words by willow defebaugh
photograph by luis alberto rodriguez
Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers an expansive look at the latest events in climate and culture—and how it all fits together.
“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.” —Richard P. Feynman
How often do you contemplate the clothing you are wearing? As a reader of this newsletter, I would hope you have put some thought into it—the materials it was made from and by who, how it was sourced. But more specifically, what I’d like to know is: have you considered the threads? The fact that an individual piece of clothing is only individual by perception? That it’s actually a symposium of strings, each an entity of its own and yet inseparable from the whole?
As the founder of nonprofit Fibershed, Rebecca Burgess has dedicated her career to creating regenerative fiber systems—with “systems” being the operative word. As she told Cameron Russell in a recent interview for Atmos, “Fashion is a place where we could transform the crucible of learning from being How do you make the next avant garde thing? to How do you use fashion as an opportunity to understand systemic beauty?”
As Burgess points out, fashion has often preoccupied itself with trying to create the next big thing (without any regard for the consequences). But what if its ingenuity could be applied to the larger tapestry? “Maybe the revolutionary idea is that you turn around from the finished product and you start reconstructing all the material processes, and that becomes the art of fashion,” she continued. “People who are very aesthetically driven, toward beauty, the creative edge, toward self expression, they have something powerful to offer the climate justice conversation. Applying design thinking to climate justice and economic justice, there is power in that marriage.”
Speaking of sewing collective change, this week saw the official launch of the Black in Fashion Council. Founded by Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner and PR specialist Sandrine Charles, the initiative seeks to ensure the success of Black individuals in the fashion industry. It launched with an impressive list of 38 partners, including Conde Nast, Fashionista, GAP, L’Oreal, PVH, and more.
Another initiative—the #PayUp movement—has already demonstrated the power of solidarity in the fashion industry, having averted the theft of an estimated $15 billion in unethical order cancellations. As the Worker Rights Consortium’s Scott Nova told Elizabeth L. Cline for Atmos, “In terms of its direct financial impact on workers, it’s probably the most successful campaign on worker rights in the apparel supply chain ever.”
In a recent feature for Vogue, Emily Farra underlined how consumers are playing a role in reweaving the industry’s problematic patterns as well, demanding accountability and an end to hollow virtue-signaling: “Overnight, it became far harder for brands to hide behind empty slogans, pretty photos, or vague campaigns, whether they were about social justice or the environment. Consumers want to see real action and tangible change, not marketing.”
Of course, collective activism has proven itself a force to be reckoned with beyond just the fashion industry, as Black Lives Matter protests continue across the country. It is perhaps the greatest irony of a year marked by isolation that it has also taught us so much about coming together—about not only systemic inequality, but also the potential we possess to create systemic beauty in its place. As Burgess pointed out, the climate and social justice conversation is one that requires everyone. It asks each of us to lend our unique gifts to its cause—for an individual thread might break easily on its own, but when woven with others, it suddenly becomes strong. It becomes something else altogether.