A Conversation with Aja Barber
Talking to the sustainable fashion writer about the parallels with food, class, and working as an independent media creator.
Aja Barber and I have been following each other online for years, while we were both working various jobs and trying to get anyone to pay attention to our work. Contrary to how most people are taught these things work, we only got anyone to pay attention when we started our own independent ventures: for me, this newsletter; for Aja, her incredible Patreon. She also has a book coming out, called Consumed: On Colonialism, Climate Change, Consumerism & the Need for Collective Change.
Her work on the subject of mindless fashion consumption and waste has many parallels to mine on food, which is why I was so excited to discuss it with her: In both discussions, classism is used to defend cheap goods that rely on extraction from the Global South. In both discussions, personal feeling is made to be more significant than political and economic reality. Listen above, or read below.
Alicia: Hi, Aja. Thank you so much for taking the time out today.
Aja: Thank you for having me. It's nice to finally chat. We've been Twitter friends for close to a decade. But this is the first time we're talking.
Alicia: It's amazing, and I love it.
How are things over there in the UK right now?
Aja: Well, you know what, everything's better when spring comes. That's the reality, is that the—there's more sunshine. It gets really dark here during the winter, and when you're already in a pandemic and you can't see friends and you don't really feel like going out, it just—it was a hard winter.
So, things are feeling way more positive just because there's more sunshine. And things tend to be sort of loosening up here. Of course, still being precautious. But it feels more hopeful. So you've caught me on one of my better days.
Alicia: [Laughs.] I'm so glad.
This week, I think we're switching from—to summer, basically. If you came to Puerto Rico from a temperate climate, you wouldn't notice the seasons. But since living here, I noticed the changes. And I think we got two weeks of winter, where I could sit and work and not be sweating all day. But we're back to that. From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., it is definitely hot all day. [Laughs.]
Aja: My family's in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. So, I totally get-
Both: Yes. [Laughter.]
Alicia: Can you tell me about where you grew up and what you ate?
Aja: So I'm from Northern Virginia, right outside of D.C. I’d say it's like zone 6 on the tube, basically. So Northern Virginia, DC Metropolitan. And I grew up eating a lot of plants and fish, because my parents are actually pretty healthy and pretty progressive as far as food goes. And I was definitely the kid that got made fun of for having whole-wheat sandwiches, stuff like that.
And we see all of these ideas that are popping up, and everybody's sort of talking about it like it's new, but my parents belonged to a food co-op when I was a kid. And it made them weird. [Laughter.] We would get really great, fresh vegetables. And my dad would buy things from the local farmers’ market. So the way I hear people talking about how we should be eating now, it's actually how I grew up, which in some ways is really privileged. And I totally recognize that, but as a kid, it made you a weirdo.
Alicia: [Laughs.] Well, and you have a book coming out called Consumed: On Colonialism, Climate Change, Consumerism and the need for Collective Change. I love the alliteration here.
Aja: That was my editor. [Laughter.]
Alicia: And we're gonna get a little deeper into this, but hearing about that kind of upbringing in terms of food, what was your journey to understanding sustainable fashion?
Aja: So that's the entirety of the book basically, was talking about fashion and consumption, but also the fashion industry as a whole and how it really uplifts white and privileged voices and doesn't leave a lot of space for anyone else. But then when you look at the cycle of how things are produced, it makes sense because from start to finish, marginalized people are pretty heavily crapped upon by the system.
When we think about where the resources that go into our fashion comes from, it’s countries in the Global South. So we have these countries in the Global South that are resource rich, labor rich, but for some reason not incredibly economically wealthy. And the fact that we're not questioning that: We should be. You can look around my living room, and you probably can find a few things that are actually made in England. I live in London, even though I'm American. And I don't think that that's a—I don't think that that is an outrageous reality. I think that's the reality of the system, but nobody's really actually questioning that like we should.
