A Letter To My Future Self: Climate Activist And Visual Storyteller Aditi Mayer
In this series of Incredible Women essays, inspiring voices making a mark on the world share a letter to themselves in the future. This time, Aditi Mayer, a Los Angeles-based climate activist and photojournalist, reflects on her 10 years in the sustainable-fashion space, her recent journey to her motherland of India, and the importance of creating touch points for climate justice through storytelling
As I write this, you are looking to next month, which will mark the 10-year anniversary of your work at the intersection of style, sustainability and social justice. You’ve always been a collector of stories, be it through your photography or your style. Little did you know the ways that fashion would become a vehicle for you – one to make sense of the systems and mentalities that govern our world today, and the alternative realities that exist.
April will also mark the 10-year anniversary of one of the biggest industrial disasters of our time: the tragic Rana Plaza Collapse in Bangladesh, an eight-story factory collapse that killed at least 1,132 workers and injured more than 2,500. It was not an unpredictable disaster – structural cracks were identified the day before. However, due to pressure from upper management, workers were called in to work the next day to finish orders.
The moment became a movement and a reckoning against the dominant fast-fashion model of the world, and spurred a reflection on value: the value of fashion and the value of lives, and values around both.
Like many in movement spaces, your work began in response to tragedy and loss – and the awareness of a fashion system that had long extracted and exploited the global south. But what has kept you going is redefining your work in relation to your love for beauty and culture.
The project of fashion is one of disposability: from the land and labor behind our label to the end garment itself. The response, then, is one of rooting and respect. Here’s a reminder that your work in the fashion space today has been a return to culture, to community-building, to personal identity.
More than ever, climate justice is the need of the hour. Today, you feel most called to the work of climate justice through your work as a storyteller”
Last year, 2022, was a special one for you. You were able to spend much of the year in your motherland of India, documenting stories in your home state of Punjab. In learning with the elders of the region, you were able to witness the delicate relationship your culture has always had between its traditional agricultural and artisan industries.
You witnessed a movement of farmers attempting to revive a return to regenerative farming practices that honored indigenous fibers, and the ways that this created space for an inherently sustainable artisan industry, where spinners and weavers wove these harvests into beautiful textiles.
You saw a vision of a fashion system that was antithetical to alienation, instead linked to a marriage of land, and labor made way for a form of creation that was linked to cultural remembering. To heritage. To a form of knowledge transfer that was deeply intergenerational.
During this same time, you saw garment workers back in your home of Los Angeles win a legislative battle to pass the Garment Worker Protection Act, helping create legal accountability in a setting that had long exploited workers’ rights. The legislation took years of grassroots campaigning, which you began documenting at the start of your journey in this space.
The win was a momentous reminder that the work of sustainability is about engaging in movements of reimagination – a reimagination of how our dominant systems can, and should, operate.
When you began this work in sustainable fashion, it was a response to a human-rights crisis. Very quickly, you realized the interconnected nature of oppression for both people and the planet, and therefore, the interconnected nature of liberation.
More than ever, climate justice is the need of the hour. Today, you feel most called to the work of climate justice through your work as a storyteller. And I think that’s because you feel as though we don’t need more information. We need more meaning.
You’re often asked questions like, ‘What’s one action we can take to be more sustainable?’ You struggle with these sorts of questions, as the core of your advocacy hasn’t ever been rooted in any one specific action, but rather ideological change, fundamentally rooted in challenging disposability culture.
We know the solutions that exist. However, we need to re-inspire a feeling of collective stewardship of the planet and its communities, so that when the time comes and we look back at this window of action, we don’t ask: who was asleep at the wheel?
A letter to my future self: filmmaker and activist Elyse Fox
The Incredible Women podcast: Champions of Change