Collective / Individual

Fair pay, climate justice, and the clothing industrial complex with Ayesha Barenblat

Collective / Individual

"Duplexity is the tension between what we can do as individuals versus the collective. When we lock arms we are more powerful.” - Ayesha Barenblat

From The Noodler

Whether you are into fashion or not - we wear clothes every day, yet most of us don’t contemplate the vast supply chains required to create each garment, let alone how the industry is built entirely on women’s labor - from the fabrication to the models in advertisements, to the majority of employees in retail.

To better understand the landscape, we sat down with Ayesha Barenblat, the founder of Remake, to discuss her work in education and advocacy, aiming to create fairer working conditions and corporate accountability through collective action. Ayesha addresses the misconceptions about garment workers, the importance of legislation like the Garment Worker Protection Act in California (which protects more that 45,000 of California’s women), and debunks myths about luxury versus fast fashion brands, while highlighting the importance of finding humility and joy in deep advocacy work.


Read Along

Brady Hahn [00:03] Welcome! My name is Brady Hahn and I am the founder of the Noodler Collective, and co-curator of The Noodler

Rebecca McQuigg Rigal [00:10] And I am Rebecca McQuigg Rigal, founder of and co-curator of The Noodler. And we are thrilled to be joined by social entrepreneur Ayesha Barenblat, whose passion for building a more just and sustainable fashion industry led her to leave her job at the United Nations to launch Remake in 2017 - an international network of citizens, press, legislators and union leaders to connect the fashion industry's biggest problems with viable solutions.

BH [00:40] Ayesha, we're so glad to have you here today. And we want to thank you so much for sitting down with us, because we've really been looking forward to it and would love for you to start by sharing a little bit about who you are and highlighting some of the work you and your team are doing at Remake alongside your 1,700 plus ambassadors across the world.

Ayesha Barenblat [01:04] I'm so thrilled to be here in conversation with you both. So I'm Ayesha. I'm a Pakistani American, and I have been fighting for the past 20 years to really center women, particularly the women who make our clothes within the fashion industry. She is often on the front lines of human rights abuses and also now grappling increasingly with the climate crisis, and yet she's often forgotten from the discourse.

And so I have tried to address conditions when it comes to the fashion industry, both within the private sector, within the public sector, within the UN. And frankly, I just felt as though we're not making progress fast enough. And then a big industrial disaster happened, Rana Plaza in 2012. It was and remains one of the biggest industrial disasters of our time. A lot of young women's lives were cut short when a factory complex in Bangladesh fell down. And I thought, we really just need a change sooner and faster, and that really is the founding story of Remake.

I thought, who better than us everyday women to lock arms with the labor movement, to really get investors and policymakers and legislators involved to make fashion, of course, for good? This is a $2.5 trillion dollar industry. It is very profitable. It's built on the backs of women, predominantly black and brown women, and yet it continues to pillage the communities that provide their high skilled labor to bring our fashion to life.

And so within Remake, we really do two things: The first is education, which is why I love conversations like this. We do a lot of free education on college campuses, in people's living rooms, and slowly but surely, we have built this incredible network, from supermodels to legislators to investors, to everyday fashionistas. Our 1,700 ambassadors around the world who all deeply love fashion but want to do more good and to make it an industry that matches our values.

Outside of our education work. We do a lot of advocacy, and that looks like policy engagement, whether at the federal, state or global level. And we also run campaigns that ensure that women are paid fairly for their labor, that they have safe working conditions, and that there is corporate accountability.

RMR [03:30] So “Duplexity” is a term we are using to describe a state of being dual or double or two sides of the same coin. What does duplexity mean to you and what role does it play? In your work.

AB [03:41] I love the term duplexity and thank you for having an entire series around this conversation because I think sometimes we too often want to be in a very linear world where things are black and white and they fit into neat boxes. And the truth is that the world is a lot messier.

I think about my own identity. I have been in the United States longer than my home country of yet, you know, off the bat right here, I'm often Pakistani, first in the know, immigrant woman of color. When I go back home, it turns out that I'm too “Americanized” and I don't quite fit in the culture anymore. And so in many ways I live this dual identity on a personal level.

And when it comes to the work, we grapple with so many ways of the push and pull of what's it going to take to build an industry that is fairer and more just. And I'd say particularly in the American context, often the first sort of feedback out the gate from our citizen community is that it's on me. It's this individual rights. It's “me,” I have to be the perfect consumer. I have to buy fair trade/organic, and somehow that's going to make a difference. And yet we know that when we're dealing with wicked problems like the climate crisis, when addressing systemic inequity and gender based violence, what we're needing is to lock arms and to do this as a collective.

And so in our work we often think about the power of an individual to inspire and to lead, but also the power and the importance of doing things in a collective which requires more humility and coming together as a network.
And so I think of duplexity and that tension as well. Is it on the individual or is it on the collective to build the world that we need?

