An Op-Ed on the intersection of Culture and Sustainability in Japan and Ghana Part 1

An Op-Ed on the intersection of Culture and Sustainability in Japan and Ghana by Samata

A multicultural phenomenon, the global fashion industry provides sustenance to designers from a plethora of cultural backgrounds. Exploring the lessons, traditional practises and cultural philosophies which might benefit the ethical fashion sector, I focused on two countries close to my heart; Ghana, the birthplace of my parents, and Japan, an intriguing country I studied in school (picking up an AS in Japanese to boot during my A-Levels). In doing so I wonder if the space where culture and fashion intersect provides progressive ground in the sustainable fashion conversation. Starting in Ghana, where clothing matters, and both expensive Western and traditional items are an important symbol of education and wealth.

Ghana’s Visual Eco Dialogue

Fashion’s spotlight is on the culture-rich continent Africa – the sub-saharan market alone is worth $31 billion according to Euromonitor whilst Ghana, one of its 55 countries and known cultural gateway to West Africa, boasts an apparel and footwear market worth $167 million. Underneath the vibrant noise of the popular cotton wax prints, sustainability has always been an ongoing cultural conversation, and according to Kofi Laing, Joy 99.7fm radio host and Multi Tv’s fashion presenter, the Adinkra symbols – dating back to royal attire circa 1817 – prove it. “Adinkra is a sacred cloth using adinkra symbols, which are proverbs of advice relating to the proper conduct of the individual in society. Rooted in tradition and an inherent respect for the earth, Adinkra are used to express traditional Ghanaian proverbs, even commemorating anniversaries and elections.” A visual tool, the designs and patterns are a communicative statement printed on furniture, sculptures and clothing which both a literal meaning and philosophical message. Not your average statement tee, embroidered with traditional symbols this clothing often channels a message of sustainability. Read more…

Representation Matters In The Sustainable Fashion World

In 2009 the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a fabulous TED talk called “The Danger of a Single Story,” – a moving piece about what happens when complex human beings and situations are reduced to a single narrative: when Africans, for example, are treated solely as pitiable poor, starving victims with flies on their faces. Her point was that each individual life contains a heterogeneous compilation of stories. If you reduce people to one, you’re taking away their humanity. She ended her talk by saying this, “That when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.” Personally, I feel the exact same way about sustainable fashion and why it needs to be representative. The eco-warriors of our generation (a title I identify with) do not all look the same or share the same story, but I do believe that the compilation and acknowledgement of our varied efforts, backgrounds and stories can make a difference.

This morning I was sent a link to this fantastic and passionate interview entitled why ‘Why Sustainable Fashion Needs More Color‘. It’s such a great read. I do agree that POC aren’t well represented in the sustainable fashion sector. When I attend key eco-fashion events there are not typically many of ‘us’ in the room, and when we are, we don’t make the mainstream media-facing  cut. I am not exaggerating when I say that all-white panels are depressingly the norm at sustainability conferences, even when the impact of the fashion industry is largely felt by communities of colour – specifically when it comes to manufacturing. That was one of the reasons (not the only or most important one) why being part of the Copenhagen Fashion Summit was such an exciting moment for me – I welcomed the fact that my voice, perspective and contributions were being given a platform – as they should be – with others just as passionate about the space as I have been for the past 8 years. There wasn’t any fanfare about what a person of colour being part of the conversation ‘meant’ and I wasn’t asked to speak for all POC either (thankfully). I was just an expert, like my esteemed panel, being asked for my opinion and to interview my prestigious guests on theirs. I want both, the celebration of our efforts just like those of our non-POC counterparts are celebrated and written about in the media, but I also look forward to representation becoming the norm. Is that too much of an ask?

Panel discussion: The power of creatives from Copenhagen Fashion Summit on Vimeo.

I have followed MelaninASS for some time and say hats off to Dominique Drakeford who has been long since committed to giving POC that voice and a space to shine with MelaninASS. With Red Carpet Green Dress we have always tried to be representative with the talent we choose to represent our ethical fashion campaign at the Oscars (Priyanka Bose, Lakeith Stanfield, Naomie Harris, Laura Harrier were all chosen for their talent and happened to be representative) because, well, why shouldn’t the talent reflect the multicultural world we live in? It would be nuts for it not to.

When it comes to manufacturing even, it is fair to say that a large percentage of the fashion industry is built on the toil of black and brown women in the world, mainly across the continents of Asia, South America and Africa. In 1970, among the biggest garment exporters to the USA for example were Japan, United Kingdom, Canada, Italy and France yet by 2011, the USA was receiving most imports from countries like China, Cambodia, Pakistan, Mexico and Bangladesh. The saying is, ‘If China is the factory of the world, Bangladesh is the tailor’ as apparel makes up more than 80% of Bangladesh’s total exports – with the value of those exports having doubled in the past eight years. In Bangladesh, with 80% of garment workers being women, it’s easy to see why hearing from these many black and brown voices in mainstream spaces and conversations is so necessary and important. How can we talk about how to fix a problem when we don’t speak to the people in the thick of it? They are literally the hands on the garments, sitting on our skin.

