Fashion Revolution Week: Interview with Curiously Conscious Founder, Besma Whayeb
It’s Fashion Revolution Week! A week that encourages millions of people to ask brands ‘Who Made my Clothes’ and demand for greater transparency within the supply chain. This year’s theme is ‘Rights, Relationship and Revolution’. Now more than ever, we need a shift in the relationship between brands and suppliers, so that the rights of nature and people hold the power in decision making.
Besma Whayeb is an ethical fashion activist, blogger and creative. Curiously Conscious is her online journal where she muses on issues of low impact living and sustainable beauty. She documents her discoveries of ways we could all be ‘doing a little more’, keeping her content incredibly resourceful, refreshing, and non-threatening. Besma also founded Ethical Influencers, a community platform which connects influencers and brands and supports them in improving their content.
Read our interview in light of Fashion Revolution week and find more out about Besma’s two start-ups as well as her thoughts on activism, social media and purchasing decisions!
8 years on from the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory, do you feel things have changed in the way our clothes are sourced, produced and consumed?
While there is definitely more awareness around how our clothes are sourced and produced - often spurred on by Fashion Revolution, Remake, Clean Clothes Campaign, and similar organisations - I'm hesitant to say there has been much change around how fashion brands work with their suppliers and factory partners. Similarly, fast fashion has continued to grow in popularity, so we still have a lot more work to do. Transparency is the first step in this process.
If we want customers to change their mindsets and make more responsible purchasing choices, what is the best way to approach that mindset change?
This is the area that I channel my work to address - mindset change. How can we invite high-street shoppers and fast fashion fans to question where they shop, or how much they shop? I think it has to be done in a two-way approach: highlighting the issues, from gentile approaches like the 70+ Fast Fashion Guide I did last year to loud, activist work that XR did at Fashion Week, and then inviting everyone to be part of something better. That positivity, encouragement, and sense of belonging is crucial. Scaring people can often just drive them away, or in fact, deny that these issues exist at all.
What are the challenges and benefits to activism on social media?
I recently had a great chat with activist Aditi Mayer on this subject - being an eco-educator online provides benefits such as visibility and access, but often lacks nuance and requires thorough due diligence, both on the part of the person sharing content, and the people receiving and engaging with that content.
Do you remember the moment you first had the idea to start Curiously Conscious? What led you there?
Yes! I was living in a tiny apartment in Paris, working full-time as part of my undergraduate degree, and I think the culture shock made me question so much about my own lifestyle. The primary focus was food - why eat processed pizza when I can support local farmers and eat healthier, organic food? - and that grew into a wider focus on where everything in my life came from, who made those things, and whether or not I was having a positive impact on people or planet.
What has the last year taught you about your purchasing decisions?
The last 12 months were a shock both in how fragile life is, and how fragile the systems we are part of truly are. Jobs were lost, huge garment orders were cancelled, and many people fell into poverty. I lost clients and saw a huge dip in my readership at the start of the pandemic - how can you think about sustainability when more important, human and social needs are at risk? - and then, surprisingly, a huge rise. It seemed that once new routines had been set, many people began to question the systems they are part of. And this shows, we have a real opportunity to make these systems work better for us, for all people involved, and for the planet too.
You founded an amazing digital community called Ethical Influencers, tell us what the motivation behind it is and how you built such a great platform?
Thank you for the kind words! Ethical Influencers came about after I began working on my blog full-time, and realised that while so many other voices championing sustainability existed, they weren't visible. I created the platform to help democratise influencer marketing within the sustainability space, highlighting the importance of content-fit and values-fit more than simply follower counts.
With such a large following and with so many looking up to you on topics of sustainability, how important is it to you to wind down and nourish yourself inside and out?
I am still not great at looking after myself, but I do have simple rules that I follow - I stick to a standard 7-hour work day, I take weekends off, and I make time for exercise. I sleep at least 8 hours every night, and I enjoy cooking so I make time for it.
At the same time, I also recognise my role in this space. The climate crisis, and the fashion industry, both feel like huge giant issues that my work alone will never fix. Instead, I often remind myself of my role in working towards making both better: I recognise and accept that my role is to invite people to view fashion as an opportunity to be kind. I work to break down difficult subjects into more digestible guides and pieces of content, and that's where I get the most joy. Also in acknowledging my space, I recognise that it's built upon the work of so many other brilliant people educating and working for better, and I try to highlight and credit everyone where possible.
Share with us a quote that inspires you daily.
"You can't pour from an empty cup." It's fitting after everything I said in the last question, and it reminds me of two things: look after yourself, so you can look after others, and, it's time to make another cup of tea!
Written by Izzy Bevir