Aditi Mayer is a Los Angeles based sustainable fashion blogger, photojournalist, and labor rights activist whose work explores the intersections of style, sustainability, and social justice. Seeing fashion's disproportionate effects on communities of color globally, she began her blog, ADIMAY.com in 2014.
Her platform looks at the fashion industry through a lens of decolonization and intersectional feminism, created in order to bring inclusivity to the sustainable fashion movement. In 2021, she will be spending 1 year in India as a National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow in order to cover the social and environmental impacts of India's fashion industry.
Read Aditi’s perspective on the movement of the sustainable fashion industry at this moment in history.
What inspired you to start your blog, ADIMAY?
Six years ago, my relationship with fashion shifted from a practice of retail therapy and aligning with arbitrary notions of what was “in,” to a deeply personal exploration of my identity and decolonization.
My beginnings with the world of sustainable fashion was in 2014; I was just about to start my undergraduate career. Photography and aesthetics had always been a powerful medium for me to explore my South Asian heritage, and fashion was quickly becoming a realm to explore artistic expression. A few months later, I learned about the Rana Plaza Factory collapse. Rana Plaza was an eight story garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh that was producing apparel for household name fashion brands.
The day before the collapse, structural cracks were identified in the building. However, due to pressure from upper management, workers were called in to work the next day to finish orders. The next day, Rana Plaza framed one of the biggest industrial disasters of human history-- an eight-story factory collapse that killed more than 1,132 workers and injured over 2,500. For me, Rana Plaza catalyzed a new understanding of fashion for me; no longer was fashion just about a pretty dress. It was about the politics of labor, to the industry’s disproportionate burden upon communities of color worldwide.
What does “ethically” made fashion mean to you? What elements of ethical fashion do you most value?
Ethics refers to the human side of fashion-- what are the conditions of factories? Are workers being compensated fairly? Are they stuck in a violent system predicated on speed and scale, and the impact of their own health?
As an industry, we often create a stark binary between the human and environmental impacts of fashion. However, it’s important to note that BIPOC communities are disproportionately affected by environmental injustices, so we need to maintain that framework of intersectionality when we talk about ethics. If it’s not sustainable, it’s not ethical, and vice versa.
What cultural influences manifest themselves most strongly in your sense of style?
My identity as a South Asian woman deeply informs my style-- from the natural fabrics that often frame South Asian fashion like linen, khadi, and jute. And of course, artisan practices native South Asian, from embroidery to natural dyes.
In addition to your work as an activist, you are also a talented photojournalist. What inspires your visual stories?
How do you define intersectionality, and why is intersectionality so essential to the sustainability movement?
‘Intersectionality’ was a term coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American civil rights advocate and leading critical race theory scholar. The term describes how multiple forms of injustice, such as racism, sexism, or ableism, overlap or ‘intersect’ with each other. Understanding these intersections is key to understanding the nuances in lived experiences, as well as the linked systems of oppression that currently permeate our society. Although intersectionality was chiefly used in context to ‘intersectional feminism’ (the idea that women face a myriad of lived experiences due to their identities), this framework is key to how we approach our movements today.
It’s a matter of seeing yourself not represented by a movement – the mainstream narrative around environmentalism has largely been dominated by White communities. But more importantly, I think it’s the lack of intersectionality within the sustainability and environmental movement.
When I first entered this world, topics of identity and race were always undermined and seen as distractions to the movement when, in reality, identity is a key factor in how one engages with this movement. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities are disproportionately affected by issues of environmental injustice globally; whether that’s fossil-fueled power plants and refineries that are disproportionately located in Black neighborhoods, or countries with the smallest carbon footprints bearing the brunt of climate change.
What can we do, as consumers, to make better and more conscious choices today?
We need to have a cognitive shift with how we see our clothes; we need to go from seeing clothes as disposable commodities to the art that fashion is! This framing will help us see our closets like art galleries; before you buy a piece of art, you ask yourself: is it worth the investment? Will it last the test of time? Does it truly align with my style?
With that said, some of the most important things we can do as conscious consumers is being curious of the source, developing a personal style so we’re not at the mercy of arbitrary trends, and buying less. The most sustainable thing you and I own is what is already in our closets.
Tell us about some self-care practices and rituals that center and nourish you.
Spending time in nature, biking, to even taking naps! Those have been important during this crazy time. Rest is radical, rest is productive.
You are such a strong voice in the sustainable fashion movement. Can you tell us about the successes/milestones that have meant the most to you?
My favorite part of this work is building people’s power, and bearing witness to the resistance of garment workers in LA has been the biggest privilege for the past few years. Here’s a recent piece I wrote and photographed that documents this resistance!
What makes you feel powerful?
I feel most powerful when I’m in tune with myself, holding myself accountable, and seeing myself grow.
What are your future goals and dreams?
I was recently named a National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow, so in 2021 I will be spending one year in India to document the social and environmental impacts of India’s fashion supply chain – looking at agricultural, manufacturing, and waste aspects. The goal will be not only to highlight the issues pervasive in the fashion industry, but present solutions-oriented journalism of how we can decolonize the fashion industry in India.
I’ve wanted this fellowship since I first learned about it as a first year student in college, so getting the fellowship shortly after graduating is so exciting and feels like the natural next step in my career and body of work.
Talent Aditi Mayer
Photography by Irys Kornbluth
Creative Direction Jasmine Étoile Aarons
Styling Jasmine Étoile Aarons
Shop Aditi's Look