REMAKE FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
Remake is the world’s first platform that leverages technology and visual storytelling to build human connections between shoppers, brands and makers around the world, unlocking the hearts and minds of shoppers to advocate for a better life for the people in the garment industry. Remake is the brainchild of Ayesha Barenblat, a social entrepreneur with a passion for building sustainable supply chains. A University of California, Berkeley graduate – she holds a Master’s in Public Policy – Ayesha has spent the last decade working with brands, governments, and nonprofits to improve the lives of makers in global supply chains. She led brand engagement at Better Work, a World Bank and United Nations partnership to ensure safe and decent working conditions around the world; and she was head of consumer products at BSR, providing strategic advice to brands including H&M, Levi Strauss & Co., Marks and Spencer, Nike, The Walt Disney Company and Pou Chen on the design and integration of sustainability into business. Read on as Ayesha explains her vision behind Remake, discusses achieving a sustainable future and current projects.
What prompted your interest in sustainable fashion? How did you decide to get involved?
I grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, around a family that ran clothing factories. Early on, I understood the power of these jobs to lift people out of poverty. While studying sustainability at UC Berkeley, I was struck by the conflicting pressures brands place on manufacturers of low price, speed to market and sustainability. For the last decade I have been working across brands, manufacturers, unions and governments to bridge this disconnect, and work together to create a more sustainable fashion supply chain. I founded Remake, because a missing link in this work was a fresh way to engage millennial consumers. Today, technology and visual storytelling can connect shoppers back to the invisible people who make our clothes in ways that were never possible before. Together we can vote with our voice and wallet and send the right market signals to create fashion that respects makers and our planet.
You are a multicultural team. Did this happen or was it a conscious decision?
I refer to everyone who contributes to Remake as the “Remake family.” We are a very multicultural team who for now also happen to be all women. I do believe this sets us up for success to build emphatic human connections across makers and shoppers. It was a conscious decision on my part to bring people in who have a global lens because that’s what it takes to create systems change. It has also been fascinating to be all women. We aren’t into hierarchy; we do a lot of listening and value each other’s diversity of thought and experience. We also strive to have a lot of fun!
Out of all your journeys throughout the world, was there a particular story that made quite an impression on you?
I once spent a week in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, with some makers that sew for the biggest American brands. I was struck by the stark disconnect between the pristine, green factory complex and the maker community, where human need was everywhere. Children running in open sewers with no shoes, piles of trash and no economic prospects outside of factory jobs. One of the makers, Maud, had the most beautiful smile. We tried hard to communicate across English and Creole with a translator who was struggling. Maud suddenly pulled out her smartphone and started to type into WhatsAp. The translation was crude but enough for us to have a heartfelt connection. At the end of my time there, she firmly grasped my hand and told me that I was now her sister. We’ve been texting for over a year now – I know when she’s stressed for money because her six siblings rely on her income, when she was hospitalized for repeated stress on her neck and back from sitting on the assembly line. Can you imagine a day when all of us could text the amazing women who make our clothes? Maud sews jeans, and my relationship with my denim has changed forever. I don’t just see the fit, what it costs – I see her face and imagine her sitting hour after hour to make the pant pockets just perfect.
You do not carry an eshop section, but you do give spotlight to brands. Is monetizing Remake in your future goals?
Remake’s mission is to build a conscious consumer movement. We are storytellers that want consumers to not just know the issues but find practical ways to make a difference. Every workshop that I’ve run, every lecture that I’ve given, the question I always get from shoppers is, “how to I buy better?” Our sustainable fashionistas and brand spotlights are a way to do just that. Over the next year we will plan to make it easier for shoppers to discover great brands that are fashionable, affordable and sustainable. However, for us to remain a credible source of information, we will never carry an e-shop that sells any Remake product nor will we ever take on any brand sponsorships and promotions.
In order to achieve a sustainable future, who should change first – consumers or the industry itself?
Both are really important and closely connected. We won’t make any progress, if we wait for one or the other. Fast fashion’s race to the bottom is simply unsustainable. Wages are already rising in China, safety concerns plague the industry in Bangladesh. Simply put, there are few frontiers left to exploit makers based on rock bottom wages to churn fast disposable fashion. I believe millennial consumers in particular do care, but today there are limited fashion choices that look good, are sustainable and easily accessible. We need more disruptive brands and a fresh approach to engaging consumers.
How do you feel about Fashion Revolution?
April 24, 2012 is the most important day in fashion because over a 1000 men and women lost their lives. Fashion Revolution has played a really important role in engaging consumers globally to not let another industry disaster go unforgotten. I have a deep respect for Carry and Orsola and Remake is a frequent contributor to Fashion Rev. Our shorts Made in Pakistan and Never forget Rana Plaza will be shown as part of Fashion Revolution week. In short, I see Fashion Revolution’s calls for transparency as an important piece of the puzzle and their community as a core audience for Remake’s content.
Where Remake differs is that we use the power of our journeys and storytelling to also influence brands on the inside. For example, we’ve recently worked with Levi Strauss & Company, Ann Taylor and LOFT and Target to elevating maker wellbeing into their company’s consciousness. In addition, our consumer facing content is focused beyond transparency to build human connections with makers and to get them to buy better.
To your opinion, what is the one thing to look for in ethical fashion?
Style. If it looks good and you think you’ll get hundreds of wears out of it, go for it. I am a true believer in fewer better things. For example, I have a black dress that I’ve owned for ten years that I can still rock. Sustainable fashion has to look and feel good, for it to become mainstream.
Sustainable fashion is typically associated with handcrafted products. Is handmade the most sustainable kind of fashion there is?
While handcrafted goods get us better connected to makers, handmade does not necessarily mean that a living wage has been paid. Moreover handmade goods make up a very small part of the fashion industry’s supply chain. Even small changes across massive main street retailers supply chains can have a much grander positive impact on our environment and the lives of makers.
Do you think fashion education is responding to the need of expanding the idea of sustainability?
In some places yes. There is increased innovation when it comes to sustainable textiles, alternative fibre sources but we still have a long way to go. There has unfortunately been limited ways to educate designers of tomorrow on the human impact of their design decisions. This is why in the Fall of 2016, Remake is excited to embark on its first ever journey with fashion students to listen, learn and volunteer in maker communities.
What are you currently working on?
We are working on quite a few exciting things. We went around the world asking makers to share their hopes and dreams and send messages back to shoppers for Mic, a go to millennial new site. We just wrapped up a short, Made in Pakistan, as a contribution to Fashion Revolution week where we shared the stories of two women who make our hoodies and sweatpants in my hometown of Karachi. We are also laying the groundwork to take top fashion design students into two of the world’s biggest manufacturing hubs to meet the people who bring their creations to life.
Images © Remake