DOMINIQUE DRAKEFORD

WORDS: KATE WEINER

IMAGE: ADITI MAYER

I first learned about Dominique Drakeford through my friend Liv Lapierre of Zero Waste Habesha whose Representation Matters initiative illuminates women of color making waves in the sustainability sphere. As an advocate, sustainability stylist, and the founder of Melanin & Sustainable Style (MelaninASS)—a platform that celebrates communities of color in eco ethical style and beauty—Dominique is a passionate advocate for intersectional activism. I'm inspired by Dominique's intersectional and incisive embrace and exploration of sustainability. She doesn't shy away from harsh realities nor does she apologize for taking joy in beauty. The spaces she creates are truly energized, alive, and engaged

In this powerful interview, the trailblazing Dominique shares a sliver of her story. Tune in for her thoughts on tokenism, challenging mainstream narratives, and supporting sustainable style. 

 

KW: As an environmental educator, stylist, and community advocate, you work in many different spheres to inspire ecological, cultural, and social change. What experiences shaped your multifaceted work as an activist?

DD: My experiences here in Brooklyn as well as my experiences growing up in Oakland have unequivocally shaped my perception of being a women of color and how that relates to inclusivity in sustainability, social change and activism. 


My experiences in Oakland were very much rooted in youth engagement and development. From being a soccer coach, swim coach, backpacking ambassador for underprivileged youth and a Pathway to College mentor for young black and Latino kids in the Bay Area—seeing kids as the progressive future has created a special place in my heart for needing to uplift and bring out the best in communities of color. Although I grew up more privileged than the average black girl, I connected with the youth [that I was working with]...Everyday I saw the struggle but paid most attention to their beauty and the potential they had to excel.


I received a BA in Environmental Management and immediately went to Grad School at NYU for Sustainable Entrepreneurship + Fashion. Once I moved to NY, I got more heavily into environmental justice through fashion. Outside of going to a Catholic high school, it was my first time really being immersed in white spaces. My experiences in NY slapped me in the face with the harsh realities of tokenism, lack of representation, white privilege, racism, singular notions of feminism—it was a clear reflection of the real world.


Some of these experiences included:
•    Getting told that my resume and cover letter sounded like an “angry black woman” to my face during an interview
•    Being the only black face in audiences and not seeing representation on stage for years in the sustainability space (with occasional sprinkles here and there)
•    Not seeing black magazines cover sustainability
•    Witnessing every single type of cultural appropriation imaginable: in person, on social media, and on media platforms
•    Micro aggressions all throughout grad school (and virtually everywhere) 
•    Getting asked to work on a project so that the platform can have “diversity”
•    Trying to touch my hair with and without permission

And that was just the start...


After spending a Summer in Ghana, Africa, I started piecing so many things together regarding the struggles of being black in America and where we needed to be sustainability-wise to thrive. We need a spiritual, emotional, and physical awakening. 

So my activism to empower communities of color in sustainability spaces has been largely shaped by my personal experiences. As I began to travel and speak to designers, artists, foodies, health gurus, and yogis, [I started to see] that everyone was singing the same tune, just not at all in harmony. 

 

The images that I create and promote as a tastemaker and content provider have power. I can affect racial disparities for the greater good of humans globally and build community.

 

I realized that I needed to create a platform that spoke not only to the conscious community but to communities who were unaware to really create a progressive movement.  And then it was easy to tap back to my youth engagement as a motivation for the work I’m doing as [youth] need to see people like me and know that there are folks fighting for their wellbeing in different capacities and that models of all shades exist. There are so many limiting narratives that need to be refreshed and I’m elated to do it! The images that I create and promote as a tastemaker and content provider have power. I can affect racial disparities for the greater good of humans globally and build community.

KW: Your blog, Melanin and Sustainable Style, is a rich exploration of people of color working in the realm of sustainable fashion, beauty, and living. How do you curate the content for this space?


DD: My content is derived from connections made through my lived experiences, researching brands within my realm of focus, getting recommendations, and staying in tune with what’s happening in pop culture. Although right now my platform is heavily interview based, I am looking to include more articles based on global news brining light to issues and accomplishments that aren’t highlighted in mainstream media.


KW: In so many ways, your work is about changing mainstream narratives on what sustainability looks like in practice. How can each one of us contribute to a fresh cultural narrative that welcomes, celebrates, and shares diverse stories?

DD: I’m going to give you the shortest version possible to tackle this question as there are many layers as I see it. 

In my first iteration of my blog tagline I had the following:
WAKE UP people of color - Sustainability is foundational to our Core Values, and it is inherent to our culture. 

WAKE UP Mainstream White America - High fashion “borrows” most of its inspiration from 1) nature 2) urban street culture and 3) traditional cultures of color. 

