14 May Is Sustainable, Eco-feminist Luxury Fashion Possible? Sofiya Deva of This Same Sky is Paving the Way!
Sustainable fashion is still a new industry and while it is growing, it’s still a learning process, not just for fashion designers and retailers but also for consumers. While we’ve seen a surge in new technologies that introduce the use of more sustainable materials that lower the carbon footprint during the production process, other brands are bringing it back to basics. With an increased consciousness in regards to “the true cost of fashion” and the harms of fast fashion being the second-highest pollutant on the planet, there has been a higher demand for sustainable practices and ethical production in the fashion industry. When former Marketing Executive, Sofiya Deva, decided that she wanted to shift her career in a direction of more social impact, she took an unexpected turn by returning to her roots, exploring her Indian heritage, and preserving her culture by starting a sustainable, handmade fashion brand, This Same Sky. We met with the Dallas-based social entrepreneur while she was on a reset trip in Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico. Get to know Deva and how she’s bringing back the art of handicrafts, one beautiful hand-printed scarf at a time.
Sofiya Deva. Photography by Marquel Patton
SLTV: It is such a pleasure to meet you, Sofiya! We discovered you while researching Asian American & Pacific Islander fashion businesses to support in Texas and as soon as I followed your account, I fell in love. So, tell us how you started This Same Sky.
SD: Thank you! Well, I was running a marketing agency with my sister, and we were working with really amazing brands like Chase, Tupperware, the U.S. Navy and so many more. It was really fast-paced and I was always working and traveling while juggling a remote team. One of the things I started reflecting on was the art of transition and that ended up being the creative vision for the launch line for This Same Sky. I just thought change is really the constant in my life and so many of my friends’ lives and I felt like I needed a way to bring a kind of mindfulness within that dynamism. For me, it was about creating something that would help people, no matter what transition they were in, whether it’s moving to a new city for a job, or ending a relationship, or even something small like shifting from a busy day to spending time with family over dinner or transitioning from one state of mind to another. That’s really how the brand came to life, by asking ourselves “How can we create a brand that invites people into more intentionality and more mindfulness even as they live these busy, full, rich lives?” I’ve always been very captivated by the idea of “social entrepreneurship” and looking to integrate the concepts of a business and philanthropy so that at the core of the business is social impact.
SLTV: How did you land on handmade scarves, accessories, and products?
SD: Part of the journey was figuring out what I was good at and it boiled down to storytelling. So, how could I leverage that for impact in the world? One of the things that I noticed was the amazing handicraft workers in the world and the handicraft industry is very interesting. I think it’s very often underestimated because it’s so decentralized. Sometimes we think of handicrafts as even kitschy things that we pick up while we travel, ornaments and things like that when in reality the industry is worth around $500 Billion and meant to double over the next 3 years. It’s one of the largest employers of people in the developing world after agriculture and it’s a huge source of employment for, especially women and rural populations. It really gives them the flexibility to work from home without having to go into factory work. The deeper dimension that’s harder to quantify with stats, but is really meaningful for me is that oftentimes, embedded within these handicraft traditions is the preservation of culture and heritage. So, one of the things I look for in partners is multi-generational artisans who have had their craft passed down through their families and the village network over multiple generations. There’s something so powerful in not only the technique, which is usually sustainable, but also lends us so much learning in sustainable production, but it’s also this lineage and this cultural identity that’s being transmitted and preserved.
Hand screen printing process. Photo sourced via This Same Sky
SLTV: I am learning so much! I honestly had no idea about the impact of the handicraft industry and it’s truly fascinating. It’s truly unfortunate how the fashion industry has impacted the environment and these communities with inhumane conditions and unfair wages for factory workers, but you’re showing the other side of the production in developing countries with This Same Sky. I wish this were the norm!
SD: Yes, you totally get it! I think the two biggest things within the fashion industry are overproduction and exploitation. I’m sure you’re well aware of this, but it’s so embedded into the economics of the industry, so it’s very hard to change. For us, everything we do is small-batch, so that’s how we address the overproduction issue and we offer our artisans exceptional wages, often paying three times the standard wage. I think it’s the right direction towards correcting the fashion industry challenges, but it’s also tough because when we talk to a wholesaler, we don’t have the margins that come from volume, so we spend so much time educating our partners and our customers how to appreciate small-batch production that is ethically produced.