RMR [05:31] And with that in mind, do you see duplexity as a positive, a negative, a neutral or something else?

AB [05:31] I think mostly, if you catch me on a good day, as a positive. Because I think the more we recognize that the world is complex, that issues are interconnected, often you'll have people who are working on the climate crisis that don't have the gender lens, even though centering women who are often on the front lines of the climate crisis is so important.

And so, I think duplexity is important because it allows us to take an intersectional approach for us to recognize people and the planet, for us to understand the lens of race and caste and gender along with the structural power imbalances. But sometimes I think it can lead to inertia, and if we are too worried about the duplexity, it might make us not want to make progress. So I think for the most part it's a good thing.

BH [06:31] Well, one of the things that you've referenced now a couple of times is one, that when you look at the garment industry, it is built on the backs of women, in particular women of color. And I think there's a lot of just general misconceptions that even I have and don't really know much about, just in terms of what the global landscape looks like and how that compares to the US market. And I think one of the things in particular, there's a lot of misconceptions about the skillsets that are required for these workers when it comes to the difference between a Forever 21 shirt versus a Gucci shirt.

Can you explain a little bit about one, how do you categorize these workers? Are they considered skilled workers, or should they be considered skilled workers? And what does it look like globally when you take into the context, like the conditions that they're working in?

AB [07:28] Yeah, I'd say first and foremost, fashion really is a gender justice issue of our time. And when I say that, I don't mean it in terms of a cute slogan tee around “Feminism is a human right!” and all the ways that we project these issues. If you look at this industry, it's worth 2.5 trillion dollars. And when I think about it, it's built on the backs of women, it's all the way from the factory worker to the model, right? Think about who markets as fashion the supermodels of the world, and then what are their conditions like. And often models will tell us it's a terrible industry with short term contracts and predatory behavior.

You know, it really is women's wear that keeps this industry profitable and sales skyrocketing. It's influencers and marketeers who are mostly women that are telling us to buy. And so that's sort of the front end, the glitz and glamour of fashion, which is built on the backs of women. Interestingly, if you look at stats when it comes to fashion designers who're entering Parsons or FIT to study fashion, it is also mostly women. Yet when you look at the top jobs at the fashion houses, most of the CEOs who control this industry, suddenly the picture changes, and it's mostly old white men.

And so then you finally look at the production side, and...

... unlike other manufacturing industries, this is an industry upwards of 70 million, mostly black and brown women.

And that has always been the case. When we had manufacturing here in the US some 100 years ago, it used to be mostly Jewish, Irish, immigrant women working in tenuous and difficult conditions. Over the years, especially in the 1990s with trade agreements as fashion moved overseas, we started to produce predominantly in my part of the world, South Asia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka. But we do also produce in places like Haiti and Myanmar.

And what's interesting - and maddening to me - is that here we are in 2023, and we're still talking about some of the most basic rights and dignity. The ability for a woman to take a rest break. She often says, I'm being paid by the piece. I have to work a 10-12 hour day. If I go to the bathroom, I'll be penalized. If I don't meet my quota, the supervisor who's most likely a man is going to shout at me or verbally abuse me or at worst physically abuse me. And so the thing that we don't understand is for our clothes to come to us as cheap and as quickly as possible today has a very real and human cost in terms of her finding her wages shrinking, her hours becoming longer, her work becoming a pressure cooker for gender based violence and all of those, the root cause is, well we're simply paying too little for the clothes on our back. You discount for inflation, it's like prices just haven't gone up.

And in many ways this is where the duplicity comes in because the duplexity comes in because often we'll have consumers say well, my wages are shrinking right here in the US. I can't afford what my grandparents or parents' generation could afford in terms of a mortgage or car or a house but I can't afford clothes. So you making me feel bad about that. It essentially just gets people to shut down.

And what we are really here to do is to remake those connections for us to recognize and see ourselves in her narrative.

Just like jobs have gotten less safe, less know, we are on more precarious contracts, the gig economy has taken off here you see this know, with the riders strike to Starbucks striking there's an awakening in this country that we are failing labor, so too have we failed labor overseas.

And in fact we as women have a lot more in common - consumer to garment maker - with one another rather than being pitted against a poor consumer and a poor worker and “whose rights are there?” And that is, I think, some of the complexity that we have to thread.

Brady [11:39] Well, the one thing that you mentioned was the way garment workers are paid is maybe not hourly. You mentioned it's “pay per piece.” So what does that exactly mean on an individual level? Is that completing an entire blouse or is it completing a specific segment of that piece? What does that really entail?

Ayesha [12:01] Yeah, so one of the things that we've decided even when something is high skilled work - and I know that was your question Brady - is you sit down on a sewing machine or try and put on a button or try and put down a seam and recognize this is high skilled work. And yet we've decided to match low skilled wages to that high skilled work. And much like a lot of industries - so, agriculture for example, or you think about in the service economy, we have to rely on tips because minimum wage simply hasn't kept up - in the fashion industry, very often the only way workers can be made whole is to be putting out as much output as quickly as possible. The way a factory is set up, you're just doing one repetitive motion over and over again.

