Sustainability Series: Belinda

list In: We met On:

Sustainability Series

Belinda Smetana

Another recent addition to our Sustainable Interview Series, was Belinda Smetana, author of the blog sustainablefashionandtravel.com, and founder of the cloth diaper charity Pumuamzazi, that helps families in Kenyan slums. Belinda’s Instagram is now home to 59.2k engaged followers, who track her daily updates and activities as she promises to provide a gentle and practical guide to responsible travel and slow fashion. We spoke to Belinda to question her on her rational and balanced approach to sustainable living, and understand more about where her passion and practical insight began.

HS:

Lovely to have you with us today Belinda, thank you for making the time in your working day to speak to us for this project. To begin I wanted to understand a little bit more about your sustainability journey and when and where it began. Was there a perhaps a specific turning point in your life when you made a pointed effort to alter your lifestyle habits?

 

B:

If I am honest my relationship with sustainable living has chopped and changed a lot over the years. Originally, I grew up in Africa where sustainable living was a huge part of normal, daily life. A lot of our natural daily activities were rooted in sustainable practices, but we didn’t necessarily know the vocabulary and ideas surrounding this theme. We never used to throw away clothes, every scrap of fabric was repurposed. For instance, mops and dish clothes just didn’t exist, we would repurpose t-shirts as cleaning utensils and there was just not a throw away mentality at all. Then, when I left Africa in 2010 to move to Dubai, I was certainly bumped into a world of overconsumption, which at first was very different to the life I had grown up in. But, as with lots of people who emigrate and become immersed in different cultures, I quickly blended in and began to love this type of world. I think it was several years later around 2018/19 that I decided I wanted to distance myself from these practices, and I think I was certainly influenced by some documentaries I had seen at this time. ‘The Ugly Truth of Fast Fashion’ from Netflix and ‘The True Cost’ are ones that particularly stick in my mind. 

HS:

I think it is really interesting how you have almost gone full circle in your sustainable journey and almost regressed to the practices instilled in you from your youth. I wanted to ask whether you found this transition from being part of the wasteful fast fashion world and making the change back to living in a more ethical way easy, or whether this was a difficult process. You have a phrase in your Instagram bio that reads “No one adopts a sustainable lifestyle overnight” and I think this is definitely true and something people need to remind themselves of. How would you encourage people to start their sustainable journeys piecemeal, and not feel overwhelmed at the idea of completely rewriting their lifestyle?

 

B:

I definitely don’t think this transition was easy for me, and I understand why it can feel so daunting to so many people. I think this phrase is a really good reminder for myself and for everyone to take baby steps and don’t be hard on yourself when you make mistakes or don; align all of your action with your values. The key part for me I think is that we need to make it clear that nobody is telling you to “give up” fashion or clothes. It is just about falling in love with fashion in the right way. For me, I love the stories behind clothes and I think it is the emotional background to a piece that makes it so special. In this way, I think clothes that have been manufactured or purchased ethically and sustainably often have a deeper or more meaningful backstory and thus are an even more special part of my wardrobe.

HS:

With regards to social media, you are clearly an active presence particularly on Instagram and promote a lot of your ideas and tips through this platform. Why do you think social media is important in this fight against fast fashion, and do you think there are any pitfalls in the way the platform is used to disseminate information about sustainability?­­

B:

I think primarily, social media is the best vehicle for combatting fast fashion, as it is the very same platform that is used to promote fast fashion. In disseminating anti-fast-fashion inormation through social media platforms, we are directly retaliating against the glossy ads and images that are encouraging us to shop from these unethical stores. However, social media does have its negatives, and I think in particular it is often seen as a closed community of perfect people promoting a perfect world. I think there needs to be more of a transition into so called ‘influencers’ being more authentic about their lives. When I first started building a following on Instagram, I was very open about the fact that I had very little knowledge on sustainability but I was wanting to start somewhere, and start hand in hand with the Instagram community. I remember at the very beginning I posted something applauding the H&M ethical fashion range, and I completely fell for the lies and deceit of greenwashing. But I was completely honest with my followers, and the following month completely admitted that I too had been fooled by advertising and tactical phrasing. I think this shows people though that it isn’t an easy path to navigate and that there is no shame in making mistakes in your process.