And so, with the fashion industry, your clothing is produced in the Global South. The cotton is grown in the Global South; the fabrics are made in the Global South. And it’s shipped to the Global North where it's consumed really rapidly, because we know that the multinational brands have really sped up the seasons and made us think that it's normal to buy 20 pieces every season, when in actuality, that's not normal at all.
And then we go through our clothing so quickly that the resale market is booming, but charity shops are chock-a-block of fast fashion. And then, because we can't just recycle our way out of this, it gets dumped on the Global South, where, in our heads, we think that we're doing something charitable, but in actuality, we've created an ecological problem. And it's being left on countries like Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda to basically mitigate.
And we've had this idea in our head because of colonialism, white saviorism, that sort of stuff that like, ‘Oh, if you donate it to a charity, somebody in a poor country will really want it.’ When in actuality, No, nobody wants crap clothing. If you bought something that didn't last five wears, there's a very good chance that that person in Ghana doesn't want it either.
And it ends up being this disaster system where the government of Ghana, the municipal branch, has to really deal with all of these imports. And I, as an American, there's one thing that Americans hate the most, it's having to pay their tax dollars to sort out someone else's mess. But that's essentially what the clothing problem is doing to countries in the Global South.
So I talk about my personal experience, as someone who's always sort of been on the outside of the fashion industry looking in. I use the analogy, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with all the little rich kids are singing and dancing with the Candy Man? That was me with the fashion industry. But sometimes not being invited in means that you take a really critical and shrewd eye to these systems. And as someone who felt I was always trying to be in the room, but never really let in the room, what I realized was that I don't actually want to be in that room because this is a problem and it needs to be sorted out.
Alicia: I mean, what did you like about fashion? What really attracted you to the fashion world, to begin with?
Aja: So, the thing that attracted me most to the fashion world from the beginning was the need to fit in through material items. So I said my parents were sort of hippie-dippie for their time, but my mom has always been someone who did not understand the need to fit in through material items. She's always been a secondhand shopper, which I grew up in the ’80s, ’90s, that was not that cool. It was cool in the late ’90s. Kurt Cobain, God bless him, really sort of made the whole thrifting thing, grunge, that sort of thing.
And even then, people still didn't get it. I remember in the eighth grade telling this guy that I had been friends with that I had bought something from a charity shop. And he said, ‘Oh, gross. You're wearing dead people's clothing.’ That was the response. So after that, I was like, ‘Ok, keep that shit to yourself, Aja.’
And so in general, thrifting, secondhand shopping, wearing hand-me-downs has always been something where I didn't want people to look too closely at me because there were plenty of other reasons why I was socially ostracized. I didn't need it to be my clothes. But because I didn't have the right clothes, which when I was growing up, that was the Gap and the Limited, before the Limited Too started looking like a rainbow barfed inside of it. But at one point in time, the Limited Too was the shit.
And I didn't have that stuff. And so I became really obsessed with labels and wanting to have the right clothing. But then from that obsession for being socially ostracized came a genuine interest in the fashion industry. It became, ‘Oh, wait a minute, this is actually really cool. And I want to learn as much as possible about this.’
But I knew that I couldn't tell my parents, ‘I’m gonna go to fashion school!’ because they're Black. And they're going to be like, ‘No, you're going to get a degree where you can get a job.’ Because we know that there are certain industries that just were not welcoming to marginalized people.
I mean, I feel like the time period where you and I met on Twitter, that was when I started to see a lot of my other Twitter friends who happen to be Black and brown women finally get booked deals and their books sold. I believe you and I met through a tweet that had mentioned Roxane Gay as someone you should pay attention to. Do you remember that?
Alicia: I do. [Laughs.]
Aja: It was a friend who had said, ‘These are the people that I follow. These are the people you should pay attention to.’ This was before Roxane Gay’s groundbreaking success. She was also a person where people just really weren't paying attention, and that it just seemed like at some point the doors opened. And Ijeoma Oluo was publishing a book that would become a New York Times best-seller. My friend, Sam Irby was publishing her essays. And they're hilarious, they become best-sellers. So it just seemed like there was a moment where the world was like, ‘Oh, wait, maybe we should actually listen to Black and brown women.’
