I had the pleasure of interviewing Aja Barber for International Women’s Day about sustainability, feminism, goals for her work, and of course her cats.
Her writings are some of the most important for progress with intersectional feminism and sustainability and the opportunity to introduce new people to her work was incredible. She speaks and writes insightfully about privilege, racism, feminism, colonialism and the fashion industry.
Having previously worked with the Guardian, Eco-Age and CNN and having spoken at events for the V&A Museum as well as contributed to BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour and featured on Layla Saad’s ‘The Good Ancestor’ podcast, Barber now mainly works through her Instagram to open debates and educate her 229,000 followers on a variety of topics.
Her influence on social media and in society is immense and when I wanted to interview someone for International Women’s Day, I immediately went to contact her. I’ve been following Aja since June last year and since reading her mini essays and following her microblogging on Instagram, my understanding of my own privilege and intersectional feminism has grown immensely. I’m nowhere near perfect but thanks to Aja’s work it has personally helped my journey in feminism and so many others as well.
Today on a day that celebrates such amazing women, go look at her work, her instagram is @ajabarber as is her twitter handle and her website will be linked at the bottom of the article. Most excitingly she is releasing a book this September entitled “Consumed: On Colonization, Climate Change, Consumerism & The Need for Collective Change”.
C: 2020 was bleak for many reasons and unfortunately so far 2021 hasn’t been the utopia we’ve been hoping it would be. What is one thing you do hope will change for the better in 2021?
Aja: I think people have become more polarized in the work that I do. People who already had one foot out the door with fast fashion said “you know, I just don’t need this at all” and many are questioning the cycles and systems we’re all entrenched in. But those who are hardened fast fashion shoppers honest are amping up their buying and commitment to the systems.
I think in 2021 I really want these conversations to hit the mainstream. I hope mostly that people will realize, we don’t need all those things to be happy. I mean I can’t wait to hug my friends again. That’s true happiness for me right now. I can’t wait to dance in a ballet studio again. It’ll be glorious. No material items can replace those feelings, and wear am I going to wear all the clothes right now anyways?
You talk openly about the harassment you face online for speaking up, doing your job or for simply existing. How does this impact you on a daily basis and what do you do to come back every day and keep doing your job?
Some days it’s too overwhelming. It’s too many messages (and sometimes they’re not that nice). Like we all complain about our email inbox … I have my email box and my Instagram DMs and my inbox. Sometimes just existing on the internet in such a front facing way can be exhausting and very stressful. Now if you’re a marginalized identity add more weight to that existence. I get both dick pics (because I’m a woman) and racial slurs (because I’m Black).
Why do you think there is a large level of ignorance with white people’s lack of understanding of the connection between sustainability and Black people and does this go deeper than the standard systematic racism?
Because sustainability like so many other movements has been absolutely whitewashed. The systems of oppression we talk about show up in all things, like who will be hit the hardest by the impending climate emergency (women and marginalized people … the tentacles of the climate emergency are far reaching). The vast majority of people still fail to understand that. Just like the ways COVID-19 has hit marginalized communities.
Talking again about ignorance in the fashion industry, how should companies be approaching plus sized fashion, instead of fake inclusion and fat phobia?
Just make the clothes. And show plus size bodies. People act like this is SO challenging because fatphobia is pretty entrenched in our society. People don’t want to acknowledge fatphobia because it makes them feel like bad people instead of going “this is a bad system, let’s reform it as a collective”.
You’re very vocal about the balance between the responsibility of the consumer and the company when it comes to fast fashion. What would be your advice to people who love fashion and clothing but want to change their shopping habits for the best of the planet?
Stop buying so much. I saved so much money when I stopped buying fast fashion and I was someone who used to moan about the prices of sustainable garments. What I found is that I was buying a lot of cheaper brands and convincing myself that I was saving money … but actually I was buying things I didn’t need to purchase. Now I don’t wince so much spending a £100 on a dress because in the past I had 3-4 £30 garments that I didn’t like NEARLY as much and didn’t wear nearly as long.
It’s international women’s day, which women are you appreciating today from your own life?
My Mother, my sisters, my friends, the transwomen and non binary people who are consistently left out of the conversation who I stand in solidarity with.
Do you have any ambitions or goals for your platform and your activism work this year?
I want my conversations to go more mainstream. I don’t think examining consumption and what compels us to consume should be a niche topic.
Black Women are feeling more pressure than ever to educate white women on feminism and it’s becoming more never ending, inappropriate and exhausting than ever. What advice would you give Black women to look after themselves with this constant pressure?
I honestly don’t feel that pressure. Because I refuse to carry that weight. Freeing ourselves of these toxic systems is freeing everyone (including white people).
Equally what would you say to the white women who are trying to learn and work on themselves but are being problematic by hounding Black Women for help on their own internal journey?
Listen more than you speak. I myself do this in spaces with people who are more marginalized than myself. If I follow someone new with a different identity than my own, I stay quiet for weeks before I comment on their conversations. It’s how I learn the most about their space and the way they lead conversations and that’s helpful for constructive conversation.
What is one thing you wished interviews asked you to talk about more? Could be anything, serious or more relaxed.
What’s your favorite color? GREEN!
And finally how are your cats? They are absolutely adorable on your instagram!
Tearing up all my shit constantly knowing darn well there’s nothing I can do about it except yell. But also really cute, which is the only thing which keeps them in this house some days!
To find more about Aja Barber’s work her website is https://www.ajabarber.com/
And her Instagram https://www.instagram.com/ajabarber/?hl=en
To pre order her book coming September https://www.waterstones.com/book/consumed/aja-barber/9781914240041
Featured image – Stylist