So whether that's a seam or collar or a sleeve. So try todo that maddeningly 10 hours, 12 hours a day, your eyesight is going to go, your back is going to have trouble. But for a lot of women, this is the only option because wages are so low. And the only way you're able to make that premium is through pumping out as many pieces as possible. And so that has very direct consequences on your mental health, on your physical health.

In fact, in the state of California, piece rate till last year [e.g., 2022] was how we operated. And to me, thinking about often there's this misconception. All three of us are California girls, made in America, made in the USA, and somehow it's great.

The truth is, the largest manufacturing that's left in California, some 45,000 women that produce clothes right here at home till last year were making piece rates, which meant the average take home salary was somewhere between $2 and $5 an hour.

And you'd say, how can this be? And again, it's because you have that sort of output quota pressure. The good news is, you know, garment workers organized for a decade, fighting hard, appealing to the governor. We locked arms and helped pass the Garment Worker Protection Act last year, which means that workers in California now make minimum wage. And then anything above that in terms of output is a premium. So you're changing minimum wage to be the floor and not the ceiling.

And those are really the conversations we're needing to have globally because restaurant workers also have very similar circumstances and so do the people picking our berries on farms.

Brady [14:33] When you said $5 an hour, like, per piece, both Rebecca were like the look on her face, because I think it's really important to state numbers like that, because when I'm thinking per piece, I'm like, gosh, if I went to sit down to make something, I would imagine that it was at least a minimum wage amount of money that somebody would be making per hour just because that's what the law is for employees. But the fact that they were able to circumnavigate the system to pay people such a low wage per piece is really shocking.

And I think one of the things you and I talked about in your pre interview is there is this perception that “Made in the USA”, one, means that a thing is actually completely made here. Like one would assume that the entire garment is from - the fabric to the actual cutting and sewing - is done in the US, which I found out isn't actually true, if one final seam that's completed here that means it's made in the US - but there's also this perception that it means it's very well made. There's been a lot of marketing, I think, across the US that there's a different caliber of quality. And like, I think one of the things that you've alluded to is that's not necessarily true - actually the skilled work is just all skilled work.

AB [15:51] Right, I think that is where the duplexity comes in, you know?

BH  [15:54] Yeah.

AB  [15:54] To your point, I have been, Brady, in factories that are making a Gucci shirt next to an H&M shirt next to Burberry and guess what? The workers are going to be paid exactly the same. And so you know, I think the first myth is this idea that somehow if it's luxury or high street that then the conditions are somehow better than fast fashion. Now it's not to say fast fashion has pressure cooker types of output. It's a volume game. Especially now that you have ultra fast fashion brands like Atimu and Shein - and yes, those conditions are terrible - but I will say there are shades of gray around this idea of if I'm paying more money the conditions are better - there certainly isn't that one to one correlation. So that's one myth busted.

And then the second is really, you know, “Made in the USA,” “Made in California,” especially with this new bill, I am hopeful and there are thoughtful manufacturers, there are brands that are trying to do it right. But often what they tell us is well it's very hard to compete with the undercurrents of the bad actors, Forever21 and Ross, till this past year also had a very big presence in the state of California and you walk into some of those factories that are making for those brands and the conditions terrible, you’ll probably probably see better-lit factories with more automated manufacturing in a plant in Cambodia or Haiti rather than in LA.

So the fact that we as a government and society haven't invested in manufacturing in a really long time - so a lot of our plants are not state of the art - that investment when manufacturing fled also went away. Second, we haven't really valued labor in a way and protected it. And then third, this idea of it really isn't as much location based as it is the brand setting the sourcing relationship and how the conditions are impacted by that.

So, what I mean by that is, it's slow fashion brand that has the values that's putting the right amount of spend in a factory that's setting the right price points, you're going to have a very different product and relationship with then if it's a brand that's saying how cheap can you make it? How fast can you make it? And that's where you have sweatshops whether in Cambodia or right here at home.

BH [18:20] Wow. I'm really glad we're talking about this. But I'm also like that is I think one of the things that I think so many American consumers, including myself, take a lot of pride in is finding that “Made in America” tag on something - really under the belief that it would provide fairer, better conditions for garment workers in particular, or just be a product that maybe is more environmentally sustainable because it's not traveling as far around the world. It is really eye opening to hear the facts and figures behind all of it, because…. well, one, it's sad. It's saddening to know that as consumers, we didn't really know that was the case. And you said up until last year they were being paid per piece. I mean, that's shocking. That's shocking.

RMR [19:11] Yeah.

AB [19:11] And I think that’s where the duplexity comes, right? And the “yes, and…” conversation, right. It's like, “yes”, there are terrible conditions here and overseas, but “yes,” there is also a slow fashion movement, more thoughtful designers, people trying to do what’s right. There is Tracy Reese with her Hope for Flowers - there's different brands out there that want to do it right, and partly that's when you need the regulations to level the playing field, because it's very difficult to be a thoughtful, ethical brand or producer when you're up against this kind of price cutting and fast fashion behavior.

