This is an excerpt of Episode 9 of Style & Sustain - The podcast. Listen to it HERE or read the interview highlights below.
Fernanda Simon is the Director of Fashion Revolution Brazil, as well as Sustainability Editor of Vogue Brazil. The movement now brings together thousands of people, all passionate about seeing a change in the industry in the country and beyond. Fernanda is an empathetic powerhouse and I love this conversation with her. We talk about her spiritual transformation that led to her passion for bringing forth a new fashion industry to her current role as Vogue Brazil Sustainability Editor, as well as the important part that the indigenous people of Brazil play in the future of the country, the environmental and economical impact of fast fashion and more!
Check out some of the highlights of our talk below.
Fernanda, what made you decide to pick up the Fashion Revolution movement in Brazil and how did that land you at Vogue Brazil as sustainability editor?
Fashion for me started at the University of Fashion Design in Brazil where I studied so I had this connection with it. In my last year of university, I began a spiritual journey that led to me being more connected with nature and the earth. At that moment, I could no longer see any connection between fashion and nature. Fashion no longer made sense. What I was learning at university was too different from my spiritual journey. I had a wake-up call so I decided to find another path that would take into consideration the planet. That led to me studying sustainability. This was back in 2007, so a lot has happened since then. I ended up living in London for a few years and it’s a key part of my journey. It was in England that I realised that fashion and the planet could be connected. At that time in Brazil, this conversation did not exist at all, but in London, I saw people who were doing good with fashion. A friend introduced me to the fashion revolution movement at its inception. I already knew I would be going back to Brazil and I knew the conversation there was just beginning so I stepped in to become the director of the movement over there.
What were some of the disconnects in fashion you felt were not aligning with your spiritual journey?
At the university, we only spoke of trends and what would sell and the business aspect of it all. I loved the art of fashion but I started to believe it had to connect to something bigger than that.
The fashion revolution conversation is often centred around what is happening in the Global North and the Fashion Revolution movement was started in the UK of course which is amazing. However, what differences do you see in the movement in the global south and specifically in Brazil? (approaches, actions, legalities)
Yes usually the conversation is centred around the global north and most of the issues come from there. Many resources, data, and tools are from the Global North so we don’t hear about what is happening in the Global South. In Brazil, we are working locally to produce and promote our own resources and to share tools that have been created by local people. We have projects that support the local movement, brands and researchers locally. For example, we have the Fashion Revolution Forum which is a project that promotes research by Brazilian students. We also have a Fashion Revolution book written by Brazilian women and researchers in the field of sustainable fashion. It is important to create and promote events and resources created in our country. The positive difference that I see is that in Brazil is the passion people have for the Fashion Revolution movement since it started in 2014.
Today we have over 60 local representatives, more than 100 schools and universities taking part in the campaign.
As Fashion Revolution was the first campaign for change in the fashion industry, people were drawn to it and had big expectations. Now over 800 Fashion Revolution events happen every year, its initial impact was huge.
How do you balance both your roles as Fashion Revolution Director and Sustainability Editor at Vogue Brazil? Do you find that there are conflicts of interest sometimes?
I believe that it’s essential to have the media working towards a narrative change in fashion. I believe the change must happen everywhere and in everyone. For me, it’s really clear that Vogue must be part of this transformation. About the conflict of interest, yes it can happen and when I started at Vogue people were asking me about this all the time but at the same time, I had so much support from my boss. She is a woman who supports change. We had so many conversations around what Fashions most urgent matters were and how Vogue Brazil could contribute to this moment in fashion. The Vogue team is just really committed to how we can talk about it with honesty and depth. I’m so grateful. Vogue has a long history and has been able to change and adapt to the times. They are serious about the environmental impact of fashion and I believe we are doing a great job in Vogue Brazil.
We also know that fashion brands are part of the problem but if they are part of the problem, I believe they must also be part of the solution.
We need a systemic revolution that happens everywhere, at all levels. We must count the participation of all, find ways to reach everyone. The revolution must be systemic and happen everywhere with everyone.
What are three ways the fashion industry impacts Brazil?
We have an ongoing campaign about cotton production in Brazil. Brazil is one of the biggest producers of cotton in the world. However, this cotton is full of chemicals and its killing nature and people because the production is so unhealthy. Our campaign is about creating Non-Toxic Fashion and we are working towards that. Another urgent impact is the social problems linked to women. The Brazilian textile industry is the fifth-largest in the world. It produces nearly ten billion pieces every year. It’s what we call a "complete" industry: it's generated from fibre production to consumption here in Brazil. Just like in many other countries, women are the majority of garment workers. So it is a priority for us to demand fair wages and proper work conditions for them. When it comes to the environment, the Amazon Forest is being destroyed and it is so sad to watch. When it comes to the Amazon Forest linked with fashion: there is illegal mining for gold. Many local indigenous communities such as the Yanomamis are facing the destruction of their land through illegal gold mining. It’s urgent and must be discussed.
