The very talented Sarah Graham of Ethics Matter will be leading the panelist talk tomorrow on sustainability & fast fashion. Check out her interesting story below before you see her tomorrow. Tickets here.
Firstly, tell us who you are and what you do?
I am a designer, founder of Ethics Matter and am currently completing a Master’s Degree in Material Futures at Central Saint Martins.
Ethics Matter is a design and consulting agency that creates bespoke strategies to help business navigate reducing their environmental impact and become more socially responsible.
What inspired you to start on this path?
I had always wanted to be a fashion designer… until I became a fashion designer. There were parts about the job that I absolutely loved, but working in the industry I began to see first hand the hidden parts of how the industry worked. As I became educated about the industry’s impact on people and the environment and my role in it all, parts of fashion design that I loved became overshadowed by the parts I wanted to change.
I began to carve out roles for myself within the companies I was working in to lead changes in areas of environmental and social impacts. I eventually decided to start Ethics Matter and to continue my education at Central Saint Martins.
Why are you passionate about sustainability in the fashion industry?
I love that fashion can be highly creative and individual. Fashion is a trillion dollar industry and holds so much influence. There is huge potential for fashion to be used as a platform for change if it is pushing the right message. I think all businesses have a responsibility to consider their footprint and ensure they are not benefiting from exploitation – of both the planet and people.
My first job out of uni was at the Canadian fast fashion brand Joe Fresh in Toronto. I was working there when Rana Plaza – a factory we were producing products in- collapsed killing 1,134 people in Bangladesh. This is the first time I can remember becoming conscious of the real consequences of irresponsible business practices. So I feel I have a responsibility to help change the industry for the better after participating in and benefiting from it.
What are some challenges you have faced or had to overcome?
Resistance to change is a challenge when trying to work with businesses that are profiting in the moment from the status quo. “This is how everyone does it” or “This is how it’s always been done” are phrases that make me cringe. A big challenge is to get people to think long term when the immediate is working for them.
What is the best advice you have been given?
Impostor syndrome is something many people feel in their career and I recently was at a Women in Leadership panel and an audience member asked a CEO how she deals with it. She responded that if you’re looking around wondering if you belong in the group of your peers “remember you are here for a reason. You did not just walk in the room by mistake, your hard work and experience got you there”.
Also (semi-contradictory) “fake it ‘till you make it”. But when I’m doing something that makes me super nervous and I need an extra boost of confidence I conjure the attitude of Rihanna.
In another lifetime, what would you want to be doing for a job?
I’d love to have been an investigative journalist or in politics… but there’s still time.
Who/what is currently inspiring you?
There are so many people that inspire me in different ways. Career wise, two major inspirations are Neri Oxman, professor at the MIT Media Lab and leader of Mediated Matter research group and Natsai Audrey Chieza, the founder of Faber Futures a studio that creates biologically inspired materials.
In a broader sense, Autumn Peltier, a 15 year old Wiikwemkoong First Nation Canadian and Chief Water Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation is a huge inspiration for her fierce fight for water protection. In Canada (and the USA) oil and gas pipeline expansions disproportionately affect Indigenous communities, break historical treaties between Indigenous and Settler governments and violate the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I wish I had her determination and strength when I was 15 – or even now- however, I do think it unfair for the weight of issues like that to fall on the shoulders of a teenager. We should all take responsibility to ensure we are treating the environment and marginalized peoples with respect.