And so, I think it's once we recognize the complexity, then perhaps we also start to cast ourselves as citizens first and consumers second. Because I think, again, there's this tension, right? Pretty immediately, your mind went to me as a consumer as if it's on you. And it's like, well, how many things are we, as everyday women, supposed to figure out?

Are they toxins in our food supply? What about our clothes? Are they made ethically? Are they making us sick? And the list just goes on and on. When at some point you would think, well, where's the government in all this? Or where's the lawmakers? And to your point, probably a good rule of thumb is a union made product is probably a lot better way of thinking about it than if it's simply just “Made in America.”

RMR [20:36] And is there a way to determine if something is union made? Because that sounds like something that I think a lot of us would be interested in.

BH [20:44] Totally, yeah!

AB [20:45] You know, it used to be that there was sort of this burging movement. You now have some products where they'll sort of market themselves as union made. One of the things that we do at Remake is try to really lift up the smaller players and give you an easy way to understand your favorite brands and what their human rights and environmental record looks like. So at, our brand directory, you can search for Nike or Guess or Levi's and just say, hey, what is the brand doing right? What's the brand doing wrong? If you so want, you can also write to your favorite brand and ask them some of these questions so that we feel educated.

Because part of this is also there is nothing regulating brands from pretending to be sustainable. There is so much pinkwashing and greenwashing, and now all of them are suddenly these bastions of society corporate responsible and doing all the good things. And you look under the hood- a lot of it, there isn't much substance to the claims.

RMR [21:48] I want to talk a little bit about the “duplexity” of consumerism… in wanting to do well, but then having your behavior, actual behavior, contradict your stated desire to do better. And can you talk a little bit about what are some of the main drivers you feel like causing that kind of situation where you might say in a conversation with friends or on a survey, yes, I want to do better. I want to support sustainable business practices and ethical manufacturing. But then when push comes to shove, their closet might be filled with brands that are not actually in line with those... their thoughts.

AB [22:32] Yeah, the short answer to your question is Amazon.

But, then I have a longer answer.

You know, I mean think about it, right? Like, how has Amazon completely changed our relationship with shopping? You know, one click and it's there - and it’s there so quickly. And we all know what the conditions are like not just in terms of the factories and the products, but the warehouses, and thinking about how we want things to come to us so quickly, so fast - and what that means is also that a lot of local businesses in our communities have shuddered because it was too hard for them to compete with the e-comm giants.

So I think the answer to your question is well, on one hand you have these massive players, with monopolistic power, with tons of marketing dollars to throw at you that are selling you “ease,” and speedy delivery and you don't have to think about it. And so it's very difficult to push back on the system. And then even if you are trying to do what's right and you go into your local community, it turns out you head to a consignment or vintage shop, and a lot of our customer community are exactly that - avid thrifters - and they'll tell you the stores are full of fast fashion now because we have such an overproduction problem and a lot of the quality isn't there. It's not like sometimes you might discover a Chanel vintage piece, but a lot of times it's just going to be racks and racks of Shein.

So I think part of it is that over the last 30 years we have just made fashion an overproduction game. It's, how much volume can we pump out there? How quickly? And then let's just see what sells. And then based on what's selling, we're going to backfill the orders. The second is really the rise of e-commerce. It makes it even more hidden where it's coming from whose hands touch it. It's sort of one click and you're done, and so psychologically it distances the customer even more so from that equation.

And so, I have a lot of empathy for people who may profess to want to buy a certain way and end up shopping a different way. And in some ways the brands want you to take that ownership and criminalize you for your behavior. Versus we at Remake really come as a joyful, thoughtful community to say, look, we're going to do the best to have mindful shopping habits, but let's just celebrate the mistakes along the way.

Nobody is perfect and let's really lock our arms, bigger eye on the prize. Let's pass effective legislation, let's win campaigns, because that's really how we're going to turn this complex boat that's not meeting our values.
The most beautiful shopping habits are not going to get us to a sustainable world. We're not going to buy our way into a climate crisis being averted and to have the beautiful human rights out there. So I almost say, like, let go of the guilt. I by no means have a perfect ethical wardrobe, and I've been doing this work a long time.

RMR [25:35] I'm curious to hear we're both clear to hear - we are both curious to hear - your thoughts on kind of clothing rental platforms like Rent the Runway or Nuuly. What are your thoughts on that? Is that a potential answer to easing consumers kind of cravings for mixing up their wardrobe while also taking a lighter approach on the planet?

AB [25:51] Yeah. It goes back to duplexity. Perhaps!

