation about how to make the industry better.
Has your work affected your style?
Absolutely! I think what makes me different from other activists is that I love fashion: I criticize something I love only to make it better. I’ve always prided myself in having a unique style based on my Pakistani-American background, and because of my work, I’ve become more creative with my outfits. I buy very few new clothing items; instead, I repurpose what’s already in my closet by mixing and matching pieces.
Click through the gallery below to see Ayesha Barenblat’s favourite sustainability-focused fashion brands.
Photography courtesy of Nudie Jeans
Photography courtesy of Rent the Runway
Photography courtesy of Nisolo
“During the pandemic, I actually preferred wearing jeans instead of sweatpants; my go-to pair was from Nudie Jeans. They fit me well, and I appreciate that Nudie is one of the few denim brands that talks about repairing and restoring its items.”
Rent the Runway
“When I have a formal event or presentation, I prefer to get an outfit from Rent the Runway as I know I’ll only be wearing it a few times. It’s a great way to mix things up; plus, there’s a store near me, so there won’t be any carbon emissions from shipping.”
“I live in San Francisco, which means a lot of walking and unpredictable weather. Nisolo is one of my favourite brands because it makes super-comfortable and stylish shoes. Plus, it’s committed to looking at the larger environmental impact and providing living wages across its supply chain.”
This article first appeared in FASHION’s April issue. Find out more here.
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