Aditi Mayer chats on diversity, practicing sustainability, and the future of fashion post-pandemic.
This post was originally published on BEAUBIT.
Frustrated by the lack of representation and intersectionality within the movement, Aditi is now a frequent speaker on topics like social and environmental justice in fashion and minority representation. The LA-based activist is also a fashion & documentary photographer and journalist.
We sit down to chat with Aditi on her definition of diversity, how to practise sustainability and her hopes for the future of the fashion industry post-pandemic.
What’s your story? Where did you grow up and what do you do now?
I was born and raised in Southern California — the daughter of immigrants from Punjab, India. Today, I’m a sustainable fashion blogger, journalist, creative consultant and model.
What are the greatest lessons you’ve learned from your career?
I’m extremely glad that all facets of my hyphenated job titles are rooted in the topic of sustainability in some way. I always think of sustainability as an unlearning at its core—one that interrogates systems that are harmful to our planet, people, and culture.
I learned about the beauty of what’s possible when you’re creating from a place that doesn’t center speed and output. Working in sustainability, you’re forced to contend with the important themes— community building, stewardship of the Earth, and an embrace of slow processes that mirror nature.
Our culture at large hasn’t always celebrated all skin colors. How do you think women can celebrate their true self and culture and overcome insecurities?
South Asian culture is incredibly beautiful— but like all cultures, we need to contend with damaging ideologies that have become pervasive in our culture. That means actively unlearning colourism, anti-blackness, and narrow definitions of beauty brought about by colonialism and casteism.
“I THINK WOMEN CAN EMBRACE THEIR TRUE SELVES BY INTERROGATING THE NARROW NARRATIVES OF BEAUTY FED FROM CULTURES THEY COME FROM, AND BEING INTENTIONAL OF WHAT THEY CHOOSE TO EMBRACE, AND WHAT THEY CHOOSE TO UNLEARN.”
How can women practice sustainability in their beauty purchases?
I would say the first thing to note is that beauty is tied to health; beauty is internal more than it is external, so drink water and try to eat balanced as well. With that said, so much of the South Asian beauty regime has started at home—in our kitchens. From turmeric masks to oil massages for the hair— all of these things came from an inherently sustainable, zero-waste way of living.
As far as things we can purchase, look for brands that are transparent about the ingredients in their products. In this day and age, there is a lot of greenwashing, which is the idea that brands use the language of sustainability— terms like green, organic, natural— without truly understanding what it means, and most commonly, keeping it vague to avoid accountability.
So look for brands that aren’t afraid to educate their consumers about all that goes into a product, but most importantly—do your own independent research.
One of my favourite beauty journalists is Jessica Defino, who does unfiltered reporting on the beauty industry and healthy skin.
What is a typical beauty routine for you?
My skin is quite dry, so I love oils and serums. In the shower, I use Köppen Ayurvedics’ Turmeric & Basil Body Wash. Once I dry off, I use Soma Ayurvedic’s Vitamin C Citrus + Rose Serum—and I love using their under eye cream before I sleep. While my skin is still damp, I’ll go in with any organic coconut oil—I’ve found that my skin absorbs the oil better this way.
I use Asna Beauty’s Amla Hair Oil for my hair weekly, for good scalp and hair health.
All of these brands are South Asian-owned and focus on Ayurvedic properties in their formulas and ingredients.
What does diversity mean to you?
Diversity isn’t just a check-mark of making sure there are a few Black, indigenous, and People of Colour in the room; it’s a constant process of seeing which voices aren’t being heard—often due to systemic barriers. In the words of Arundhati Roy, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”
Diversity is incredibly important as a way to promote diversity of thought. I talk about diversity a lot in the context of sustainability in fashion. In a piece for Teen Vogue in which I wrote:
“Diversifying the voices of sustainable fashion isn’t just to elicit the cosmetic role of ‘inclusion’, but also to diversify the modalities through which we understand what sustainability looks like.”
The fashion industry has much more work that needs to be done; has there been any progress that gives you hope?
Amid the fight for Black lives and COVID-19 exposing the fashion industry’s cracks (that were always there), I feel like we have entered a culture of accountability. Brands, especially in fashion, are being forced to contend with their problematic cultures and practices, whether that’s racist corporate cultures or not paying their garment workers amid a global pandemic (after already receiving orders).
I often talk about change in the fashion industry relying on three actors: corporate accountability, consumer demand, and building workers’ power. Consumer demand and workers’ power together are what set the tone for corporate accountability, and that’s what we’ve seen happening as of late. It’s giving me a lot of hope.
One example is the recent cry for brands to #PayUp for orders they once refused to pay for amid COVID-19. Since launching the campaign in March 2020, 17 brands have agreed to pay up. It’s estimated that the #PayUp campaign has unlocked an estimated $1 billion for suppliers in Bangladesh and $15 billion globally.
In Los Angeles, where a lot of my garment worker solidarity work takes place, we recently passed the Garment Worker Protection Act. This is huge because this bill addresses some of the roots that force garment workers to work under hazardous conditions making well-below minimum wage, due to their lack of protection.
The term ‘sustainable fashion’ has been loosely used by fashion brands. With conversations about inclusivity, diversity, sustainability and life post-COVID, how do you think it will impact the fashion industry?
COVID-19 has led to reimagine what our futures can look like—the fashion industry is a prime example. My hope for a post-pandemic future is one that values those in the supply chain. Garment workers are the heart of the fashion industry but are treated the worst and often come from the most marginalized communities.
Am I hopeful? On the one hand, many of us have been saying the same thing for years. But there is a shifting tide. It is a unique moment because consumers are paying attention and reorienting our relationship with consumption. Governments and corporations are being called out and garment workers are continuing to resist, as they always have.
Now is the time to reimagine new systems. I am challenging myself and others — beyond these systems that we are critiquing, let’s propose alternatives. There is meaningful transnational solidarity that can be done right now, from Los Angeles, from Bangladesh.