And I say that as an avid Rent The Runway fan. I do a lot of public speaking, which means I sometimes have to freshen up my wardrobe. I try and wear the same thing over and over again, but sometimes it prays and I don't have the time as a busy mom to thrift. And so to me, thinking of clothes as a service rather than a disposable good, and to be thinking about rental as a way to keep clothes in circulation longer is absolutely an interesting solution, but it depends on how it's deployed. Right? Today, a lot of the rental platforms still use dry cleaning and that things show up wrapped in plastic, and they're also shipping it back and forth, and we are still trying to account for those carbon emissions.

And then there's the behavioral questions, right? If it's just that quick fix, much like fast fashion, when you're doom scrolling on your apps and buying things where you're just constantly renting things and not thinking about the environmental cost, then perhaps it's a wash.

So I think it depends on how you use rental platforms. I think it's a tool just like secondhand, just like shopping in your sister's closet. But,

... the more we normalize clothes as a part of the share economy, the more we think of this as a value added good that's not just buy wear once and throw-away. That certainly is a piece of the solution, but it's not, say the complete answer.

RMR [27:25] Yeah, I really think there needs to be a service that literally sends people - puts, sends like stylists in people's homes and helps them figure out how to shop their own closet. And there are services, right, but it's probably cost a lot for people.

AB [27:42] I will change that. And it's sort of thinking about how can you even share styles between one another based on technology.

I will say the thing that makes me, Rebecca, very nervous about a lot of these technological solutions that are out there - early and experimental is that they forget to center women in the conversation still.

So thinking about the 70 million garment makers who mostly saw backsliding of wages, that are living hand to mouth, part of my question is, okay, if sharing becomes normalized, and it has to because the climate crisis is here and we're buying 100 billion units of clothes, we're only 8 billion people on the planet. We cannot sustain that.
It's like, well, we have to get money in her hands as quickly as possible to have a pathway to a life of dignity. Because otherwise if we just take it all away and create clothes in a fundamentally different way and are - sharing and doing all that groovy stuff -  but she's forgotten. What's to happen to her as a core and essential part of this economy?

RMR [28:48] Yeah, I agree. And curiously, or out of curiosity, when you're doing your education and you're speaking to people and educating them about the working conditions of women, what is hitting the hardest? What's been the most effective means for getting that messaging out there and having people say, “Oh, wait, stop! This is something I want to know more about - and something that's worth possibly changing my behavior over.”

AB [29:14] You know, people come to us in lots of ways - and that's why I love that we are a big inclusive tent and we say, “we'll take you!” So I'd say, for me and my team...

..the early days of a lot of the particularly Gen X, Millennial women that we're working with, it was very much from a gender lens. A lot of the models and creatives that we work with could see themselves in the narrative of garment makers to say this is a feminist issue of our time.
The more we have started to welcome younger people in our audience, particularly Gen Z, the climate crisis is top of mind, and often there is the sense that this is our planet to inherit, it's burning, there's an inertia with policymakers still out there accepting drilling contacts.

But this is something I can do when it comes to my wardrobe, wanting it to divest from fossil fuel. So we have people coming to us also from a climate lens, which I think is very welcome because the two issues are so connected.

There's a new body of research and in fact, our book club for this month that's looking at the toxins in our clothes and the health and human implications of that. And the health of not just garment workers, but the end consumer. And I think these are very early days for us to understand that with PFAS and Wrinkle free and all the different chemicals that we spray on our clothes for performance gear and the fact that now women are wearing performance gear even when they're not working out, and the recent lawsuit with the period underwear because of all the chemicals - it turns out that our clothes are also making us sick. We are able to connect them to indoctrinate disruptors and human health implications.

And my hope is that perhaps that might be a way to get more people into our movement who are thinking about this more in terms of their own health and well being. If it feels too far removed to be thinking about those of workers.

RMR [31:11] And how do influencers play a role in helping to shift consumer behavior, attitudes, and demand for brands?

AB [31:20] So, the more that shopping from our years - of in the malls - has moved to e-comm, so too has in the world of Instagram is our new fashion magazine - influencers are a very important piece of this puzzle. I don't know if you all saw it, but there was this debacle of a trip, where Shein took some influencers to what we call a “model factory” in China. And my heart went out to these young women sort of waving at the camera. Look, everything is wonderful. And it's like you're not a journalist. There's documented human rights abuses. This is a terrible brand and now you're essentially using your platform to promote their terrible products.

So I'd say that influencers in particular - you look at TikTok and some of the top viral trends are on hauls - so this is “how much can I buy for how little money and show it off on my TikTok or Instagram platform?” have caused a lot of the anxiety and depression that we pick up in our citizen community. And this idea of I just have to constantly mindlessly consume to keep up with the trends but this is where the duplexity comes in.

That said, we also work with some wonderful ethical lifestyle influencers who use their platform to promote a different kind of lifestyle whether it's the zero waste folks or the mindful consumption habits or even using their platform to promote our campaigns and to mobilize people to help us win. And so I think influences can play a good and bad role in the spirit of this conversation.

