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Trending / October 2020

Intersectional Climate Activism and Levi’s® SecondHand

SecondHand Stories: In conversation with climate activist Xiye Bastıda.

Portraits of Xiye in head to toe denim, with water background texture

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. 

Here, Fashionista editor-at-large Maura Brannigan shares the story of Xiye Bastida, Mexican-Chilean climate activist and member of the Indigenous Mexican Otomi-Toltec nation. Read on to learn about her path to climate justice, and how the movement impacts us all.

It’s one thing to simply say that fashion has a grave waste problem, and quite another to actually be presented with the numbers: If every person in the U.S. bought just one used, rather than new item this year, we would save 5.7 billion pounds of CO2 emissions, 25 billion gallons of water and 449 million pounds of waste. This is where secondhand clothing comes in. While upcycling isn’t exactly a silver bullet for the industry’s more systemic concerns, like industrial water pollution, it is promising.

Xiye protesting climate change; photograph by Luz Zamora

Photograph by Luz Zamora

Just ask Xiye Bastıda, 18, a climate activist who advocates for secondhand fashion in tandem with concrete social, environmental change. For Xiye, who grew up in Mexico and relocated to New York City at age 13, the climate crisis is personal. In 2015, her hometown of San Pedro Tultepec flooded just a year after experiencing a massive drought, showcasing the ways in which the climate crisis was already in motion — and affecting minority communities the most. Today, Xiye is one of the lead organizers of the Fridays for Future youth climate strike movement, while also working with the Re-Earth Initiative to make the climate movement accessible to all. Here, she speaks to us about the importance of buying secondhand to reduce fashion’s carbon footprint — and how we can all get involved to help combat the climate crisis.

Xiye at a protest, photograph by Jeremy Weine

You've said your Indigenous heritage is the foundation for your ethics in climate justice. When did your interest in climate activism begin, and how has your background informed your work today?

I was always aware of the climate crisis, but not as a “crisis,” because we just recently started calling it that. My dad is Indigenous, from the Otomi Toltec Indigenous group in Central Mexico. I was exposed to anything that had to do with Mother Earth with an approach of reciprocity. We have to take care of the system that gives us life. We have to live with it and not from it.

Photograph by Jeremy Weine

How can consumers hold companies accountable for their policies, while also taking steps to become more sustainable in their day-to-day lives?

One statistic we always bring up is that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of greenhouse gases. And all these companies have tactics to make us, the consumers, believe it’s our fault that we didn’t recycle, and that’s why we’re in a climate crisis. There’s a lot of miscommunication when it comes to that, but at the same time, we’ve forgotten we’re the consumers. We’re the ones keeping these companies alive. So that’s why it’s our responsibility to hold these companies accountable, and when you do that in big enough numbers, you go beyond being an individual change-maker to being a structural change-maker.

That’s really important because a lot of times, people think that writing a letter or signing a petition won’t do enough. But if you mobilize around it, it will create change because at the end of the day, companies want to cater to you.

Xiye speaking in environmental club, photograph by Theo Cullen-Mouze

How did you take your passion for climate justice to the next level and get involved in not only activism, but mobilization?

The first thing I did was go to my school’s environmental club and get involved there. I applied to the leadership of that club and when I got it, I was surprised! I mobilized so we could go lobbying in Albany. Then I joined the Peoples Climate Movement as a youth representative.

It’s about asking, “Where can I have the most impact?” And numbers do matter. It’s different if I go by myself to sit-in at City Hall than if 10 of my high-school classmates go together. That’s the value of mobilizing, really: that you can show whomever you’re speaking to that there’s more than just one face behind whatever you’re trying to do. It’s a whole movement.

Photograph by Theo Cullen-Mouze

Fashion is a major contributor to the climate crisis. In your view, how does buying upcycled clothing from an initiative like Levi’s SecondHand help combat that?

When enough people buy secondhand, it mitigates the fast fashion industry. The most important thing it does is create this system of circular economies in our own minds. Fashion is a prime example of how you can use something and then give it away for somebody else to use. Anything can be shared in a circular way. In a psychological sense, it’s about switching our mindset to think about things circularly, rather than maintaining a mindset of infinite growth when there aren’t enough resources.

Xiye in head to toe Levi's

The Re-Earth Initiative has a mission of making the climate movement accessible to all. What are you working on now that helps address some of the barriers to entry in sustainability?

Our main focus is to highlight the intersectionality of the climate crisis. We talk about fashion and food and water and the oceans — and not only how the climate crisis is affecting these sectors, but how they can help mitigate the climate crisis. [We aim to] not only showcase the mosaic of all the beautiful things that can be achieved from all these different areas, but also make all this information accessible because we know that most information about climate solutions is in English. We have toolkits in which people can learn almost everything, from the problems to the solutions, and we translate them in up to six different languages.

We have campaigns that focus on specific issues around the world. So for example, we worked on the Escazú Agreement, which is a new treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean that pairs human rights with climate action. Now we’re focusing on getting out the vote in the U.S. because a vote in the U.S. is a vote for the world. We want to empower youth to know they can be a voice in all of this, and we also want to translate all of the resources. In the U.S., a Latinx youth turns 18 every 30 seconds. Those kids can tell their parents, “Oh, you haven’t registered to vote — I can show you how.”

Xiye Bastıda wearing vintage Levi’s® Trucker Jacket and jeans.

Within sustainability, there's a growing focus on intersectionalism. How can eco-activists of all levels advocate for climate justice through an intersectional lens?

Intersectionality is a word that specifically says “intersections.” I know a lot of people who only say “climate action.” But it’s detached from caring about the actual stakes people are going through. The climate crisis is already happening. It’s already displacing people. It’s already damaging ecosystems. So when we talk about intersectional environmentalism, it can be a lot for the mind to switch to thinking this way. But it’s the best thing you can do for yourself because when you realize everything connects with everything else, you realize you can follow your own passion and still be part of the climate movement. You can still do writing or photography or fashion and still be part of the solution.

It just makes the movement so much more accessible, and it also highlights all the voices who are the most affected. Stories move people in a way that data doesn’t. Intersectional climate activism is so important because it’s rooted in storytelling. It’s rooted in feeling compassion, in motivation, in optimism. And it’s inviting — it really brings everybody in.

Xiye on Penn's campus; Photograph by Keyra Espinoza

Why is it so important for people to see the climate crisis as more than a generational issue?

Realistically, very few people are consciously saying, “I’m going to destroy Mother Nature for profit.” But the status quo has been to go along with it. The fossil fuel industry makes money, and we weren’t taught to think about how that was going to affect the planet. So now that we’re seeing the firsthand effects of the climate crisis, it’s shifted a lot of people’s perspectives to the fact that we’re already facing it.

We want to emphasize the importance of intergenerational cooperation because as youth, it’s a generational injustice that our kids are going to be more affected by the climate crisis than our parents. But at the same time, the people who are in positions of change-making at national and state and global levels are not 18-year-olds. It’s 40 or 60-year-olds who have that specific power. The youth have to emotionally mobilize the adults because they always tell us, “The future is in your hands,” and we always want to say back, “It’s actually in yours.” We can only move forward when we act together.

Photograph by Keyra Espinoza

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