Wen Volunteer, Nina Jeffs spoke with Sajida Rashid, who took part in the Climate Sisters programme. The Climate Sisters programme aims to give a voice to marginalised women in climate debates. Read more.
To start off with, could you tell me a little bit about what initially drew you to the Climate Sisters initiative, what made you apply?
I had previously taken part in a climate leadership programme with Zarina Ahmed ( who leads the Climate Sisters climate leadership programme), in which I looked at the effect of fast fashion and textile waste on the environment. When this opportunity came up and I was selected to take part, it gave me the opportunity to share my learning through a creative project.
That’s interesting! I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the presentation you did. I know that you designed and created a ballgown from discarded denim and tartan. As I understood it, you were kind of trying to give old fabrics a new lease of life and highlight the negative impact of the textile and fashion industries. Could you share a little bit about what the piece was, and what inspired it?
I wanted to create a dress through which I could tell ‘the story’ of the various damaging elements in the production of a piece of clothing. I called my dress ‘The Trail of Destruction’ Looking at it, you wouldn’t relate it to climate change, so I made some fabric panels and painted, embroidered and stitched details onto these to help tell the story of the destructive elements we don’t see in the clothing we buy.
I wanted the dress to have a bit of a ‘wow factor’ that didn’t look upcycled as such, but most of the materials except the thread and zip are upcycled. The denim (which is cotton rich) was from curtains, the lining was a sari, the tartan was from a kilt, and the buttons were from a broken bracelet. All the fabrics were destined for landfill as they had some kind of damage, tears, burn marks, or bleach marks. I tried to reuse as much fabric as possible while making an elegant dress that will hopefully be worn.
I wanted to create a dress through which I could tell ‘the story’ of the various damaging elements in the production of a piece of clothing. I called my dress ‘The Trail of Destruction’
Sajida with the dress at the Climate Sisters Exhibition in London in June 2022
You have said that your piece was trying to raise awareness of the impacts of fast fashion on women of colour in developing countries. It shows that our consumer choices in the UK have a big international impact that are often unjust, for example, the cancellation of fashion orders in 2020 that led to the unemployment of hundreds of thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh. I’m wondering if you could share a bit more about the message you were hoping to share, and what you think should be done to address fast fashion?
The design started off with a focus on the amount of water that is used in the production of cotton. I have seen in areas where cotton is grown, water is diverted to the crops from local communities and consequently it’s often women and children who have to travel long distances to access water for their own consumption. In this time of fast fashion many items of clothing are considered as disposable and discarded after minimal use due to poor quality and following the latest trends.
Fossil fuels are another factor of pollution within the textile industry, this is in the production and transportation of materials and items of clothing. The production process includes dying fabrics and yarns and the chemical waste from this often ends up polluting rivers and waterways. Sadly, thousands of tons of clothing and textiles end up in landfill each year and quite often it’s shipped back to poorer countries where there are literally mountains of textile waste. In addition to this there is the human cost and again it is mainly women who are at the bottom of the production chain and negatively affected by our consumption habits.
I’m curious about the cultural mix of those different fabrics as well – was that part of the design?
Yes, it was intentional. I chose to use denim as it is a cotton rich fabric, to highlight the water element, as the amount of water used in the production of for example a cotton t-shirt equates to many years of drinking water for one person. The programme was initially called ‘Local Women of the World at the Climate Table’, and we were encouraged to try and incorporate something from our heritage in our projects. The sari is a nod to my heritage. The sari is a traditional Indian garment, and that’s where my dad was from, and I have grown up in Scotland, so tartan had to feature in my dress.
That’s really meaningful. Generally, I’m wondering if you could share how the Climate Sisters helped you, and what you learned from the experience?
It helped me in many ways and has been a learning journey. My confidence has definitely grown, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing women.
I want to share my learning with others too. My children are teenagers now, and it’s worrying thinking about their future and future generations too – if action isn’t taken, then what does the future hold for them. I’m looking to educate in whatever way that I can – because every small step is still a step towards the bigger picture, and for things to change. It’s really rewarding when you see that you’re having a positive influence.
What’s next for you in this learning journey? Do you have any ideas on how to take this forward?
Well, for this project, I needed denim – so I put a call out to see what I could get. I accumulated lots of denim, and some of it was actually new, which was shocking because it was new samples that manufacturers from abroad are sending to wholesalers here. Someone donated about 30 kilos worth of these denim samples and I’ve still got that sitting there.
They’ve contacted me again, saying, ‘We have so much more, if you’re interested?’ Potentially in terms of storage, they are eventually just going to dump it. That’s just from one wholesaler. And when you think of the amount within the UK, or just within Scotland, that’s going to accumulate to a huge amount of waste. They’re still going to make money from getting orders, but it’s such a wasteful way of doing it.
I would like to reach out more to the younger generations, maybe through outreach programmes, through schools or youth community projects, to deliver workshops and be able to upskill them, but also raise that awareness. They are the age group that’s more influenced by the fast fashion industry.
I can see why there’s more interest coming about in this area, because people are becoming more aware of the downsides of fast fashion. Personally, I’d love to go to a workshop like that! This brings me to the final question – overall, why do you think the Climate Sisters initiative is important?
It’s important because we have learned so much from each other. It’s helped my confidence, and I have been able to progress onto employment and self-employment in this area.
My support network has developed as well. We were twelve women on the same project, and there was very little overlap in our topic areas. This just goes to show that there are so many factors affecting climate change. We have a good support network and I have gained good friendships from within the group.
NINA JEFFS, WEN VOLUNTEER
Nina hails from Aotearoa New Zealand and researches climate change policies that promote gender equality at Chatham House. She has worked on the intersection of climate change, human rights and gender equality at UN Women and the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the youth-led climate justice organisation Generation Zero Aotearoa.