Interview: 'Remake' founder Ayesha Barenblat

Laren Tayyip June 3, 2020
Interview: 'Remake' founder Ayesha Barenblat

“If the covid-19 crisis has brought anything to light, it’s this: deep, systemic change is needed in the way fashion conducts its business.”


As coronavirus continues to expose fast fashion’s vulnerable supply chains, it’s time we thought about more meaningful change.

Fast fashion needs to step aside for sustainable brands which are more prevalent than ever during this crisis.

I spoke to Ayesha Barenblat, founder of Remake, a company fighting for sustainable fashion and better working conditions for garment makers.

We discuss her company’s vales, the future of fashion and the importance of holding brands to account.

What is the story behind Remake?

“On 24 April 2012, Rana Plaza fell down. I was working at Better Work, a partnership between the International Labor Organization and World Bank to improve working conditions inside the fashion industry.

“As the death toll mounted – and as I saw firsthand retailers whose labels were inside Rana Plaza worrying about the legal precedent of compensating the victims’ families, I was moved to want change sooner and faster.

“Having worked on the inside of the industry for a long time, I made the business case for retailers to invest in the lives of garment makers.

“When Rana Plaza fell down, it became clear to me that it would take a groundswell of consumer demand to truly move the needle. What we needed was a people’s movement to say no more deaths, human rights abuses and environmental degradation in my quest for cheap clothes.

“This was my inspiration for Remake. I have had the pleasure in my career to meet thousands of women who make our clothes.

“The resilience, hard work of this forgotten #girlboss at the other end of the supply chain has always been a source of inspiration for me.”

What values does Remake uphold?

“As far as values, the companies and brands we showcase first and foremost have a commitment to transparency.

“They believe that their businesses can be a positive force for improving the lives of people and our planet.

“It is this approach of using your very supply chain and business power to improve lives that we are interested in, rather than the prevalent “Do your best to do no harm model” and reactive strategies in the face of poor working conditions.

“We’re also very focused on making fast fashion uncool. We firmly believe that the fast fashion business model of the likes of Forever21 or H&M fundamentally conflicts with our values.

“Clothes that cost less than a cup of Starbucks coffee cannot be made in a way that keeps garment makers safe. We aspire to bring durability back, getting people to love fewer, better things. So brands that are timeless, last forever, are the ones we love to highlight.”

What are Remake’s future goals?

“Our future goals at Remake include continuing to be a resource for people – whether they’re looking to learn more about sustainable fashion, curious to find out which brands are actually good and growing our movement through our ambassador program.

“Currently, we have over 400 ambassadors worldwide using their own voices to bring our #WearYourValues movement to their own families, friends, and communities through workshops, conversations, and events (pre-covid-19).

“We are developing these young change-makers to go on to become future leaders and activists. Our leadership development is all about instilling the confidence and savvy to question and disrupt the status quo locally, within their workplace, and eventually on the national stage.”

Has covid-19 made a stronger case for sustainable fashion?

“My hope is more and more consumers embrace a sustainable fashion lifestyle buying fewer, better things.

“Our wallets and the planet cannot sustain the pace at which we have been buying. Consumers are already shifting toward sustainability, wanting experiences over cheap mounds of clothes. My hope is covid-19 exacerbates this shift.”

What does Remake want the future of fashion to look like?

“After the pandemic we cannot go back to business as usual. I hope brands rely more on digital sampling to reduce waste and to build resilient supply chains. We will need better digitisation across the supply chain. 

“Going forward we need to go back to irrevocable letters of credit, so that banks guarantee a buyer’s obligations to a manufacturer. I also hope there is more intercountry manufacturer collaboration and sharing of experiences to hold brands accountable.

“We have seen that smaller US brands sourcing fabric locally appear to weather the storm better. My hope is that some of these smaller sustainable players build resilience by relying on US cotton and energy efficient yarn, sourcing from worker owned factories and distributing from unionised warehouses.

“To me this would be a model for a truly sustainable and resilient brand of the future.”

What is your opinion on the work that Lost Stock are doing?

“While I think Lost Stock is a wonderful way to support garment makers with the unclaimed stock, it is really sad that it has come to this.

“I find that the marketing delivered to shoppers that buying fast fashion is a way to ‘save’ garment makers is problematic. At the end of the day, if brands #PayUp for work that was done for them we would not have to be shipping boxes of discounted fast fashion around.

“Lost Stock is an innovative solution at this critical time, but we need to also push for systematic changes within the industry so that brands in the future cannot just walk away from placed orders without payment.”

What do you say to brands who are not paying their workers?

“#PayUp. By not honouring your bills as negotiated, you have led workers around the world to protest on the streets and increasingly become food insecure.

“In addition, because of your actions, many factories are now facing economic hardship. As factories begin to open back up – despite covid-19 spreading rapidly – have a little empathy and think about what that could mean for the health of your garment workers.

“Now’s not the time to forget about the millions of people who make your clothes. You’ve made your  profits off these workers for decades, so why abandon them in the most vulnerable of circumstances?”

How powerful has the #PayUp petition been in holding brands to account?

“At Remake we mobilised immediately, collecting over 52,000 signatures on our #PayUp petition sparking a worldwide movement including actress Nat Kelly, models Cameron Russell, Arizona Muse and Amber Valletta, and our own Remake community, to engage 4.9 million people in the past month.

“The campaigning led to H&M becoming the first brand to #PayUp, then Zara and now 16 brands agreeing to pay for back orders totalling upwards of $600 million in Bangladesh.

“Conservative estimates reveal the #PayUp campaign has helped unlock $7.5 billion in unpaid orders globally, and allowed many workers to receive back wages.”

What’s behind the ‘no new clothes for 90 days challenge’?

“While we are still advocating for brands to #PayUp and support direct relief efforts to secure funds and resources for garment makers, we realised that it’s also time to look at our own roles in relation to fashion and the impact our choices have on our planet and the people who make our clothes.

“Because of this, we decided to launch 90 Days Of #NoNewClothes, an initiative which officially began on 1 June and runs through 1 September.

“For the next 90 days, we’ll be hitting pause on our purchases, pledging to buy no new clothes (how you define new is up to you!) while we reflect on the values we want to wear, the changes needed to create an inclusive, resilient fashion industry, and the role we can play moving forward.

“If the covid-19 crisis has brought anything to light, it’s this: deep, systemic change is needed in the way fashion conducts its business.”

What message do you have for those who continue to support big brands?

“Be curious and don’t be afraid to speak up. Challenge brands and continue to ask them questions! One misconception people have is that their voice doesn’t matter.

“They think, ‘how can I make a difference? I’m just one person.’ The truth is that everyone has a voice and the power to make change happen. Take your questions and concerns to brands you love. They’ll appreciate the feedback and they’re always listening even though it may not seem like it.

“Self-reflection is also always a good idea – check in with yourself and analyse your buying habits. Ask yourself a few questions: am I investing in quality or quantity? Is this item making me happy? Will I wear it at least 30 times? Who made my clothes? Where did this come from?”

Petitions:
Gap, Primark, C&A #PayUp for orders, save lives.
#NoNewClothes: Take the Pledge.


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NCTJ Qualified Journalist with experience across both print and online. Enjoy writing long form pieces on topics such as lifestyle, health, fashion and features. (@larentayyip)