And, for me, I sort of had to take a roundabout path to getting to where I am. Because one, my parents were not going to encourage me to go to school to study fashion or to study writing. And two, I didn't feel like there was space for me in these worlds at all. So I threw stuff at the wall until it stuck.
And eventually, I began to realize the fashion industry in its current iteration is actually a disaster, and all the things that we talk about whether it's racism, intersectional feminism—I was writing about these issues really separate from the fashion industry, ’cause they were important issues. For a lot of people, people saw, people like me saw the rise of Donald Trump. And I began to actually talk about race really honestly in a way I never had before, because I could tell what was happening. But I was talking about these issues very separate, in a silo. And what I began to realize was that actually all these issues apply to the fashion industry. So then, I began to talk about them together. And that's where my platform sort of came about from.
Alicia: And so much of what you say about fashion relates to food. And so it's sometimes, just this really mind-melding kind of thing to read. ‘Wait, this is also food.’
And we need to talk about these connections, too, because, I don't know, I feel these are both issues where people—it's feminized. People don't want to think about them very much. These are just things people have to do. They have to get up and dress themselves. They have to get up and eat something. And we're kind of taught not to make a big fuss necessarily about these things, because we're taught that they're frivolous.
Aja: Yeah. Frivolous, silly, you know?
Alicia: Yes, exactly.
And so it's such an uphill battle to get people to care about these things, and to talk about them in a serious manner. And one of the things that kind of really drives me nuts, and that you also talk about, is how people defend cheap prices out of class concerns without thinking about the exploitation of the worker at the beginning of the chain, as you discussed. We're exploiting the Global South for fashion. We're exploiting the Global South for food, too.
And people defend cheap clothes and cheap food, and dismiss the relevance of individual choice. And I wanted to get your take on how do you see individual action as meaningful even as we seek systemic change?
Aja: So I think that there's a few myths that people love to peddle about fashion. And that's one of the things that I debunk, because it actually really annoys me.
There's this idea that only poor people buy fast fashion. That is not true. Everybody buys fast fashion. One of the things that I did within my book was I talked about class. And the Resource Generation really helped me out big time with this, because they have some really great breakdowns of what class and wealth looks like.
So one thing I learned in my book was in America, poor and working poor people account for —1% of America's wealth. And then the next class group is working class. And that group accounts for 3% of America's wealth. And then you start getting into middle class, managerial class, and then ruling class.
We’ve just come out of this pandemic, and there were people lined around the block to buy from Primark, which is not an ethical or sustainable store. But when you critique it, people accuse you of classism. Here's the thing: The vast majority of people in that line probably are not the people that are within that 4% of net wealth. So if you look at the fact that all these major multinational companies that people claim are where poor people shop are actually billion-dollar companies, then it is not just poor people shopping from those places. It's literally everyone.
And I find in our society, nobody wants to be poor and everybody wants to be poor when it comes to the system that they want to participate in. Does anyone actually want to be poor? No. Being poor fucking blows, and it's systemic, and it's hard to climb out of. And we love a rags to riches story in America, where we talk about, ‘Oh, well, this person was poor and now they're not.’ Where the actual reality is, a person that comes from generations of poverty is really unlikely to be able to find their way out of it, because you—being poor is actually very expensive and very hard.
And so, we have this system of fast fashion where literally everyone participates because our entire mind-set is that of a consumerist identity. And that is beat into our heads, that you're gonna become a consumer. And it's subtle. It's pernicious. It's in films. You name a film that we love that's a cult classic, that doesn't have a really great makeover scene, right? Where the main character gets this amazing makeover that involves buying loads of clothing, and all of a sudden they're a new person. Everyone treats them differently. That's a pernicious message that's really pushed pretty hard in media.
And so we have a real consumer mind-set as a culture. And I want to unpick that basically, and get people to think about that mind-set. Because once you do, you begin to see the ways in which all of this consumption is sort of pushed on you whether or not you need to consume.
