Sustainability & The New Year Ahead, by Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs
ARTIST, ORGANIZER, ENTREPRENEUR, DESIGNER
Briefly tell us about your journey toward living a more sustainably minded life and when it became an important part of it.
I grew up without much in Trinidad. I remember living sustainably before there was a label to it. I didn't have a ton of clothing so I deeply treasured every item in my closet. From as young as age 12, when my clothes were worn out, I would hand stitch them to repair them myself. I remember getting hand-me-downs and taking them in by hand to make them into the styles I wanted. I deeply believe that people who are poor live sustainably by necessity and more focus needs to be placed on making space for their voices because sustainability became important to me from such a young age for that very reason.
As I grew older and immigrated to New York, I started shopping at fast fashion outlets because I couldn't afford anything else. I was in college and on an allowance of $200 every month. I still treasured my clothing and did lots of mending to extend the life of my clothing. I started learning about waste in the industry when I got my first job in fashion working in the design room for a corporate fashion house. I started doing research on my own and the more I learned, the more I realized that sustainability can't live in just one industry. I started wasting less at home, re-using as much as possible in my daily life and being more mindful about how my everyday choices could be more thoughtful and ethical. I follow this lifestyle because it helps me sleep at night but I also think that the responsibility of environmental reform lies firmly with big businesses who have the power to make systemic change. The power that individuals have should be channeled towards holding them accountable. Personal habits are important as a lifestyle choice but real systemic change needs to come from big business.
Please suggest 2-3 intentions or practices that we can set for the year ahead and easily implement into our everyday routine to leave a lower footprint on the planet.
– Set an intention to consume less. This is especially hard in the pandemic when folks are looking for any release from the monotony of being cooped up inside. Packages arriving in the mail can seem like exciting surprises (even if you ordered them!). But everything around us is geared towards getting us to shop more. Shopping less reduces packaging materials, it encourages us to repair and re-use what we already own, it reduces the environmental impact of shipping and so much more. Consuming less helps us value the things we already own more and reduce our overall impact on the planet. It can be hard but read on to find out how I do it.
– Use less single-use items. It's astonishing to think about the number of single use items that are given to us daily if we aren't intentional about it. From our first cup of coffee in the morning to lunch containers, to cups at the water dispenser at work, single-use items are often the norm in our everyday lives. Carrying reusable containers and cups to work can help combat this. In the time of the pandemic, this might be easier for some of us to lean into from now to make it easier for when some of us return to leaving the house for work.
...and some sources to keep up with climate and impact news and information.
I'm happy to share some accounts on Instagram that have helped educate me on climate change and intersectionality concerning climate justice.
How do you shop more mindfully or purposefully?
I'm really happy to be answering this question because I have a system that I'd love to share. And please feel free to steal this and adapt it to what works for you!
I have a Google spreadsheet with columns for the name of the item I want to buy, links, discount codes, date added to the list, price, etc. Each time I find an item I want, I add it to this spreadsheet. I have a rule that I don't buy anything the same day it's added to the list. Everything I need for my home, my kids, myself and my partner as well as things I just want and am lusting after, is added to this list. I don't shop more than once per week during the pandemic (because of the pandemic, I do most of my shopping for all areas of my life online, including food, toiletries, etc). At the end of each week, I go through the list and see if I still need or want the things on there. If I do, I purchase them. This planning reduces impulse buying and shopping driven by emotion. It also pushes me to plan for my family a whole lot more and makes sure we're actually purchasing the best item for each need we have. It also allows me to identify patterns in my spending and be accountable to our monthly budget. So that's my system for shopping more mindfully. It's been working through the pandemic while most of my shopping is online but I plan to keep it even after because it's super helpful and easy.
What hopes – that could better aid our Earth and Climate – do you have for the year ahead?
I hope – and I think this one will be a reality – that our administration takes the necessary steps to take climate change seriously. I believe in the change that can come from governmental regulation of certain industries that are doing the most damage to our earth so I'm hopeful that that's coming. I hope that young people will continue to radically shift society's approach to thrifting and mending. I've been really excited by what I've seen so far from this generation. I also hope for a return to trusting science.
We'd love to hear your thoughts on AERA and our measurability and impact practices.
So, first things first. Let's talk comfort and style. Products can have a powerful purpose and strive to do their best for the earth but if the items are not comfortable, well-made and beautiful, the purpose and intention do not matter. I say that because, if an item is comfortable, well-made and beautiful while being ethical, customers will wear it obsessively, mend it and continue to wear it forever, especially if it's a timeless style. If not, customers will end up just throwing them out, sending them to the landfill.
AERA, luckily, hits the mark. I have the Steffy boot and it is stunning. The vegan leather is soft, buttery and moveable. It's also surprisingly comfortable. It fits really well and walking in them feels like there's no heel at all, which, as a mom, is a huge plus for me. I don't wear snake skin of any type but the Steffy boot manages to make snake skin look like a neutral that I can pair with so many things in my closet. I also love that the top of the boot isn't too wide because I'm skinny and I hate huge gaps in my boots. So loving how the shoe looks and feels is a huge thing for me.
Now onto the ethics.
Many labels currently claim sustainability but AERA measures that impact through third party certification. Measurability is key and is becoming more and more important as customers are becoming more educated about what to expect when a label calls itself sustainable. I love that the focus is not just on reducing harm but also on helping the environment, as well. The commitment to improve is particularly important. Sustainability does not have an end goal. Simply by existing as a business, there is an impact on the environment. AERA gets that by committing to constantly strive to do better with more innovative technology and expanded knowledge. The end of life of a shoe is key so it would be interesting to see how AERA can address this in a way that values the customer but also prioritizes the environmental impact. I'm super excited to see shoe brands that develop repair programs where customers can get their shoes re-heeled or re-soled. It's amazing what a refresh a new sole can give to a well-loved shoe. All in all, AERA is moving in the right direction with a focus on accountability, quality, measurability and transparency.