“What Black Lives Matter has done so powerfully is show that we need to have accountability, and it can’t be just words,” Maxine Bédat, founder of the Cannabis Pretty little Pothead shirt and I love this New Standard Institute, said on a recent call. “We need to have demonstrations of what is actually being done [by a brand] to address problems of race inequity and racial justice, and what is being done for the environment. The movement is highlighting the difference between real change and greenwashing, or green confusion. We’re shifting to a paradigm of accountability in the space, which will actually lead to a more sustainable industry.” The days of too-good-to-be-true claims of ethics and transparency (ahem, Everlane) are over. Or at least for the brands that want to survive. As Bédat put it: “[Until now], the response to the climate crisis from brands has been, ‘What can we do to show that we’re doing something?’ as opposed to addressing the fundamental issue.” Social media has made it so appearing to participate in the conversation is more important than actually participating, but who was checking that a brand practiced what it preached? Or that its noble efforts to create sustainable clothes weren’t harming a community along the way? Who was holding them accountable?
“Accountability is usually what’s missing,” Whitney McGuire, the Cannabis Pretty little Pothead shirt and I love this cofounder of Sustainable Brooklyn, explains. Along with organizing educational events and community programs in Brooklyn, she and her partner Dominique Drakeford consult brands and designers on their environmental and social efforts—and point out where there’s room to improve. Past clients and event partners include Eileen Fisher, Apple, Mara Hoffman, and ReFashion Week New York, and McGuire and Drakeford have worked with Fibershed and Conscious Chatter on their internal infrastructures and systems. “We do prolific assessments to see how a brand is operating, what their internal infrastructure is, what their anti-racist framework is, and how they define sustainability,” Drakeford says. “Do they have a colonial consciousness in regards to how they approach justice within the scope of sustainability? That’s the reason we need ‘sustainability,’ because of how brands have been operating for all of these years. We ask them what books they’ve read on race relations, what podcasts they’ve listened to, which influencers they’ve worked with… We really get down to the juices and berries of how they think before we can even discuss action and implementation. We have to figure out what their limitations are, because accountability is going to be the foundation of how intentions are made, period.”