 

HS:

What you’ve just spoken about is a theme that has been repeatedly brought up in a variety of these interviews, and I just think it is so crucial to emphasise that shifting to sustainable fashion is a piecemeal process and not a quick fix. In your personal process, how have you approached the issue of gift-giving, especially at this time of the year with the pressure of Christmas motivating people to spend more. If people are looking to really start addressing their overconsumption habits after reading this article, do you have any top tips for approaching this latter half of December without succumbing to the pressures of Christmas excess?

 

B:

One thing that I have started doing that I think is so easy and practical is giving gift cards for Christmas presents. This way my Friends and family can purchase something they truly want, and truly need, instead of me buying them something they will hardly use or wear. I also think it is a great way to introduce sustainable brands to my loved ones. Just mentioning a brand name or talking about it doesn’t necessarily influence people to buy from there. If they receive a gift card they might fall in love with the shop and continue buying from there for years to come. This is definitely what I am doing for everyone this year.

HS:

I love that one, definitely a great idea I might have to pinch this year! Definitely great for those last-minute gifts as well. And in terms of travel, which is your other topic of focus for your blog. Could you summarise to our audience, who perhaps haven’t read anyt of your articles, what would be your top tips for travelling and holidaying responsibly?

 

B:

I am always really strict with the idea that I don’t want to shame people for taking luxury holidays, I think guilt-tripping isn’t an effective way to persuade people to change their habits, and I also understand that we all need to treat ourselves from time to time. However, two things I always try to do is first of all never book the all-inclusive. With all-inclusive holidays, practically all the money will be returned to the huge parent companies and the workers that are based in countries different to the one you are stating in. And, in a similar train of thought, always try to leave the money with the locals. Eat at local, independent restaurants, stay in local family owned hotels, and generally try not to spend in big chains that will not support the local communities. I think this is key.

HS: 

And just to finish off, I wanted to gather a bit more information about your charity Pumuamzazi and the inspiration behind it. It seems like such a great charitable initiative, and I wanted to know what the inspiration was behind it and what your dreams and aspirations are for it in the future.

 

B:

So yes, Pumuamzazi is trying to distribute cloth diapers to families living in slums in Kenya. And, I grew up in these slums and we used to use bedsheets and tshirts on the babies and then use plastic bags on top to prevent the diapers leaking, and this is just horrendously unhygenic and awful for the babies. The other main issue is that there is no real waste collection system in Kenya, so all these make-shift diapers they are throwing away are just coming back to their front doors, and the lack of sanitary conditions is shocking. So, the project initially started just with me distributing these reusable cloth diapers to a few Friends and people I knew every time I would return home, but the women absolutely fell in love with these products and kept asking for more and more and so I decided to really try launch something a bit bigger. I also was talking to really young mothers when I was out there, and some of the girls were only just aged 17. I became really moved by their stories, and felt that as well as initiating this distribution programme, the organization could also provide jobs to these young women who are unable to find other more main stream types of work. The Covid pandemic has hugely stalled our progression, but the idea is that we will base the cloth diaper Company in Kenya itself instead of importing the products from elsewhere. This way we can employ workers to make, package and distribute the products, which will give a form of income to struggling families as well as solve the probelm of finding volunteers. I think the company will perhaps work in two ways, with families who can afford the diapers paying for them, and those who can’t being able to access them for free, and of course people can donate money to help keep the business alive. I am really optimistic for the diverse and multifaceted impact this could have in the future.

 

HS:

Yes it sounds like there are many avenues of help and support that Pumuzazi can bring to the community, besides just being a diaper supplier. I really do wish the best for its progression in the new year as we hopefully emerge into a more stable way of living without the impending scare of Covid. I really want to thank you so much for talking to us today and sharing your beliefs and advice as well as explaining your avenues of work. Huge thank you!

B:

Thank you for having me!

Belinda's Top Pick from Gina Cusachs ....

Comments

No comment at this time!

Leave your comment

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday January February March April May June July August September October November December
  • Register

New Account Register

Already have an account?
Log in instead Or Reset password