Aminata, who is a board member here at The Social Outfit, was one of the first refugees from Sierra Leone to settle in Australia, following her kidnapping and imprisonment by rebel soldiers during Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war. As I speak to her, there is no bitterness in her voice. I hear warmth, acceptance, good humour, and an unwavering sense of purpose.
“I don’t like to say I’m busy,” she laughs. “I’m proactive.”
As I speak with her, I get a sense of the energy she brings to her life, and her role as CEO of her non-profit, The Aminata Maternal Foundation, and her role as Special Representative for Australia United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“My purpose is to restore dignity to humanity. Everyone is born with dignity, but for some, that gets taken away. But if it can be taken away, that also means it can be restored.”
I ask her... “What would you want our community to know, Aminata?”
Her answer is instant. “The public narrative around refugees is not the full picture. They’ve lived entire lives before arriving in Australia. They’re much more than what happened to them. They’re resilient. They have a richness of culture and skills, and they long for equal opportunity to contribute to Australia and flourish.”
As we speak, it’s clear that restoration of dignity rests on the foundation of recognising humanity.
“Before we’re anything else, we are human beings – humans seeking refuge. Don’t see me as a refugee. See me as Aminata. Connect with me, on a human level. And if, in that conversation, you discover you can do something for me, great. But also, be open to the fact that I might be able to do something for you!”
We spend a moment discussing ubuntu – the beautiful spirit of collective interdependence that is the bedrock of Africa. As I reflect on our conversation, I am convinced that, ultimately, our humanity is what both connects us, and motivates us in being the change we seek – together.
Above: The Social Outfit Ambassador Bianca Spender (L) and Aminata Conteh-Biger (R) with model for Mindfully Made 2018
Refugee Week, 18-24 June, celebrates the contributions refugees and people seeking asylum make in our communities. A big thank you to Aminata Conteh-Biger for taking the time to share her insights and volunteer Donna Radley for conducting the interview and writing this article. If you’d like to read Aminata’s book, Rising Heart, you can find the details here.
Donate to The Social Outfit's Refugee Week Fundraiser WEAR THE CHANGE here
Having a wardrobe crisis? Check out our Sustainable Style Webinar replay where we share inspiration for how you can infuse sustainability principles into the daily act of getting dressed.
Earlier this week, we held a Sustainable Style Webinar to help our community prepare for our annual Refugee Week Fundraiser - Wear The Change. We recorded the event for those who were unable to attend live, so grab your headphones and enjoy! We’re sure you'll find the insights, tips and discussion as stimulating as we did!
We were honoured to have Clare Press from The Wardrobe Crisis join us on the webinar to discuss how we can rewear and style joyfully in order to be more sustainable. She also goes into some detail on the impacts of the fashion on people and planet, some of the challenges we’re facing alongside some of the opportunities and innovations that are bringing hope.
Clare shared with us that in the 15 year period since the year 2000 annual clothing production has more than doubled, up from 50 billion garments to 100 bullion garments in 2015. When clothing is mass produced at this level it is very harmful for the environment and as much as 5% of carbon emissions come from the fashion industry. What's even worse is that 73% of all clothes will end up in landfill and are often brought to developing countries and left to sit on a dumping ground.
So what can we do about all this?
The Wear The Change campaign encourages us all to be more mindful with our fashion choices by inviting participants to restyle 1 garment 5 ways over 5 days.
“Wear the change is a practical application of what it really means to have sustainable fashion”. Clare Press
Clare mentions that the length of time you keep a garment in your wardrobe can have a much bigger impact on the environment than you’d think. For example, wearing 1 item for just 9 months longer than the point at which you think, “hmmm time to throw this one out”, can reduce its carbon, water and waste footprint by 20%. But in order to extend the life of our clothing, we need to care for them well (which includes how we wash them as well as our willingness to mend them) so they last longer. It also requires we get creative and find inspiration for how to restyle and enjoy wearing each garment longer so they still feel like a valuable member of our wardrobe ;)
To further unpack what Sustainable Style really means, Kate and Eliza from The Social Outfit discussed how you can infuse sustainability principles into the daily act of getting dressed.
These were their top tips:
1- Buy investment pieces from ethical sustainable brands
Buy clothes that are good quality that will last you a long time from brands that don’t harm the planet through their processes. ‘Good on You’ is an app you can use to check brand ratings on the issues that you are about.
2- Versatility - beyond trends
Shop for items that will be able to pair well with other items in your wardrobe. Try not to get caught up in fast fashion trends that will go in and out of style.
3- Garment Care
Take good care of your clothes. Follow their wash instructions and treat them well to ensure they will last you a long time.
When your clothes get damaged try your best to repair them. A simple needle and thread can sometimes derail an item from ending up in a landfill.
5- Swap, borrow, share, rent
You don’t always need to buy something new. Try reaching out to your friends when you're looking to try a new look. Many events require us to wear something that we may never need to wear again. Another solution is to rent clothing rather than buying it.
By incorporating these sustainable style principles into how we dress, we begin to care more about our garments, where they came from, how we treat them while they are with us, and what happens to them after we are done with them. And by discovering our own unique style we can free ourselves from the over consumption trap of fast fashion trends!!
We hope that everyone participating in the Wear The Change campaign will have fun getting creative with the art of dress and that the experience encourages reflection on what it means to be both sustainable and fashionable.