BH [32.54] What I really appreciate is that you have this really beautiful way of stating facts and figures that are kind of overwhelming, and actually shocking to hear, just in terms from worker pay - to just how big the actual fashion industry is and how much it impacts so many different facets of the planet. But you have this balance of also reminding people that there's not a “perfect” answer. We're not seeking perfectionism, it's about seeking balance. Which I really appreciate, because I think that's one of the biggest challenges for so many people is, like, how much information can one person take in versus a collective group of people and to create movements.

And I love that we've talked so much about kind of your bottom up work and working with individual consumers and groups of people, but one of the things that's also fascinating about your work with Remake is the policy work that you're doing. You mentioned a little bit earlier that you're working on a bill. Can you tell us a bit more about, one, what that bill is going to entail and then also how important it is to ensure that policymakers and lawmakers are part of - not just the conversations - but building solutions as well?

AB [34:11] Yeah, absolutely. And I will say, Brady, in terms of, we don't want to shock in all people with statistics. We live in such a doom-scrolling world of news that wants us to clickbait and read the next terrible thing that's happening. And so...

...we really want it to be a counterculture movement of joy!

And you think about social movements and even the history in our country, whether it's looking at the civil rights movement or BLM, you really look to the young activists to say we've got to sort of take care of ourselves as a radical act.

We've got to enter this work with love and joy. And that's really when you can have a long fight. And so part of, I think my Pragmatism comes from this humility of knowing this work was happening before me and it's going to continue a lot after me. I can do, our community can do, the best we can with the tools and structures that we have in place. But once you let go of, “I have to be a perfect consumer, and it's all on me.” I think it opens you up a lot in ways of dealing in complex environments and putting one foot in front of another and celebrating the small and big wins and setbacks along the way and brushing yourself up and getting back up.

And I think to that end, policy is a perfect example because it takes so long when you're pushing for policy reform, getting the right type of political support. But once that happens, the power is so much larger than what we would do just campaign by campaign.

And so with the passage of the Garment Worker Protection Act, it meant that now 45,000 women in California, not just the women, but their children, have a better life. Minimum wage is the floor. And so we're now taking our fight to the federal level.

And this Fashion Week [Fall, 2023], Senator Gillibrand is going to reintroduce our bill, The Fabric Act, which is looking all across the United States to have the same kind of reform, essentially to say any product made in America - minimum wage is the floor, and then we're going to hold companies jointly liable for wage theft. So that's exciting, but also eyes wide open to know in this current political context where we want bipartisan support, this is going to be a very long fight.

BH [36:32] Yeah, well, and I think you also mentioned that part of this, not just the fight, but part of this process is also improving manufacturing conditions in the US. You mentioned earlier in the conversation that actually we're not as technologically savvy as many other countries. And in making those updates and in bringing more manufacturing back, that also will help improve policy. Is that right?

AB [36:57] That's exactly right. Because when you think about policy, it's like, okay, well, my agenda is I want women to be paid fairly. So if the policy just had that, you'd have industry bulk at it right. To say it's hard enough to compete in the US, now you want to increase wages, we're not going to support that. But it turns out the bill has a grant program in order to have the right types of investments for machinery upgrades, upskilling of jobs - and so the idea is that you have the carrots and the sticks and that you do have the business incentives for this bill to go further.

And that's, again, I think the duplexity of this work - if labor was just shouting here and industry was just shouting here, we would never make progress. And so we do have to find those through lines of working together.

BH [37:45] I love that.

RMR [37:45] Yeah. I want to hear more about the book club because I wasn't aware of that. But first, I want to give you an opportunity to talk about the No New Clothes Challenge, which is wonderful. Remake has the challenge where consumers are challenged to abstain from purchasing new clothes for 90 days. I would love to know. Just tell us a little bit about it. But then also, what are some of the things that consumers, especially those who love expressing themselves through fashion, what are they doing to kind of make the most of their wardrobe through these 90 days and extend the life cycle of their clothing?

AB [38:19] Yeah, so we do heavy campaign cycles in the spring and the fall. And so with summer and people traveling and wanting to have more of a joyful movement of a lot of creatives that are part of Ambassador Network, we started the No New Clothes Challenge - and the idea was in true Remake style, that we're not going to be didactic make it what it means to you. So for some people, that absolutely means buying nothing. I'm going to turn off my notifications, unsubscribe from all the marketing emails, and then just to think of this like a food cleanse and I'm going to buy nothing. For others it means, well, I can dabble in rental or perhaps really up my vintage game.

And so first and foremost, we say No New Clothes is whatever you make of it. But the second is we think of ourselves almost like a fitness coach, like some of those apps. It's like you can do it. So we're sending prompts and tips and tricks every week for our signatories. And so it's a way to encourage them to get their friends to also participate, and we then think of both social media and our community meetups as a way of creative expression.