Although I no longer have this exact verbiage currently on my blog, I stand by this wholeheartedly.  

 

We commodify various illusions of America’s definition of success instead of getting back to our roots of holistic living and connectedness to self, family and the natural world.

 

Let me explain: Experiences in your life, such as the ones that I shared earlier, tell you to WAKE THE FUCK UP and figure out a new game plan that will help provide a platform that compliments your passion and speaks to your truth. So when I say, WAKE UP PEOPLE OF COLOR, [what I mean is that] most people of color realize that systems were put in place for the failure of their cultural digest and to stifle progression. Despite being cognizant of these manifestations that lead to the struggle, many POC fall victim to it by not understanding or knowing how to self heal, uplift community and live sustainably as a means to creating a stronger people. There are countless challenges preventing us from getting past the hurt and pain. Additionally, we commodify various illusions of America’s definition of success instead of getting back to our roots of holistic living and connectedness to self, family and the natural world. So for people of color, independently and collectively, we have to work on internal modifications to relearn how to celebrate ourselves, respect ourselves and uplift one another so that we can put more positivity into the atmosphere and share our AMAZING diverse stories. We have to mitigate things like drug abuse, crime, heart disease and distasteful competition despite the fact that it’s a direct result of racism in America. We have to wake up!

And when I say, WAKE UP WHITE AMERICA [what I mean is that] those that are white and actually want to change in America have a LOT to learn. Those outside of the diaspora need to do their research. Understand first what systematic racism is and how America, corporations, your family members and even you have contributed to it (remember that you play a very political role when you’re silent). Understand and I mean really understand the structures of oppression and race relations in America. Everything as extreme as Nazi hate groups to micro aggressions in the corporate work place. You have to understand that white supremacy doesn’t just look like the people in Charlottesville…it can very well look like the average white man or woman walking down the street.


This will be an untapped tunnel of exploration for MOST non-people of color in America. [It's important] that in tandem with this research of better understanding racism and privilege [that you also seek to] understand the significant and even monumental contributions that people of color play in creating America that were intentionally exempt from your grade school texts books. Take a reputable black history class, watch documentaries, read autobiographies and race related books, and learn about inventors of color, abolitionists outside of Malcolm and Martin, pioneers in film/fashion/science/television that never got credit—all of the greats that never received creative or economic payment or notoriety. And don’t be fooled by the white savior mentality or the brands that have token women of color and definitely not those that feel the need to fetishize black bodies. 

 

Have a voice for black women, Muslim women. Explain why ”All Lives Matter” is offensive and verbalize your support for Black Lives Matter—and don’t just talk about it, be about it. 


Then share this information with others who continue to devalue and disrespect people of color. Those especially who call themselves feminists without giving mention to intersectionality. Have a voice for black women, Muslim women. Explain why ”All Lives Matter” is offensive and verbalize your support for Black Lives Matter—and don’t just talk about it, be about it. 

 

Know and understand that you can’t really be part of the sustainability movement unless you’re fighting for the civil rights for all women, unless you’re pushing for inclusivity, unless you’re dismantling environmental racism, unless you’re working to bring representation and intersectionality to sustainable movements. 


Know and understand that you can’t really be part of the sustainability movement unless you’re fighting for the civil rights for all women, unless you’re pushing for inclusivity, unless you’re dismantling environmental racism, unless you’re working to bring representation and intersectionality to sustainable movements. 

I know very few white Americans who can grasp these concepts and have a genuine dialog with me about them. A genuine fresh cultural narrative can take place once authentic context is put into place. Because then, you will really appreciate our culture and the pride we have. You’ll better understand our contributions and the strength it took to persevere despite all racist agendas— it’s a cultural resilience. Sustainability is very much intertwined with civil rights, and once this notion is understood, a greater appreciation for the beauty of our melanin will arise. Then collectively we can continue to share perspective and fight injustice. Takes rebuilding! 

 

INSPIRATION

In this curated list, Dominique shares a few of the people and projects who are energizing the intersectional environment movement. 

@nikishabrunson - An all around dope public figure with amazing positive energy

@iam_samata - a person/ IG feed that constantly inspires me and is very supportive of my work

Lauren Ash  (@hellolaurenash) creates holistic and wellness spaces for WOC

CRW Magazine - focused on the beauty of WOC hair

Aditi (@aditimaer) - Photographer & Fashion Activism Blogger

Priscilla Amado - creating urban garden/farm in Brooklyn so that the community can be self sustaining

Voz- A clothing brand philosophy I greatly admire

Cindy Luquin (@greenvanillabean) - Latina representation for green beauty & living

@zerowastehabesha Representation Matters Series