Circular Fashion and the Art of Repurposing
SecondHand Stories: In conversation with environmental activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.
You’re reading SecondHand Stories, our series that examines the relationship between sustainability and style. In honor of the Levi’s® SecondHand launch, we’re sharing interviews and firsthand narratives from influential leaders who are bringing awareness to climate change, conservation and social justice issues.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a climate activist, author, and hip-hop artist who uses his art, music, storytelling and activism to connect his generation and create change at the intersection of climate justice and Indigenous Sovereignty. Jade Begay, of Diné and Tesuque Pueblo of New Mexico, is a multimedia artist, filmmaker, impact producer and the creative director of NDN Collective, exploring the intersections of climate change, culture, and Indigenous rights. Here, Jade reflects on her conversation with Xiuhtezcatl on his life’s work.
When Xiuhtezcatl Martinez was 12 years old, he was already advocating for climate justice on the floor of the United Nations, creating art and music to build awareness, and working with his siblings to fight extraction in their community.
Now, about a decade later, Xiuhtezcatl remains steadfast and committed to his mission. In 2019, Xiuhtezcatl was recognized by Time Magazine’s The Next 100 Most Influential People list. He continues to build momentum within climate and youth-led movements, currently building bridges between Earth Guardians, Sunrise Movement and other Indigenous, climate and youth networks to ensure that the youth voice is not just acknowledged but that it plays a critical role in climate justice work.
“I see a lot of beauty in climate and social justice movements – there’s so much more than protest in the streets or calls to action. Our movements also present opportunities to collectively reimagine the world. Music has been my way to reimagine the world and to understand and grapple with the flaws that exist in the systems around us. I’ve been making music since I was 7 years old, talking about different issues I care about. In revolutionary moments – like the one we’re in now – music helps me understand my role and my voice, and helps me connect with people in a very deep and vulnerable way.”
Photo by Rachael Wang
As I listened to Xiuhtezcatl so eloquently speak about art, creativity, and revolution, I couldn’t help but remember this feeling I’ve had ever since I met him when he was 12 years old: Xiuhtezcatl, though seemingly very young, carries profound old soul wisdom.
When we began talking about Levi’s® SecondHand, Xiuhtezcatl turned the idea on its head. In our capitalist society, we tend to view “secondhand” or “hand me downs” as second best. But the idea of secondhand is about one’s ability to be innovative.
“I grew up in a household that was very anti-consumerist. I’m really grateful for the way I was raised because nothing was wasted. We used things until they were literally unusable, which requires a lot of ingenuity, creativity, and to be honest, self-sufficiency — that’s something, I think, we’ve lost as a culture: the ability to repurpose, reuse and fix our own stuff.”
And Xiuhtezcatl is right, especially in saying that our culture, particularly American culture, seems to have lost in being able to repurpose. The truth is that we make more clothing that we need, and we don’t wear it much. We must become more committed to repurposing and reusing. If we make responsible choices, the impact could be enormous. If everyone bought one item used instead of new this year, it would save 5.7B lbs of CO2e, 25B gallons of water and 449 million pounds of waste. That’s equal to planting 66M trees, saving the water from 1.25B showers, and eliminating 18,700 garbage trucks’ worth of trash.
What this moment of revolution, as Xiuhtezcatl calls it, requires from us, is the will to turn individual choices into collective action for systemic change.
“Consumer habits alone won’t save us from the worst impacts of the climate crisis. However, I believe that individual actions like repurposing clothing, for example, can help us see that we’re part of something bigger. When we take action and begin to look critically at how we consume or where we get our stuff from, we’re able to see the bigger picture beyond just ourselves. From there, we can apply that understanding and that feeling of individual power to do more, like organizing in our communities to dismantle bigger systems that are responsible for problems like climate change.”
Whether it’s at the local level, the national level, or the global level, our society and our culture are at an inflection point. It’s beyond clear that business as usual no longer serves anyone on this planet — that goes for how we treat Black, Indigenous and communities of color; that goes for how we relate to Earth; and it even goes for how we consume and use our clothing. Everything needs to change. The more we can see how these issues are interconnected, the better off we’ll be.
Right now, there are so many ways we can direct our energy for climate and social justice. Let’s be real, sometimes it can feel overwhelming as to what to do and what will have the most impact. But all of our choices have an impact, so it’s important that as we join big movements and work with our comrades to shift culture and demand equity in our society, we also look at how our consumer choices impact people, the climate and the environment.