When it comes to fashion, we are living in times when the idea of being socially responsible and eco-friendly have become the “thing to do.” But like the traditional fashion world, there’s a lack of inclusion and representation for designers of color in this fairly new sector of the style world.
Enter Dominique Drakeford, a woman who is not only well versed in sustainable fashion, she’s also made it her life’s work. The Oakland, California native recently created MelaninASS.com, which translates to Melanin and Sustainable Style, to support designers of color who follow such practices. She also launched Drakeford PR through which she represents brands that uphold the philosophies she believes in.
I spoke to Drakeford about all things sustainable style, including how people of color fit into the world of sustainability.
What inspired you to start MelaninASS.com?
Although just launching some months ago, MelaninASS is without question my passion project that I’m slowly molding into something powerful. It emerged as a culmination of various experiences as a student, consultant and sustainability advocate in somewhat of a conflicting space of being unapologetically black. Within just a few years of being immersed in the sustainable fashion world, I’ve noticed several things. One that was painfully obvious was that I was one of few people of color attending several of these industry sustainable fashion events. Additionally, in seeing the same faces in the audience, I’m seeing the same ethical pioneers speaking at events and getting recognized. I began to be frustrated because I know of so many amazing fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands who are spearheaded by women and men of color whose work pushes the importance of cultural relevancy and sustainability. This lack of diversity is constantly perpetuated throughout the fashion and beauty industry where cultural appropriation is grossly a norm. Seemingly invincible white designers exploiting traditional craftsmanship of melanin communities around the world is a sustainability issue. Thus a huge inspiration was wanting to uplift leaders and communities of color whose mantra focuses around environmental stewardship, social justice, and cultural sustainability specifically within the beauty and fashion realm. It’s intended to be a space that discusses the challenges we face while also applauding the pioneers who are doing it right – all in the name of sustainability.
With so many negative touch points to discuss, I wanted to make sure that the platform was inspiring people of color especially to be part of this growing community. So by interviewing “Vanguards” – positive influencers in this space- I can not only encourage communities of color to support one another but push melanin to live more sustainably and really show everyone that there are prominent people of color doing dope shit in the sustainable fashion, beauty and lifestyle space.
In the midst of all of the these thoughts brewing and figuring out how to best translate these different pillars – a woman ironically named Dominique (Dominique Wells), who is a energy and sustainability analyst in DC – randomly reached out to me to be in solidarity on these issues. She had actually did an Instagram Post after researching sustainability in fashion and realized that the most popular media sources targeting the black community fail to deliver adequate sustainability content, let alone sustainable fashion content.
I think it was the tipping point where everything started to come together. There was an important message that needed to be said:
One: wake up mainstream America, high fashion “borrows” most of it’s inspiration from nature, urban street culture, and traditional cultures of color; two: wake up people of color, sustainability is the foundation to our core values, and it’s inherent to our culture; and three: wake up world, sustainable fashion and cultural relevancy has to become the new norm in order for people and the world to survive.
Who is your target market?
The platform is not just promoting and growing the black community but rather featuring leaders of color locally and internationally. It’s really important to me that people who have melanin whether you’re a black girl here in Brooklyn or you’re an artisan in Bangladesh.
How do you define sustainable style and why is it important to highlight designers who focus on sustainability?
Style is your outer shell, it’s a non –verbal way to communicate how you feel and the type of energy you want to exert into the atmosphere. Whether it’s simple and minimalistic or it’s bold and fierce – you are telling a story of your culture, your history, your values your being. It’s really a layer of who you are.
Adding sustainability to the ideology of style – to me- creates an unstoppable shield of flyness. Sustainable style communicates an important narrative of authenticity. Sustainable designers are the essence of real designers. These designers not only make the vision of a garment come to life but they are exceptionally innovative with the materials they use and or collaborations with artisans. It take a lot more stealth to use your designs as a platform for change or simply a voice
For those who really don’t know what it means to be sustainable in fashion, please break it down.
Sustainability has the word “sustain” in it- so automatically the root focuses on strengthening and supporting – so to help support the authenticity, longevity and quality of not only nature but humanity and the intersection of cultures.
So sustainable fashion is creating articles of clothing that does just that – conserves the environment and preserves our welfare. With fashion having such a huge economic and vocal role – sustainable fashion can in many ways become political, and sustainable fashion allows you to create your personal style that now has an important narrative with substance and value.
There are so many ways to participate in this sustainable fashion movement and for me, the beauty of connecting with an electric array of brands is that every single one is vastly different.
One of the main ways to look at sustainability is production. So one way to be sustainable is by using organic fibers such organic cotton, peace silk, bamboo, etc. These are examples of great alternatives to conventional cotton, which uses dangerous amounts of pesticides and chemicals (literally killing workers) and is unfortunately water intensive. Many brands are getting extremely creative with eco fibers being used. Susana Colina is an amazing designer who uses natural fibers in her luxury designs. Another way to be sustainable is by repurposing or upcycling – The Sway takes leather scraps and recreates these chic leather biker jackets and hand bags. Another example is Born Again Vintage who takes vintage clothing and recreates them into couture pieces. Another example is by using low impact dyes – so natural dyes like indigo which is a staple for the brand Studio 189. I was able to work with this brand in Ghana- watching communities of men take indigo plant and organically create this beautiful blue hue. Another way to be responsible is by minimizing waste that goes into the landfills – several brands commit to the philosophy of “Zero Waste” such as Daniel Silverstein and TabiI Just. These are just a few examples from a material lens. However, within the scope of production – who is making your clothes is equally as important. After the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh where a fast fashion garment factory collapsed killing over 1000 workers – ‘who makes our clothes and how’ is more important than ever. So this is called Fair Trade. Amazing brands like VOZ literally work side by side with Chilean artisans creating an equitable partnership with skilled craftsman. Instead of exploiting workers in rural areas – many sustainable brands are building authentic relationships where culture and community is respected. Workers are in safe environments, following safety laws and they get proper wages for the quality work they do. The shoe brand, Brother Vellies, does an amazing job of being very transparent with their sustainability efforts using animal by product leathers, working with farmers, and using low impact dyes. Most of the product is hand made working with artisans across Africa. At the end of the day sustainable fashion is luxury fashion! It’s created slower, with attention to detail and is made with love and culture. Every brand focuses on different elements of consciousness making for an eclectic cohort of luxury sustainable fashion.
You’re also the CEO of Drakford PR. How do you juggle all of the things you’re doing and how have you been able to set yourself apart from other PR companies?
I think a little bit of organized chaos. I don’t necessarily see both brands as separate but instead they compliment one another. Working on both brands simultaneously keeps me grounded and keeps me abreast of my vision.
My PR company is very boutique at the moment and looking to scale in the near future. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m still doing market research and learning what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve become very picky about the brands that I take on and that’s crucial. But my PR platform is very transparent in that my goal is work with brands that have the triple bottom line at it’s core: People, Plant, Profit. I’m very big on creating interpersonal connections, utilizing community and doing something insanely unique and positive. My goal is to have the brands that I represent do all the speaking for me.
Finish this statement: I discovered my own beauty and greatness when…
I discovered my own beauty and greatness when I immersed myself in the beauty and greatness of my people.