Redefining Environmentalism with Dominique Drakeford
February 06, 2020
Dominique Drakeford is redefining both sustainability and fashion. As the exuberant co-founder of Sustainable Brooklyn, an inclusive environmental programming project in NYC, and founder of Melanin and Sustainable Style, a platform putting people of color at the forefront of sustainable fashion, beauty and wellness, she's deconstructing environmentalism as we know it.
With her mission to crack open the green establishment and take the movement back to its roots in Black and Indigenous ways of life, Dominique is helping enable a new and much more diverse generation of activists who will inherit the earth.
We just can't take our eyes off this creative visionary whose strong spirit and sense of style make her one of the most magnetic young leaders in the environmental justice movement. In this interview we got a little insight into how her experiences have contributed to her ability to confidently deconstruct established ideas and reframe them from a fresh perspective.
Tell us a little about you. Where are you from? What do you like to do for fun?
I was raised in Oakland, CA, but was born in Seattle, WA. I’m the oldest of three, and growing up, I was considered very unique and outgoing. I loved culture, hiphop, style and just anything that had to do with the outdoors. I played soccer and was an avid chess player. Growing up I wanted to be a vet or have an animal rehabilitation center somewhere in Africa. For fun I sang, danced, went to movies, played with my dog and thrift shopped.
You have a master's degree in sustainable entrepreneurship and fashion. Tell us a little about why you love fashion.
Fashion is such a huge player in identity formation and communicating your heritage and values. I love fashion for the way in which my ancestors and elders were able to create style, community and advocate for justice. I love fashion for its responsibility to be a catalyst in innovative opportunity and solution building.
You've said that you didn't see yourself as an environmentalist because that term brings up a white-washed image. Tell us about your realization that Black/Indigenous people of color (B/IPOC) communities were excluded from a movement targeting problems that actually affect them the most. How did you decide to get involved?
Realistically everything about the environment, nature and natural resources has been white washed. Through personal experiences, passed-down stories from ancestors, documentaries, novels and history books, I’ve learned about Black Indigenous folks' nature-based legacy alongside colonial political and conditioning systems of extraction and sacrifice zones. When you dig into the truth and reality of systems, you see who has been working to create symbiotic regenerative relationships with land (and why), and who has created relationships with land to be transactional and instill power dynamics (and why).
B/IPOC have been working their asses off in micro movements to protect the land and themselves despite systemic oppression. Excluding their culture and work and creating a mainstream image of what environmental activism looks and feels like was a tool to reinforce credibility (or lack there of), substantiates stereotypes and controls access and tools.
So redefining was necessary.
Above left: Dominique with and Whitney McGuire, co-founders of Sustainable Brooklyn. Above right: Dominique in one of her growing number of press features.
You're working on two projects highlighting sustainability in fashion: Melanin And Sustainable Style, and Sustainable Brooklyn. What role does fashion play in evolving the sustainability movement to be more inclusive and equitable?
Globally, fashion is a huge contributor to the the climate crisis through extractive and toxic practices all while exploiting Black and Brown indigenous communities.
Additionally, while communities of color are the original creators of sustainable development and Black communities in particular set the trends for industry standards without being artistically and economically compensated, these are the very same communities who are targeted by state-sanctioned violence because of their fashion.
Above: From panel talks to community gardening to surf days and beach cleanups, Sustainable Brooklyn provides inclusive sustainability events and education to serve a diverse community that has responded with great enthusiasm.
What has the response been to the sustainability events and education you've hosted specifically for the Black community through Sustainable Brooklyn?
Surreal — people have showed true love and positively affirming emotion after our symposiums. We seem to really be shifting the paradigm of sustainability and it shows by the outpour of testimonials. No matter who was in the room, no matter their ethnic background, industry position, profession, socio-economic status, people have felt impacted in a way that has yet to truly be accomplished by mainstream/traditional sustainability-focused events.
Sustaining ourselves is priority #1; you can't expect people to advocate for sustainability if they're struggling to sustain themselves. This goes for activists, too. How does self care contribute to your ability to be an effective activist? What are some of your favorite practices?
Self care...self preservation...connection to self and source is arguably the most important pillar of sustainability. It’s not separate and apart from the larger global conversations surrounding planetary health and social justice.
Above: From growing her own vegetables for herself to enjoy, to the inner work, Dominique says, "Self care and stillness is a revolutionary act! Self sustainability is something I have to work hard at everyday!"
Waking up early enough each morning to do a ritual — whether that's journaling, stretching, saying an affirmation out loud. I do whatever my body/spirit needs that morning. This has helped me with healing and just being grounded in my day to day. Additionally, very simple things like drinking lime/lemon water and trying to eat as balanced as possible is an important practice. Also I love to sing out lout as a form of healing and self love.
Tell us about your journey so far in finding your voice. Have you had to overcome any personal insecurities, or does it come naturally to you?
Looking back, I actually don’t think my voice was ever lost. The funny thing about communication is that creating a space for comprehension in conjunction with your confidence is when your voice becomes the most powerful.
I personally HATE public speaking which is ironic because I’m such an outgoing person — it’s not one of my strongest skills. However, I’ve always had a voice guiding me and I had to figure out the best way to share my narrative for comprehension while showing my confidence. It still gets weird sometimes and sometimes I screw up, but you figure out your flow as you continue to take up space. The beauty is that everyone has a voice and it’s not about finding it per se, it’s about nurturing it!
What's your advice to women who feel uncertain about creating a role for themselves in an area where their voice is needed but absent?
Sometimes I’m weary about giving advice because each person has their own set of variables — that could be geography, heritage, socio-economic status, traumas, etc. I’ve learned that sometimes giving boiler plate bullet points of advice is more harmful.
So my advice would be start with evaluation. Scrutinize your internal and external ecosystem to understand where you are: What are your core strengths and weaknesses? Your vices and shadows? What are your historical and cultural traumas that perpetuate your current state? Who is your circle of influence and are they positive? What healing, motivational, etc. tools are accessible to you? This is where I would start!
What are your goals for the new year?
To continuously evolve one day at a time and be intentional about my creative activism, wherever that may take me.