SLTV: I can definitely see that. What other challenges do you face with small-batch, ethical and sustainable fashion production?
SD: Specifically working with artisans, granted we launched in the middle of the Pandemic, we faced many disruptions in the supply chain. I think some of the hardest things are that education component, but also quality control. Sometimes, when we start working with new artisans they are used to producing in very small batches at the local level. While we’re trying to get them to produce more to export and that requires a whole different process. It’s always a give and take. It’s a collaborative process where we end up learning so much from our artisan partners as they learn from us, but when you make something by hand, it’s never going to have the consistency of something that’s machine-made. If you hold it to that standard, you’re missing out on what’s special about it, but that doesn’t mean that there are no standards. I sometimes have to call it the “art of the imperfect” and setting and communicating standards when you’re producing something handmade while honoring those hands and attempting to maintain enough consistency that delivers a great experience to the customer. I can say it’s definitely a challenge. That plus the fact that everything takes longer when working with dyers and handprinters in India. The printing process is very environmentally dependant. For example, during Monsoon Season, we just couldn’t print as you need what they call the “7 Good Sunshines” to really get the colors to sink in.
SLTV: I’m so glad you mention these challenges because these are elements a lot of consumers are unaware of, especially when it comes to the cost of production for sustainable, ethical, slow fashion. Earlier, you mentioned the handmade industry is mostly women and I keep seeing the term “eco-feminism” in your social media and website. Can you elaborate on that?
SD: Yes! It really is so simple. For me, there’s a direct connection between our relationship to the feminine and the Earth. Especially with sustainability, I think we lean very heavily towards science and technology, which is such an important part because it brings new solutions for things like waste management and cutting down our carbon footprint, but I think we also have to go back to looking at the Earth for answers. With fashion, there’s this consumerism aspect where we called to ask ourselves “What is all this stuff for? Do we really need all of this stuff? Is my self-worth reliant on this?” I really think that there can be a radical shift by changing the relationship with the Earth, with our bodies, and with our emotional lives. It’s about honoring the wisdom that the feminine energy and the Earth provide us.
SLTV: Thank you for sharing your view, Sofiya! So, you launched in August 2020, right in the middle of the Pandemic. How was that experience for you and how did that impact your business?
SD: It’s really a testament to the resilience we all have. We not only managed to continue to move forward, but we also discovered new ways of working and communicating that we might have done otherwise. My team and I had a trip to Jaipur planned for March of 2020, so of course, that was canceled. It’s sort of funny because I thought it would be impossible to build these relationships if we can’t even meet?! Now, I believe that crisis can be a catalyst for connection so even though the relationships were young, the way we show up through this can really set the tone for the future. At the end of the day, we wanted to show up as long-term partners. So, not only did we continue moving production forward, regardless of the delays of like six months, we also tried to be good stewards of the relationship, especially in India where there’s such an extended lockdown. We are constantly communicating and asking what they need, how can we help, can we send anything, etc. We even paid them while work was stalled! Those weren’t easy decisions to make as such a young brand because you have to be protective of your resources, but it created trust from our partners, and in turn, they came through for us in an amazing way and it was nothing short of heroic.
SLTV: That’s wonderful! What’s going on in India with COVID these days is absolutely heartbreaking, though. I know that your work with the artisan partner is making a great difference, but how can we help as consumers and humans?
SD: The crisis reveals deep-rooted inequities and there’s both a need for longer-term reform so that makers and brands share in more of the risk and reward of production, and an immediate need for awareness and resources. We’re encouraging everyone to directly donate to NGOs on the ground and to support artisan brands, so we can continue to provide work and orders. At This Same Sky, we’re sending a percentage of our profits in May to Dastkar, a nonprofit working hard to get funds and supplies to struggling artisans, and staying in close contact with our friends in India.
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