In a world bombarded by “fake news,” or claims of it, the objective truth can appear elusive. However, as social-science journalist Shankar Vedantam recently discussed on his podcast The Hidden Brain, sometimes it’s simply our unwillingness to recognize uncomfortable truths that undermines our grasp on reality. Unpleasant information, he explained, creates a paradox for the brain because difficult truths produce psychic pain — and one of the oldest rules in the brain is to avoid things that produce pain. The choice, then, becomes whether we shut out a challenging issue or take the first step towards resolving it: e.g., Acknowledge the problem.
The ethical fashion industry recently faced such a reckoning when The Library held a Sustainable Fashion and Representation event, asking: Is sustainable fashion suffering from a race problem? Founder of Melanin and Sustainable Style (or MelaninASS) Dominique Drakeford was one of the panelists who addressed the need for eco-conscious fashion to become more progressive, culturally relevant and diverse. This intersection has underpinned Dominque’s personal and professional life dating back to high school, when she first embraced the term “sustainability,” and grew through college, when she became professionally invested and involved in this sector. In March 2016, she launched MelaninASS. An “evolutionary platform that discusses the issues and celebrates the success of communities of color in Sustainable Fashion and Beauty spaces,” the website addresses current and future facts, among them: “In sharing a global perspective of new industry standards, it's imperative that we pay homage to the beauty and style of MELANIN around the globe!” Truth acknowledged. Now, let’s take the next step towards making it a reality.
What has surprised you since launching MelaninASS?
How so many Black women or Women of Color have felt frustrated in the sustainable fashion space. How so many Black women or Women of Color felt underrepresented in the ethical community. How so many Black women or Women of Color saw the constant struggle of not being included in the non-toxic beauty market. How so many Black women or Women of Color were annoyed by the appropriation, yes, within the ethical community. How so many Black women or Women of Color understood the role that colonization played, but didn’t have the words, energy or guts at the time to call a spade a spade. I didn’t know that this type of platform was so needed. For me, it started out as a want founded by frustration; I quickly realized that this content and context is mandatory.
Why has the intersection of communities of color and the fashion/wellness space been overlooked in the past?
It has been overlooked but overlooking it has been a privileged and systematic choice. If there’s anything I’ve learned about this country — and, sadly, what enough people don’t or choose not to understand — is that systems, structures, media, propaganda, etc., are very strategic in keeping racism and oppression alive, keeping appropriation alive and keeping the discard and the manipulation of Black bodies alive. Melaninated people have a history before colonization, when civilizations were thriving and inherently sustainable; a history during slavery; a history during Jim Crow; and a history now, with institutionalized racism and the industrial prison complex, which has everything to do with fashion, wellness and sustainability.
The Jess Blouse.
What is the single most important shift that needs to happen in the ecological sphere?
READ: Everyone wants to hop on the bandwagon of helping and standing for the cause without context. Read: Unlearn the lies that have been strategically fed to us and re-learn our real history. READ! Read about the history of yesterday. Read outside of your comfort and outside of your bubble or circle of influence. Without a real understanding of what’s happening in this very imperialist country, we can’t make any real connections towards progress. We kind of have a take a step backwards!
What values are most important to you?
Family, community, culture or heritage, the environment, peace, happiness, adventure.
Where you grew up.
A place that has changed your life.
A song you discovered while traveling.
Which of your family members are you most similar to?
My sister who loves, lives and manifests in her Blackness. We both have activist spirits and so many similarities, like our sense of humor, love for dogs and passion for reading and learning something new.
What are five green beauty products you can’t live without?
There are so many brands that I love and use every day, but there aren’t brands I can’t live without. Ingredients? That’s a different story: lime water, castor oil, shea butter, peppermint oil, aloe vera juice.
If you could have dinner with anyone alive, who would it be?
The best picture on your phone.
A picture of happiness.
A movie with an important message.
What is your biggest fear?
Not becoming a pillar of change in the way I know I was destined to become. That and roaches. LOL.
Beyond sustainability and the environment, what socio-cultural issues are at the forefront of your mind?
Everything that comes with being Black in America, essentially. My work has many arms, but the number one issues are the things that are killing us spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically: sustainability and environment, food desserts (apartheids), health care, Black moms dying at an alarming rate during child birth, education, mental health, healing, environmental racism, self-care, fashion politics, giving Black folks creative and economic credit for appropriation, etc. As an aware Black woman, this massive Venn diagram is always going through my mind.
What would you like your life to look like five to 20 years from now?
Happiness or spiritually sound. A published book (or two). Living in a really dope space (preferably one that I have a title to). Having a family. A community garden. MelaninASS being an international production engine. Having a sustainable fashion curriculum.
Words to live by?