Alicia: I think that's where fashion and food diverge, because food is absolutely 100%, you need to consume it. So there's different levels of complication there.
And I wanted to know how you feel about the way the fashion media covers sustainability and inclusivity? [Laughter.] I think I know the answer to this question. But how are these issues being addressed, if at all?
Aja: You're never going to get the honest truth about the scale and scope of the fashion industry's problem from magazines and publications that depend on those same multinational polluters in order to fill their pages with advertisements. If you say something bad about a brand, and you're a fashion editor, you'll get barred from things.
And so, everybody's very much afraid of these brands. So why would someone who's dependent on a paycheck from that group of people who's polluting and harming the earth actually tell the honest truth about the reality? Why would they do that? There's no incentive there. And so, I think if people are looking for traditional media to be the one who stands up to the ills of the fashion industry, they're going to be looking for a very long amount of time. That's never going to happen.
I mean, one of the things I cover in my book, one of my favorite stylists, Lucinda Chambers did this interview after she was ousted from Vogue where she basically just lets it all out. And Vogue apparently tried to get the interview removed from the internet, British Vogue. But she talks about things. She remembers having to do a cover where she put Alexa Chung in this cheesy Michael Kors T-shirt. And she was like, ‘I didn't want to do it. It was a cheesy cover. But Michael Kors was a major advertiser.’
So, so much of what you see in the magazine is very much manipulated by the magazine's relationship to the brands. And so, you're never actually going to get accuracy with the scale and scope of the problem from traditional media. If there's any skin in the game, if there's any connection to the money.
And I also say even for people that claim to be ethical rating scales, right? There's a few ethical rating scales that people keep trying to tag on my page saying, ‘Oh, yeah, I use this.’ Ok, so they rate brands, but they also email spam you every day with affiliate links from ethical and sustainable brands. So if consumption and scale is the problem, which it is, if someone is making their money and it's reliant off of you buying things, how trustworthy of a source can they be in the accuracy in which they’re reporting?
Alicia: And both of us are independent people, culture workers. And you use Patreon. Why did you decide to go that independent route?
Aja: Because my Instagram was growing really quickly, and I knew that the vast majority of funding that's available for people on Instagram is through selling people shit they don't need.
There's other things out there. But in general, I don't want to be an Instagram that's pushing you to buy stuff. I've done one advertisement on my Instagram, and it's literally with a sustana—with a resale platform, Vestiaire Collective, because we have so much clothing that I feel you can't go wrong by buying secondhand. The enormity of the clothing that's circulating our planet right now, we're all gonna have to start shopping secondhand. There's no way around it. If there's anything that I can push and not feel like I’m really, really cheapening out, it's definitely secondhand.
But in general, you really can't be the person who's telling everyone why the industry’s shit stinks, and then turn around and go, ‘Oh, by the way, buy this thing.’ It doesn't work.
And also, I also know that brands love to hop on a social justice movement when it's the moment, but they do not like people talking about things like race before it's of the moment. And so five years ago, if you used the phrase white supremacy, the hysterics and the fragility you’d have to endure. When in actuality, today, people are kind of like, ‘Ok, I get what white supremacy means.’ But if the majority of white people are not comfortable with the things that you're saying, a brand's not going to want to sponsor your page.
Now that I have a six-figure following, now, everybody wants to throw stuff at me. But before that happened, nobody wanted to throw anything at me. And I had to do Patreon, because it wasn't one of those things where I could really monetize my Instagram in any way that felt good to me. And I wanted to create a space where you weren't having things pushed on you constantly, because so much of Instagram, now, it's advertisement.
So I want it to be that account where you're scrolling and you see a dress on another account that you probably don't need. And then the next thing that you see is my post, which tells you that 60% of materials on this planet are petrochemicals, so polyester, which is essentially oil. And then I talk about the fashion industry’s links to oil. We all talk about how fossil fuels are ruining everything. Well, that's another way they're ruining things for people. People don't make that connection.
And so, I basically want to be a counter argument to all the consuming that goes on through Instagram.
