This is an excerpt of Episode 10 of Style & Sustain - The podcast. Listen to it HERE or read the interview highlights below.
1. Hi Beatrice, please tell us a bit about yourself (name, age, occupation, hobbies…etc)
My name is Beatrice, I am 22 years old and I graduated from university in 2020. I have a degree in Biomedical Science but I currently work in supply chain for the fast using good sector. If I’m here, you’ve probably guessed that I have an interest in fashion. I’m the founder of Avant Runway, something I started in University which was actually meant to be a fashion brand but later on developed into a platform for conversations on fashion and sustainability. I guess when I started in the space I felt like there was a lack of people that looked like me and when I spoke to my immediate surrounding about fashion and sustainability there was a disconnect. So the goal with Avant Runway was to have conversations for my immediate circle but also to inspire more sustainable consumer habits.
2. How would you describe your style and how did your interest in fashion and sustainability start?
I love so many fashion styles, but I guess it would be casual, a bit glam when I go the extra mile and also smart. I would say my journey started in university during my Biomedical Science studies. In my first year, I took an extra module, an upcycling module which was about the impact of the counterfeit industry and the process involved in taking something old and flipping it. In a short span of time, I actually leant how to sew and after that module, I was thinking of a business idea. I thought why don’t I start a clothing brand. As I started digging and asking questions about why producing outside of the UK was cheaper than producing within the UK. That’s when I started stumbling into the back story of fashion. With counterfeiting, I already had an idea but once I wanted to start something myself I decided I wanted to know more. I then took a course with Fashion Revolution about sustainability and fashion, then with Avant Runway (Avant meaning "before" in French) I wanted to create designs that had not been seen but that shifted to wanting to shed light on what happened with clothes before they hit the runway, before they hit the stores.
3. What are the joys and challenges of being mindful about your closet?
It initially made me feel extremely sad learning about the truth behind fashion. I don’t like the idea of the West exploiting another part of the world and I had conversations with people who would say: "Such is life" but I just didn’t like the idea of it. I can’t unlearn or unsee it. Those would be my challenges. The joy I feel is the fact that sustainable fashion is not just about buying into things. I’ve always valued quality over quantity and I’m really enjoying the shift in mindset. It’s also not just about clothes, it involves everything: I try to finish every product that I use, to not buy what I don’t need and as someone who’s moved around a lot, I can say that everything I own can fit into my mother’s car! It's a lifestyle.
4. How have the #changingfashion conversations you’ve had so far shaped your view of the industry?
It’s amazing what people can think of, people are so creative and it’s amazing. I started the series because I wanted to learn, I’m quite curious and I thought: why learn by myself? When I can learn with people and get the people around me to listen in to those conversations. I realised people are just so creative and I’ve been creative in my journey too, in how I optimise my sustainability practices. When I spoke to Bianca from Whering, I thought how amazing that there’s an app that can help me organise my clothes digitally. Then I spoke to Josephine from Sojo, the Deliveroo of fashion and was amazed by this new way of repairing my clothes. It’s opened my mind about smaller brands.
5. What are some of your favourite black-owned slow businesses?
I’m not biased but they are all Nigerian. I love Kilentar how the owner empowers the skills of African women, not only in Nigeria but across Africa, she encourages manufacturing in Africa. I love Andrea Iyamah and also Hanifa. I love that African brands bring to light the fact that sustainability has always been in the African way of life, from the fact that many Africans get their clothes tailor-made, cherish and pass them down. The talent in African clothing craftsmanship is also beautiful to see.
These black-owned brands are often extravagant pieces of clothing but it’s worth investing in that one piece you love.
6. We once spoke about the shifting of mindsets when it comes to fashion habits within the black and brown community, what’s your take on this?
As a curvy black woman, it’s been hard fitting into most sustainable brands. I definitely gained a bit during the pandemic and I can say that one of my motivations to go to the gym is to fit into more sustainable brands. It actually hinders me because I can’t fit into these brands and I think that’s a blockage in our communities. These brands don’t necessarily cater to our body types and that’s something they need to reconsider and think about in terms of inclusivity.
7. Fashion, sustainability and Africa is also a topic we have discussed: do you see a country like Nigeria embracing the concept of sustainable and ethical fashion, if so in what ways?
Disclaimer, I do think there is a shift coming but as Nigerians, we pride ourselves in being flashy and different. It's the mentality that “Naija no dey carry last” which comes with a stigma around secondhand clothes. The way people see wearing secondhand like it makes it look like you’re struggling or “suffering”. I bought a beautiful sweater that I wear often and my Mom often takes the tone of soon the whole world is going to know me as the girl who only wears this sweater. I just think of how I did not spend this money and find this piece to not wear over and over again. It’s a cultural thing and as a first-generation, I know what my Mom had to go through for me to be here so there’s an “image” to keep up with that and that’s what needs to change - the connotation that comes with secondhand. I believe the fashionable young Nigerians are changing this as they experiment more and more with black-owned, heritage pieces and secondhand, a market which I really hope will boom. It’s about reclaiming our culture and not getting lost in globalisation, which is a beautiful thing but how can different world communities incorporate traditional pieces in their everyday lives.
8. What’s your hope for the future of fashion?
In one sentence it would be: stop over-production. It’s easier said than done but I feel like it’s the best thing that could happen for our generation. At the end of the day, sustainability is not about buying into it, it’s a mindset shift and we live in a society where we constantly want more but if we can slow down on that it will make a difference. Let’s think about our personal style…influencer culture is great but people lose their identity and we need to fight that. I’m also in the process of finding my own style and I hope that we can all get into a sustainable mindset.
You can listen to the podcast episode HERE.