Davi Kopenawa, a key indigenous leader puts it this way: "I can see the yellow river, the dirty water as they come in like angry animals looking for the wealth of the land and it’s moving so fast and arriving at my house."
Sadly, the government supports illegal mining, as citizens, it’s important to support local organisations, local indigenous people and talk about these issues. Consumers should ask brands where they get their gold.
Then there is also the leather issue. Trees are being cut down to feed livestock to make leather. The livestock industry is responsible for high levels of greenhouse gas emissions and we are losing land biodiversity, medicinal plants, local culture and much more due to that. The Amazon is becoming a cattle field.
At the moment, we have this horrible president (Bolsonaro) who is against people and against life! People need to get political! Brazilian people need to fight against him but also people all over the world need to know what is happening in Brazil. The Amazon Forest belongs to the global community and must be preserved. We are in a climate emergency and here we are watching the forest become a cattle field.
Brazil is home to many beautiful indigenous cultures with incredible artisanal and craftsmanship skills when it comes to garment making. How has fast fashion impacted this and do you see these people using their skills to thrive in the fashion industry differently?
Yes, I think it’s possible but right now that’s not the reality. The problem started with colonisation, so since then the real people of this land have suffered violence from the system. This week there was a demonstration called Lute Pela Vida (Fight for life), where over 100 indigenous tribes united to ask the government to not take their land. It’s been a beautiful movement even if it’s sad that this needed to happen. I believe they should be protected. The answer is to work with them to learn about how to interact with nature and take care of the planet. In terms of fashion, what most people wear in Brazil is inspired by European and American culture. It's not the real culture which would be indigenous, black, plus a mixture of people and cultures. I feel like at this moment we must reconnect to that heritage and have a look at our past to see what fashion truly means for Brazil.
Fast fashion accelerated the disconnection from our culture and makes it more difficult for people who work with their hands to be valued.
The fast fashion industry also takes and appropriates symbols from indigenous cultures without respect.
As sustainability editor of Vogue Brazil, what do you think is the best way to change the narrative around fashion for the better?
I believe the change needs to happen within everyone. We must start with ourselves and be open to really see what is happening in the world. We must use fashion as a force for connection to our natural world.
I don’t think there is a recipe for how change happens but I believe in the media’s work in this. Vogue and other magazines are trying and moving ahead with a new narrative. The media, companies, governments and individuals need to create plans and ways to tackle this. As individuals, we need to see that there is more to all this.
I would say look to life itself, nature grows, dies and becomes something else. Look at the nutrients from plants that go into our bodies. Everything is just so beautiful and prosperous.
Sometimes we are just in this cycle of working, paying bills, having some fun and it’s like come on! You’re alive! There is beauty happening here. There are many spiritual practices, religions and ways to connect. I think looking within is always a good place to start.
How would you describe your personal sustainable/ethical style?
My style is a mixture of what is comfortable and what I think is beautiful. For me, beauty also comes with a beautiful story. I like to wear things that I know comes from beauty. Sometimes I buy from secondhand shops. In Brazil, we have great vintage shops where you can find some gems. But nowadays I don’t really buy clothes. I tend to wear what I have, sometimes I get gifted items from brands. I also like wearing natural fibres and I love the notion of wearing clothes made with plants or dyed by plants. Materials like organic cotton, hemp, linen...I love this idea of wearing nature.
Sometimes I wear white shirts for meetings but mostly I wear comfortable clothes.
The world is heavy at the moment - from the IPCC report, Afghanistan, fires and a pandemic, how do you find and practice joy despite it all, and how do you choose action over apathy?
I am a deeply spiritual person, so I have faith. Faith in mother nature, faith in God, faith in the universe, faith in humanity. I believe that we must do the right thing despite all the craziness that is happening. There is also something about having hope. If I have faith, I must also have hope for the future. I don’t have the solutions, but I choose to be on the right side and to do what I believe is right.
I also believe that joy is a tool. We must have joy to have faith and hope or else, we can get depressed and that removes energy for the fight.
It’s difficult with everything that is happening in the world but I think we must find a balance. See everything but remain strong and positive that the right thing will be done. One thing that gives me hope right now is young people. I am 34 years old now, so seeing young people joining Fashion Revolution gives me hope. I see strong young women who are active and engaged and that also gives me hope.