Alicia: I mean, that's amazing to me.
I think this is maybe a selfish question. I don't use Instagram the way you use Instagram. How do you balance what you post on Patreon and what you post on Instagram?
Aja: The thing is the sustainable fashion conversation and basically the fashion industry getting its shit together is moving so quickly that people can't keep up with it all.
So I sort of run my Patreon as a sustainable and ethical fashion newswire. So one of the things I noticed is that I do get a lot of people who are journalists, are people within the industry, who follow me because they know first thing in the morning, I will have gone through the news stories that I see and pick something that's interesting and relevant to discuss on my Patreon.
So I managed to basically become a newswire for this topic that I'm really interested in, but a topic that a lot of people don't know how to mitigate because once again, the fashion industry is also very closed off from people that might not know. It's one of those things where the fashion industry has always had an air of mystery. And I break things down in layman’s terms for people so that they can have a conversation about these topics with their friends.
Alicia: And as you use Instagram so much, you use your face, your body, yourself to promote your work. And I think I'm struggling with that a little bit.
But how is your personal visibility a significant aspect of your work?
Aja: I feel really exposed now, to be honest. I didn't used to feel that way, but now it's when I'm out and about in London, I will bump into people that follow my work. And that's a really weird feeling. But everyone's really cool, but I do—I feel more exposed now than I felt before.
And it's not bumping into people, I don't mind that. It's when you just tweet something benign and then it ends up in a major newspaper. That happens to me a lot now, and that's a bit like, ‘Mmaww.’ [Laughs.] You know what I mean?
So there's a part of me that sometimes just wants to just pull back from that space, because I don't think that there should be any one face of the movement. And I also feel this space still isn't diverse enough. I don't want to be the face of like, ‘We need a Black person to talk about the fashion industry and sustainability. Someone call Aja Barber.’ No, there's a lot of people you can call. It's not about there just being one of us, which sometimes I do worry that is the direction that sometimes things go in. I think there's room for many voices.
But yeah, I think I worry about being overexposed. And sometimes, I'm sick of looking at my own face. And I think about boundaries as well. If I have a kid, for instance, I am never going to be the person that talks about my pregnancy on Instagram, because, one, I don't want to. It doesn't interest me. Two, social media can trigger people. You don't know who's experiencing infertility or having issues with that sort of stuff. And three, I don't want my Instagram to become parenting, ’cause there's plenty of good parenting Instagrams and I don't need to be one of them. So, I do think sometimes about just pulling back and doing more infographics and less style and less-
But at the same time, I also think my visibility as a Black plus-size body is also really important, because that has been so crucially missing from the conversation for so many years. So I go back and forth.
Alicia: [Laughs.] No, it's very difficult, because to balance that and the ways in which people respond when you have a platform is just—it's horrible. I really struggle now with posting anything saying anything, because it is—
Aja: You get targeted.
I have an account that's like, ‘I am so sick of your bullshit.’ And it's all about how the person hates me. And I'm just like, ‘Wow? What did I do?’
And they're mad because I called in a brand that they really liked who had been very disingenuous in the plus-size conversation, and then were trying to sort of present themselves like they were gonna lead the moment. When in actuality, myself and other plus-size people have been asking them for years to be inclusive with sizing.
’Cause this is a brand that makes one particular item. So it's not even that they roll out a new 16-piece collection every year. No, it's pretty much the same thing. And if you're only making one item, then you should be the first person to scale that item up in different sizes. But they just flat-out refused. And I'm just kind of like, ‘Just say you don't like fat people and go, but don't pretend it's rocket scientists or rocket science sacred geometry to scale up a pattern. It's hard, but it can be done because small brands do it every single day.’
So this brand had been very avoidant, ignorant, and negligent in the conversation. Particularly in private conversations they'd had with me, to the point where I stopped wearing their product on my grid, took down all of their photos. I still wear the clothing, ’cause you should wear the clothing that you buy regardless of whether it's fast fashion or a brand that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Give it a good life. But I don't wear it on the grid and I don't promote it.