I absolutely love that in the article on MelaninASS name checks some of the designers, bloggers and influencers of colour doing great work – in the design world that includes Aliya Wanek, Kanelle, Two Fold, Chelsea Bravo, Printed Pattern People, Bhoomki, Remuse, Chan & Krys, Studio 189, Proclaim and Iyla. I recently wore the incredible Indian womenswear brand Kanelle and it’s one of my favourite brands in the world. Look how gorgeous their pieces are!

Wearing Kanelle

Be sure to read the article and share your thoughts below on or my Instagram post here. Thank you!


I haven’t shopped at H&M for about 5 years because they aren’t sustainable. Having heard that they burnt collections which didn’t sell I was pushed even further away from the brand. Fresh on the heels of this ‘Monkey’ jumper, I understand why people are calling for this boycott but what I really hope is that you follow through. Don’t spend your money there until real change comes – that includes representation at all levels because I’m pretty sure this ‘Monkey’ jumper wouldn’t have got past a POC executive and if it did – shame on you. If you think we are being sensitive, you don’t know your history and need to read up.

Black kids have been characterised as animals for centuries – monkeys in particular. It’s how they justified European/American human zoos from the late 1800s to late 1900s. For a nice day out people went to watch Black people (search Ota Benga) who were on display, usually forced to live behind gates and in cages similar to animals in a zoo today.

Ota Benga was a Congolese man, a Mbuti pygmy known for being featured in an anthropology exhibit at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1904, and in a human zoo exhibit in 1906 at the Bronx Zoo. Did H&M think adding the word ‘coolest’ would get the jumper the nod from black Twitter or something? There wasn’t even an image of a monkey on the jumper so SMH and FOH together. Like I said, boycotts are great if you don’t cave the minute you need to make a quick purchase. Read more about the outrage here.

10 POC Artists you should get to know

I will always remember visiting Pantheon – Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres in Rome, Italy, (a former Roman temple, now a church on the site of an earlier temple) and seeing this stunning painting earlier this year. I was surprised at how emotional I felt seeing the two black women in the painting at the back. It made me think about artists of colour and how I would have loved to see more of this kind of work growing up in Cambridge. So here is a post featuring POC artists you might want to be aware of, if inspired-diversity floats your boat.

Harmonia Rosales

Based in Chicago, artist Harmonia Rosales’ inspiration arises from living life as a woman of colour. She describes her art as being born out of “a combination of my love for history, thirst for endless new knowledge, and dedication to social action.” I have been following her work online for a while (@Honeiee), falling in love with her incredible reimagining of the classic Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. To keep up with updates, you can subscribe to her mailing list at I posted about her here.

Jurell Cayetano

Painter @turnjurell wows with post-impressionist portraits. Working with gouache and colored pencil, fine artist Jurell Cayetano creates post-impressionist style portraits that delightfully employ elements of synthetism and cloisonnism (a style of post-Impressionist painting with bold and flat forms separated by dark contours) techniques. Read more…


I read an article today which said, “You probably don’t come close to realizing the degree to which indigenous people suffered and sacrificed so that America could be what it is today. Even if you’re well meaning, you’re probably not as grateful as you should be.” There are some great articles out today on MIC and TruthDig (by @Chelsey.Luger) on acknowledging the indigenous sacrifice this season and Teen Vogue just posted a powerful video, below, that’s worth watching. Read more…


DTMH. For those who do not know, Solange’s hairstyle for the Evening Standard editorial was a symbolic, culture-rich style. My beautiful friend @Shingai is known to regularly rock similarly threaded ornate styles when she performs. This hairstyle is symbolic, rich in culture and hella offensive to be edited out. Even the journalist who wrote the accompanying article and photographer who captured the original image have condemned the magazine’s edit. Read more…

Cicley Tyson on ELLE

As if she weren’t already legendary enough, actress Cicely Tyson just landed a magazine cover at the age of 92. The actress, who recently presented alongside Anika Noni Rose at the Emmys, is one of Elle’s picks for this year’s Women in Hollywood Issue, and her cover is gorgeous. The annual list, which celebrates a number of Hollywood’s trailblazing females, prompted the reveal of seven different cover versions created by the publication. It seems like Tyson’s might be the most popular.At 92, Tyson is officially the second-oldest woman to grace the cover of a magazine — fashion guru Iris Apfel was a cover girl at 93.

ELLE Magazine deserves all the praise for honouring this absolute legend Cicely Tyson. I’m not sure why some people are upset that her cover is in black and white, for me it makes this legend stand out even more. No distractions, just her power. How many times have you seen an icon (over the age of 90) looking so amazing and powerful on a magazine cover?  @ElleUSA || Photo by @TerryTsiolis, styled by @SamiraNasr.