Incredible Women

8 Incredible Women Driving Sustainability Forward In Their Fields

PORTER asks eight women putting meaningful environmental action at the forefront of their work to share their sustainability journeys, the planet-conscious commitments they are making, and the shifts that are bringing them hope

Dominique Drakeford

Dominique Drakeford, non-traditional educator and creative storyteller

“Fashion was a huge entry point [into sustainability] for me: [I grew] up in Oakland, home of the Black Panther Party, and loved the political messaging of their uniform symbolizing radical community sustainability. So, subconsciously, I understood fashion to innately be a form of political and cultural communication, and a language of community care, love and power. Additionally, I simply loved nature. And I think my true love for the environment – coupled with my excitement for fashion – encouraged me to ask myself very intentional and poignant questions about my ancestry, fashion history, fashion systems and the power of adornment. This was my sustainable-fashion foundation.

“As a non-traditional educator and creative storyteller, I have the agency to share and ultimately redefine sustainability from my experiences and knowledge. I’ve articulated sustainability from a uniquely cultural and political lens – very different from the mainstream sector. I’ve been honing in on dismantling colonialism within sustainability discourse, while connecting with and promoting Black and POC vanguards in sustainability. My work, independently and collectively, with Sustainable Brooklyn and The Root is about liberation, and that’s the ultimate goal. Helping to substantiate localized ecosystems with liberation at the epicenter.

“As a systems researcher and thinker, it has become very clear that the root of the intersections of this unsustainable colonial system is anti-Black racism, and this becomes the blueprint for all race, class and social detriments. My hope is that we get to a place where 1) this is understood and acknowledged, 2) systemic eco-reparations (land, compensation, prison industrial-complex abolition, etc) are legally enforced, and 3) Black and Brown Indigenous communities become the infrastructural and strategic leaders within all ecosystems. This is how we urgently mitigate the climate crisis and the environmental and social effects it has across community and industry.” @dominiquedrakeford

Ashley Renne Nsonwu, sustainable lifestyle advocate and content creator

“I originally began as a travel blogger, until a trip to Bali in 2015 [opened my eyes to] the horrific effects of environmental pollution, and inspired the start of my sustainability journey. As I continued to travel, it became more and more difficult to unsee environmental issues. So, in 2019, I decided to reduce my carbon footprint and educate my audience about sustainability. I changed my entire brand with the goal of teaching people relatable ways to transition to an eco-friendly lifestyle.

“I use my platform to show how sustainability is completely doable for the average person and especially important for people of color (POC are disproportionately affected by climate change and health issues stemming from non-sustainable ways of living). My overall mission is to help end animal exploitation, protect our natural environment, and improve the health of my community through sustainable lifestyle changes.

“I think what needs to urgently happen is both a shift in how we as individuals think about food, as well as government intervention to help make ethical food choices accessible to all. With rising global food and water shortages due to environmental and socio-economic problems, avoiding animal products is a major way we can reduce the strain on food and water resources. It’s a pretty powerful step individuals can take to fight inefficient food systems. It’s urgent that people recognize just how much our food choices matter to the healing of our planet.” @heyashleyrenne

Ashley Renne Nsonwu
Stephanie Crespin

Stephanie Crespin, CEO and co-founder of Reflaunt

“The ongoing commitment I have through Reflaunt is to shift the mindset around the value and longevity of fashion with the increased adoption of second-hand shopping, as I’ve always been passionate about fashion and sustainability.

“With more and more brands embracing resale and planning to be part of the circular economy, we are seeing a new generation of start-ups empowering retailers with new consumption models, including repair, rental and resale. What I’m most excited about is how they’ve understood the critical importance of a collaborative-mindset approach. We won’t solve the world’s problems if we each work in our corner. Brands and retailers need help to integrate in a new holistic customer journey with all the new recycling services that are appearing. Companies such as The Restory are providing an invaluable service in extending the life of an item through repair and restoration. There’s a huge opportunity [to help] the brands and retailers by joining forces and offering integrated services – in this case, for example, giving our customers more ways to sell an item that may originally have been damaged.”

Mikaela Loach, climate-justice activist

“A commitment I am making is to organize and connect other people to [positive] movements. One of the most effective ways that we can achieve climate justice is through mass movements putting pressure on governments and other powerful institutions to take action. Climate justice is more than making individual changes to our lifestyles.

“In 2020, the conversation around climate shifted. Finally, people who had previously been resistant to ideas of climate justice, and just wanted to focus on the climate science, were waking up to the fact that the climate crisis is a justice issue; that climate justice is racial justice and indigenous justice and migrant justice and gender justice and so much more. This shift in understanding is hugely meaningful. I hope that we will take all these learnings and ‘unlearnings’ and put them into action. Because that’s what hope is. It’s action. As Rebecca Solnit says in Hope In The Dark: ‘Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.’” @mikaelaloach

Mikaela Loach
Tata Harper

Tata Harper, beauty founder

“Making our world healthier, happier and more prosperous has always been the core of the Tata Harper brand values. While we live those values through our work each day, Earth Month [April] is a special time for us to focus on education and giving back – and to set new, ambitious goals as a brand. We are deepening our commitment to Trees for the Future, an organization that shares our values and understands the critical connection between people, prosperity and the health of our planet. For more than 30 years, its Forest Garden Approach has been transforming communities in sub-Saharan Africa and replenishing our environment. It helps farmers to plant thousands of trees that protect and bring nutrients back to the soil. It also helps farmers grow a variety of fruits and vegetables. Trees for the Future farmers gain increases in income and access to nutrition, even in the first year, all while improving the environment.

“Sustainability is a work in progress. So many things are changing and there are new developments all the time. One has to keep an open mind to all innovation and see what one can incorporate successfully. The next frontier [for us] is refills – we need to be able to reuse packaging. It’s sad to recycle bottles that are still fully functional, with working pumps and caps, when they still have so much life left, and recycling is not foolproof.”

Allison Janae Hamilton, artist

“I’m committing this year to continue highlighting intersectional voices in the conversations on climate change and environmental justice. I’m inspired by the work of grass-roots organizations, such as Acres of Ancestry and similar initiatives. It’s encouraging to see conversations around environmentalism that give a more comprehensive perspective about the ways that climate change is impacting populations today in various ways, particularly as it relates to environmental justice.” @allisonjanaehamilton

Allison Janae Hamilton
Pippa Small

Pippa Small, jewelry designer

“The most important part of [my] business for me is knowing we can transform lives – for example, working with young designers/makers and seeing their confidence blossom with successful designs and subsequent sales through our Next Generation project. So much of the basis of the Pippa Small design comes from the natural world around us – the materials we use come from the earth, and culture stems from the landscapes. We find ourselves creating a vital circle. [And] we take great care where possible, sourcing our gold from Fairmined or small artisanal gem mines, where we know who, where and how the stones are mined.

“The next generation [of designers] is inspiring through their demands for cleaner practices, transparency and traceability within the industry. The growth of ethical business practices and seeing young women taking their power back gives me hope for the future.”

Kristy Drutman, environmental activist

“I’m committing to reuse and refurbish more of my single-use items to prevent more items ending up in landfill. And [I’m feeling hopeful because of] the establishment of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. I am very hopeful that our policymakers will listen and include the voices of climate-justice leaders from across the country. Also, I’m inspired by seeing so many emerging BIPOC voices speaking up about climate justice and engaging their communities – both online and offline – about these issues, more than I’ve ever witnessed before.” @browngirl_green

Kristy Drutman

The people featured in this story are not associated with NET-A-PORTER and do not endorse it or the products shown