So when they came out with, ‘We're going to do a podcast about plus-size inclusivity,’ I was just like, ‘Oh, go fuck yourself.’ So I said publicly, I talked about everything that happened and how for two years plus-size people had been asking them to be inclusive. And we'd have more respect for them if they just said, ‘Yeah, we really weren't doing a good job with this. And now we really want to do it, and we're really committed. And thank you everyone who pretty much tried to open our eyes and ears, and we didn't listen.’
Yeah, but instead they tried to present it like, ‘Oh, we're gonna do a podcast and we're so great.’ And I was just like, ‘No, we need an accountability moment here.’ And what I found was that that brand had some cult-like fans who raged against me for weeks. One of them is still holding a grudge. Why? Because I asked a brand to do better. Which, by the way, you are defending a corporation, not a person. Get your fucking life. That's weird. I’d rather kick my own ass before I’d defend a corporation the way some of the fans of this brand have defended them. It's bizarre.
Alicia: That's really ridiculous behavior.
And it happens in food media as well, being someone who has been writing about vegan stuff, plant-based stuff, whatever you want to call it, for years. And then all of a sudden, everyone jumps on the bandwagon. And it's I get called to do an interview with someone who doesn't know anything about anything, but got assigned to write about it. This is really frustrating.
Aja: Yeah, yeah.
It's annoying when people really try and commodify stuff in really disingenuous ways. But one of the things that I just think is so bizarre about our society, and I think social media is a real impactful part of this, is the ways in which people try to humanize corporations.
One of the assignments that I always give my readership is to watch the film, The Corporation. I watched that in the early 2000s when it came out, and it was life-changing for me because social media is one of these things where corporations are—they try to be in on the Twitter jokes. They try to use the lingo. And when they fuck up, they try to make it seem like they're an individual instead of a multinational company.
And that's really dangerous, because what we know is that a corporation can only act in its own best interest. That's the only thing that can do, because it's not a human with emotions. And if a corporation were a person, it would be a psychopath. So when people get really overly invested in defending companies, I'm just like, ‘Nah, get your life.’
Alicia: Yeah, no, for sure.
And how do your perspectives on fashion, if they do, influence how you consume in other kinds of arenas? Food, media, etc.
I think I gave a quote recently. Someone was asking me for recommendations for a newsletter. And I was like, ‘Well, the thing I'm obsessed with now is making sure my—what I wear expresses my ethics that I talk about in terms of what I eat.’ I mean, obviously, I like clothes. [Laughs.] But also at the same time, it's really important for me that if I am visible in this space, talking about these things, that I'm not also promoting similarly exploitative chains in other industries.
And so, how does it—Yeah. [Laughs.]
Aja: Yeah, for me, totally. I think about it in everything. I don't have a Spotify account, because artists that I really like who happened to be musicians talk about how they don't make any money from Spotify. So even though everybody has Spotify, I'm just the person who’s buying all the music on Bandcamp because most of my music is locked away on several different computers. Thank you very much for that, Apple. That's so cool of you. And so I'm just basically rebuying music.
And, yeah, I think about it a lot. I think about the food. Now, I also know that as a person who lives in London, I am so lucky we have access to so many different types of food. We have different markets nearby. We can buy from all sorts of different cultures. And so I know that I have a lot of access and privilege in that way. And that's part of why I can only stick to really fashion, because food is more complicated in that way.
But yeah, I think about it in all areas of my life. But in general, I truly believe that most of us with significant privilege just need to do less. Do less. The excess that comes when you have a significant amount of privilege in our culture isn't normal to the rest of humans on this planet.
One of the things that was crucial to everything was moving to London. When I moved over here, my partner and I had been dating long distance for three years. I had to get rid of so much stuff. I was in my 30s. So I had 30 years of a life in the States, and I'm still mitigating that stuff. Because as someone who does the work that I do, I know that just dumping it on a charity shop’s doorstep is actually really bad. That actually doesn't help anyone.
