The height of fashion- committing to positive change
Samata Pattinson, a British born Ghanaian entrepreneur working across fashion and media, discusses the importance of sustainability in her industry
1 Mar 2023

What inspired you to become a woman entrepreneur in sustainable fashion and to do the work you are involved in?

As a former fashion designer who studied economics and finance, I’ve always loved the creativity, intelligence, psychology and innovation the fashion industry holds, yet found parts of the industry exclusionary. Winning Suzy Amis Cameron’s ‘Red Carpet Green Dress’ back in 2010 pointed me towards a side of the industry which focuses on pro-people and pro-planet. Many people consider themselves distinctly separate from ‘fashion’, yet issues affecting us all – like climate or biodiversity loss, to social justice and gender equality – are also created by the clothes we wear. Connecting those dots appeals to me – how can we bring more people in? My interest in storytelling, through media, is based on bringing conversations about what we make, how we make, and who we make for into the hearts of homes around the world. As CEO of RCGD Global (Red Carpet Green Dress, a women-led change-making organisation working on social sustainability from within fashion), whilst the work has been hard, setting a direction has been natural. Our educational work, material innovation lab, and collaborations – feel instinctive. Suzy has supported me in ideating, strategizing and delivering different concepts for the organization: from introducing a focus on sustainable menswear to founding our annual Pre-Oscars event as a platform for sustainable dialogue. My passion for women’s empowerment has always been there. In 2017, I read a white paper called Women Under Pressure which surveyed 6,000 women and determined that whilst women are under more pressure than ever before, they have fewer outlets to release tension and see fewer positive messages. It inspired me to create a nurturing collective called THE TRIBE, a space for women to recognize their achievements before moving on to the next goal.

How do you relate women in production to the work of your campaign and disseminating your sustainability message?

The majority of garment workers globally are women and often black, brown, indigenous, or people of color. Bangladesh employs 4 million garment workers (85% being women), and Ethiopia’s (also predominantly women) are amongst the world’s lowest paid. Our clothing is made by women’s underpaid hands, sometimes girls as young as 13, working up to 14-hour days up to 7 days a week. The gender dialogue is ever-present. My Ghanaian mother learnt how to sew at school as it was seen as a life skill, but today we don’t get to watch clothes being cut, made and trimmed the way we see our chefs prepare a meal. We don’t see the skill set at play. I want to highlight this and direct the spotlight towards these women through education, awareness building, and aligning with NGOs who campaign for their rights. If we had no garment workers, we would have no industry, prioritizing nourishing environments where women can be healthy- mentally and physically- have a work-life balance (as default caregivers in society), job security, and despite being the most indespensable, stop being seen as the most disposable, matters.

Working with brands such as Vivienne Westwood and Benedetti Life, we spotlight some of the women behind creating those red carpet ‘moments’ at the Oscars, and team up with influential voices to elevate messages. With names such as Léa Seydoux, Naomie Harris, Billie Eilish, Tati Gabrielle, we have reached millions, and our ambassadors’ messages are based on their perspectives of sustainability where they grew up, their cultures or passions, so are more authentic. When actress Priyanka Bose collaborated with us on our circularity and waste – in a Vivienne Westwood gown made from recycled fabrics and leftover sequin film – she shared sustainability examples from India, such as heritage pieces being shared across generations, and saris being repurposed. These cultural narratives are deeply engaging and reflect my personal passion, to develop a movement around cultural sustainability, representative narratives and the protection of artisanal heritage skills and intellectual property.

Our work should always reflect the communities that pioneer change – particularly for women who are frequently underrepresented. When I speak to family and friends back home in Ghana or across the Global South, I am reminded of how much we lose when conversations are not representative. 

What does the industry have to do to enable more sustainable entrepreneurs like you to get a fair share of the market?

Factors like socioeconomics, race, geography, and educational attainment play a role. When you consider that only 12.5 percent of the apparel companies on the Fortune 1000 list are led by women and fewer by black women. I realise how my personal visibility is considered rare, and assessed differently, and that in itself can also be an opportunity for disruption. 

Ultimately, change that tackles gatekeeping and promotes opportunities for those truly deserving requires: government and organisational policies, supportive funding and work environments, industry-wide support, mentoring, networking opportunities, training and development and leaders who recognize the need to actively support talent through actions, not just words. 

Is society ready to take this on? 

* Paola Deda is the Director of the Forests, Land and Housing Division at The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).
Read more articles about 3 QUESTIONS