So in the summer, a lot of our community will have swap parties, which are a fabulous time often, whether it's to have a DJ going - it's a way to meet your community, it's a way to spruce up your wardrobe, and try different things. And so what we're saying is rather than just taking away the clothes shopping experience, what we're giving you is community to lean into. And similarly, we've seen some of our ambassadors. If you go to our Instagram @RemakeOurWorld, we feature some of them as the Challenge is coming to an end, where they have upcycled and they have shared some of their favorite thrifted vintage finds or what they uncovered as a treasure at a swap party or how they're wearing the same outfit in different ways, adding layers morning to evening.

And in some ways, what we hear from our community, many of whom are fashion insiders, is that No New Clothes is a way to celebrate what we love about fashion, which is creativity and self expression and joy, while divesting from fashion as an industry and what it has become because it doesn't match our values.

And on the back of this, what we do is we calculate how much clothes have we divested from landfill, how much water have we saved, what's the emission count for the number of people who are signing up for the pledge? So we can sort of have a nerdy conversation around it as well!

BH [40:54] We love nerdy conversations about data! That’s our favorite.

RMR [40:57] I would imagine it has kind of a deep programming effect because within those 90 days, you know - to your point, you're being able to be expressive and creative and dig within to kind of express yourself and you realize like, yeah, I don't need to just be ordering clothes all the time. I have it here and it’s actually more fun!

AB [41:15] We had actress Nat Kelly, who's taken part of the pledge for several years now, do a diary for us where she was talking about - she was on that show Dynasty, which was all about shopping and consumption - and how this was one of the most profound things she did for herself, where it's taking stock of what you already have, it's being creative with the clothes, it's being mindful and that it was really quite a joyful exercise to participate. And so then, when she felt empowered in that decision, she felt confident to invite some of her other friends in the industry to participate as well.

So we often talk about no new clothes, not as giving up something, but actually leaning into community, which is what, at the end of the day, us as human social creatures is what we crave and want the most.

BH [42:04] I've done two things during the challenge. I did thrift, which is great, and it's like the stuff that I've gotten the most compliments on of anything I've worn all summer - so that was cool. And the other thing I did was a trade with a friend who sews to adjust some things that I have in my closet, like a couple of things that just don't fit the same or never quite fit right, so I don't wear it as often as I could, and she can do some minor adjustments for it. And I did a trade with her for bone broth, but that was like one of those really sweet things where it allowed me to connect with somebody in my community in a really different way, and we both get to bring something together that's been really nice. And the other thing I've done too is a clothing swap - a friend of mine hosted. And I have to say it's like trending all across the country where this is definitely like a new, I think especially post pandemic - people are just so hungry for communal experiences and that aren't focused on necessarily going out to dinner with a big group, but something that people are hosting at home - in addition to book clubs kind of sprouting up again in vast numbers. But the clothing swap “movement” that's sort of happening across the country for women of all ages I think is really interesting because I really hadn't been to one since college and suddenly I've been invited to several in the last nine months probably, which I think is really interesting.

RMR [43:28] Yeah. And I love the community dye bath phenomenon. There's this amazing store here in East LA called SUAY shop and they have like every month or every quarter they have a selection of colors and you can send in your clothing or you can drop it off at the shop.

And I've actually been able to revitalize. I have had a couple of pieces that I thought I were done with because I had stains on them or become discolored and I was able to send them in and have them dyed in a vibrant color and now I can wear them again.

AB [43:59] I love that and it's interesting, I think - so, we have a community call once a month and we feature different trailblazers, and SUAY shop is definitely someone in our network, but were uplifting businesses in the circular secondhand, we're really seeing this as a business opportunity. Keep clothes in generation longer.

RMR [43:59] Agreed.

BH [44:21] Yeah. So in addition to No New Clothes, are there ways that our listeners and readers can also help with, for instance, pushing the bill forward or with signing other petitions and things that would help your work move forward?

AB [44:36] Yeah, absolutely. I'd say for those who've enjoyed the conversation, want to stay in the know, just open up Instagram, give us a follow @RemakeOurWorld. That's where we put out a lot of our fun content, but also our campaign work.

We are currently in the midst of getting more brands to keep workers safe in Pakistan through a life saving agreement called the International Accord. Most recently, Gap Inc.,  which was a huge victory, signed on to the Pakistan Accord but we are wanting Ikea and Levi's and Amazon to follow suit. And so for people interested, we could link it in the show notes. But also if you go to Remake.World on our campaign site, with one click, you can write to some of these brand executives to say you know, I love your brand, but I would like to support workers in Pakistan.

So we really do try to make the campaign work as easy as possible. So apart from giving us a follow on Instagram to keep up with educational resources, hitting up our campaign, signing a petition goes again, the power of the collective - a long way. Companies do pay attention when they hear from their end customer.

BH [45:46] Amazing. And then I think as a final question, I'd be curious, you have so much on your plate that you're already doing - but if you could kind of encapsulate - because this is your life's work and this is obviously something that you're incredibly passionate about and have created an opportunity for so many people to join in this work with you, what would be your kind of dream come true with this work and what you're doing?