And so from the time I knew that we were going to get engaged and I was going to move over here, I basically tasked myself to thoughtfully get rid of all of my items that I wasn't planning on taking with me. Some of it was clothing that had grown too small, because we have this weird thing in our society where we pretend it's natural that every person should stay the same shape, no matter what. That is not natural. I mean, some people do, and it's natural to some people. But it's not natural to every person.
And so a lot of the clothing from my early 20s was too small, basically. I'm someone who has uterine fibroids, so things around the waist, it just—some of that stuff was, I wasn't going to get into it again. And so I basically tasked myself with shedding myself of the stuff that wasn't going with me in a thoughtful way. Which meant for clothing, picking up the things that can be resold, reselling the stuff that can be resold, putting up stuff in Facebook galleries for all of my friends and saying, ‘If you want it, just get the shipping and I'll send it to you.’ But really, really trying to be very thoughtful about how I was going to pare down essentially.
And that is still a work in progress. Every time I go home to my parents’ house, I task myself with going through stuff and trying to rehome it in a way that's thoughtful and helpful. And I feel that will be my life chore.
And then also, moving over stuff slowly. So I've got a bunch of really great coffee table books that I love, and I just have to bring them over one at a time because they're all so heavy.
If you have to do a big move and you do it in a way where you really, really shed stuff in a way that's impactful and thoughtful, and keeping as much stuff out of the landfill, that what you'll find is now that I'm here, I think about everything I bring into this flat. One, London doesn't have closets like the U.S., so that's something you got to grapple with.
But before it comes home, I genuinely think, ‘Where is it gonna go?’ We're very limited in space. And that really helps me in how I consume stuff.
But then also when you talk about the fashion industry every single day and read about what's happening and how it's impacting the environment, if you have to do that for a living, you're just like, ‘I don't want anything.’
Alicia: [Laughs.] No, it's real. It's real.
And for you, is cooking a political act?
Sorry, I just took a sip of my tea.
Alicia: No, it's ok. [Laughs.]
Aja: Clothing will always be political. You cannot separate politics from clothing. You can't separate labor practices from clothing. You can't separate exploitation from clothing. You can't separate outsourcing and things like NAFTA from clothing.
You can't separate what clothing means to certain people. How it can be religious, how it can be political, how it can be cultural. People know the uniform of the Black Panthers, right? There's certain clothing items that are evocative of social movement eras. But where you tend to shop and buy is political as well. Absolutely.
And one thing that people need to really step, take it a step farther, pull back the curtain of your favorite brand and see what politicians and what policies they're supporting. Because one thing that people really—I think some people know about it, but they ignore it. But Richard Hayne of Urban Outfitters used to give a lot of money to the right-wing. Yeah, and he owns Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Free People. So free, so hippie. Yay.
So it's about all of these things. It's about our world. And when you think about how many jobs the fashion industry provides for on the planet, it's political. When you think about the fact that 80% of garment workers are women, hence, intersectional feminism, it's political. It's all very political.
Alicia: My question is, is cooking a political act? But I think you answered it anyway. [Laughter.]
Aja: I thought you said clothing. I totally thought you said clothing. Sorry.
Alicia: You answered in the same way, I think.
Aja: Cooking is absolutely political. Too. Who grows your food, where it comes from. Cooking is cultural. Cooking is—yes.
And when you also think about appropriation in cooking, that's a whole ’nother kettle of fish. Which you see it all the time, where a restaurant run by people from a certain ethnicity doesn't survive. And then all of a sudden another shiny and new restaurant opens up, which is run by white people who are selling a watered-down version of the dish. And they're doing great and they're getting write-ups and everyone's saying, ‘This is delicious and amazing’ when in actuality, that's somebody else's culture and somebody is profiting and not even doing it in the right way.
So yeah, it's all political.
Alicia: [Laughs.] Well, thank you, Aja, again for taking the time. And it was so wonderful to finally talk to you.
Aja: Oh, my goodness, we're done already? That went really quickly.
Alicia: Yeah. [Laughter.]
Aja: Thank you.