AB [46:16] It's such a great question because we'll be ten years old next year [2024]. And so I'm already thinking about what have you accomplished in ten years? What can we do in the next decade?

And if I were to say one thing around, “we've had success…”, it's to say that we left the makers of our clothes more visible and better off to live a life of dignity. That's what we eat, breathe and love. She is our end customer. And so at the end of the day, all of the work is in service of Her.

BH [46:46]And I love that you refer to her as “She” and “Her”, because every time you say it, I'm like, “well, I know her, don't I?” You know what I mean? It sounds like we're having a conversation about a friend, which I think is so sweet and endearing. Because when you love clothes and you love the clothes that you're wearing and when you can really appreciate the way something fits your body, like somebody had to put all of that detail into it and create it for you to wear it and love it. And so I just really appreciate that you referred to “Her” and “them” that way because it's really sweet and super lovely.

RMR [47:21]I feel like it's almost a practice where now every day when I get dressed, I'm going to hold the garment in my hand and pay homage to her and think about who made this.

AB [47:31] Yeah, that's the hope that was really even a naming Remake, like do we “re-make” these connections between "her" at one end and us as customers?

And in fact, we have a made in film series which is free short documentaries, where whether from Cambodia to India to Pakistan, you can catch a glimpse into not just the work, but the lives, hopes and dreams of the women who make our clothes.

And I do think so much shifts when we do tell the kinds of stories that humanize people that make the products that we wear and touch every day.

BH [48:06] This has been so wonderful to get to sit down and talk with you and thank you so much. There's so much information that you shared that I think, certainly for our listeners and readers, they'll have a lot to digest and take home with them. But I think also you shared so many simple action items that people can take from here that aren't overwhelming and are super simple. And I love that you work from this place of “joyful” advocacy work and that it is about ensuring that “us” as part of a collective of people who do want to do better, do our best, but also take care of ourselves as well because it's about the long term, not just like the immediate - and that's such a beautiful, I think, outlook for all advocacy work, no matter what people are focused on. But I think at least gives me hope, that even as us, as individuals and with our community of friends - we are able to make a difference, even when it's small, kind of incremental changes within our own lives, which is so sweet. So thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate it.

RMR [49:15] Thank you.

AB [49:16] Absolutely. It's such a pleasure to be in conversation with you both and I love what you're doing with The Noodler. We need more conversations for women, by women. So, it's an absolute pleasure to be in conversation. I feel like we're like three friends sitting over a cup of coffee!

BH [49:31] I know, Rebecca and I are like when are you coming to visit? When are you coming to LA? We'll all hang out.

AB [49:37] I would love that.

BH [49:40] That's also what comes through when you speak to women through the lens of women and not through the common questions we typically get asked by journalists or interviewers. Our goal really is to show the interconnectedness of each of us and our stories and work from that place. Because like, that's also the thing that I think creates that connective tissue. Because you realize that there's at least one thing that you share with other women on this planet and it's so important to see those connections too

AB [50:13] Completely. And you know, if I could leave you with - a personal idol of mine is Jane Fonda, someone who's dedicated her entire life to social movements. And I recently heard her speak because she is focusing in her 80’s - the rest of her life - on the climate crisis. And something that she said really resonated with me. She said in my early twenties, I used to think that life was a sprint and then as I got older I thought it was more of an endurance marathon. But now as I look at my life, I recognize that it's a relay.

RMR [50:47] I just got the chills.

AB [50:52] It almost makes me tear up and I and I think about that a lot as I sort of enter “Middle Age” - to say, it's not even a marathon.

It's about, what do we pass on? What do we equip the next generation? Because these fights came before us and they will hopefully continue well past us as well.

BH [51:12] Thank you so much for leaving us with that. We will stop it here!

Calls to Action

1. Follow Remake on Instagram @remakeourworld to stay informed about educational resources, campaign updates, and inspiring content related to sustainable fashion and workers' rights.

2. Support The Fabric Act, which aims to ensure that any product made in the USA provides workers with a minimum wage by signing a petition or submitting a letter via brand executives to urge them to support fair wages for garment workers.

3. Participate in the #NoNewClothes Challenge: By taking part in this 90-day challenge, individuals can extend the life cycle of their clothing, explore creative ways to style their existing wardrobe, and engage in community events like clothing swaps.

4. Watch the Made in Film Series: These short documentaries provide insights into the lives, hopes, and dreams of garment workers around the world to help consumers connect with the people who make their clothes.

5. Use Remake's Brand Directory to learn more about your favorite brands provides information on various brands' ethical records.

Ayesha Barenblat

Founder & CEO, Remake


Ayesha Barenblat is a social entrepreneur with a passion for building sustainable supply chains that respect people and our planet. With over a decade of leadership to promote social justice and sustainability within the fashion industry, she founded Remake to ignite a conscious consumer movement.