As we become more aware of the importance of sustainability towards the environment and economy, we must remember the importance of social sustainability. Social sustainability is based on the practice of 5 principles; social equity and justice, diversity and inclusion, democratic participation and empowerment, livelihood and security as well as social well-being and quality of life. It should lead to an improved society for all and promote economic prosperity through better decision making, by giving voices to the silenced. We are proud to observe that in 2023 there is movement to finally give a voice to the ‘unheard’: Indigenous, LGBTQ+, POC and disabled communities to name a few.
Kello, an Inclusive model agency representing the disabled and details.the.agency, another agency focused on inclusivity are two Canadian examples of social improvement that we can see in the future. However, even with the existence of such groups, there is a lot more to do to give a voice to those that have been suppressed and normalize their representation, particularly in fashion.
To dive more in depth on the topic of disabled representation, we had the opportunity to interview Gazelle in our studios. Gazelle is a disabled woman of color who immigrated to Canada to finish her chemical engineering studies specializing in sustainability. We had an open discussion about disability, inclusivity, sustainability and environment. Her story is a perfect example of why we should elevate minorities and give them a voice to promote social sustainability, ultimately improving economic and environmental sustainability.
Gazelle, disabled model (left) interviewed by Jades, BEDI marketing + sales (right), July 2023
As an Iranian immigrant, why choose to come to Canada?
I came to Canada to finish my chemical engineering studies. With a bachelor and master in this field, I never really wanted to leave Iran as so many others did, however the male dominance in the Engineering job market forced me to continue my career elsewhere, where I would hopefully get accepted. Also, I felt weaker because of my disability; strangers' stares used to make me feel different. To get away from this I ultimately chose to move to North America where the community seemed a lot more inclusive and filled with opportunities to finish my PhD candidacy. I am very happy to be here in Canada, where multiculturalism is celebrated and where minorities are not discouraged to have a voice.
What is shocking about North American culture to an immigrant?
There are shocking grammar differences with my maternal tongue (Persian/Farsi) and the French and English languages. As Farsi is already a gender neutral language, allowing for more inclusivity, French and English are still trying to incorporate this inclusivity in their grammar.
When I first arrived in Canada I experienced a great culture shock of extreme capitalism. My first walks into shopping North American malls and supermarkets were destabilizing; I felt like the exposure to all this capitalist advertising made North Americans completely oblivious to the consumer choices they are making. In my country, there are more opportunities to buy stuff in bulk which reduces the over packaging. There are so many available things to buy, in so many places that it enables consumers to find some reason into throwing our 1-month-old poor quality shirt to buy its next trendy version. Buying too much means too much to dispose of. Since fabrics take a very long time to naturally disintegrate, they are now polluting the environment. Moreover, it is very hard to convert these tossed fabrics into refurbished desirable material as converting fabric into refurbished desirable materials is often quite complex.
You are a Phd candidate in Polytechnic school in sustainability research. Why choose sustainability as the subject of your studies?
I always have to make sure that there is a real correlation between my values and my work so I chose to focus on sustainability studies. I am currently working on new complex systems, specializing in sustainability studies with a startup company using microwave pyrolysis to heat up the used plastic and change it to its fundamental state. This way, the material can be utilized over and over, promoting a circular economy. Basically, my research consists of helping this company figure out how their reactor works and learn how to use it in its full capacity to benefit the environment.
How and why did you start modeling?
I always was interested in a modeling career but on the fence of committing as it is rare that images of disabilities like mine are celebrated as beautiful. Given the discrimination and exclusion I faced in my youth, it was pretty hard for me to even think of myself as normal. Even looking at myself in the mirror gave me a strange feeling; I saw and defined myself as “special” and not “normal”. Because of this, modeling was out of the question for many years as I thought they might not take me seriously because of my differences, but it turned out to be the opposite. My partner and my friends encouraged the idea that modeling could be a possibility in our current climate of inclusivity here in Canada. Slowly I did my own research and randomly found Kello Inclusive online and reached out to them to start modeling. In a sense I feel like it is my duty to model so that the people considered out of the norm can gain a sense of “normal”. I am now also proudly represented by details.the.agency in Montreal, further promoting inclusivity.
What made you want to collaborate with BEDI.
As an activist, I only collaborate with brands that are aligned with my sustainability and inclusivity values. If I want to actively represent a brand, I have to consider if they are local and ethical in terms of their production. My first impression of BEDI Studios was automatically positive. I was impressed by the transparency and the story behind the brand goals. As a student in sustainability research, I relate to BEDI’s objective of facilitating the integration of a circular economy in society.
What do you think individuals can do to counter the sustainability issue on a smaller scale?
My advice would be to incorporate small individual sustainable actions in your lifestyle to make great and positive sustainable changes in the long run. For example, I am vegetarian and try to eat local produce. I also try to buy second hand or from local brands and that, only when necessary! If the community would start thinking about changing their small but polluting acts to opt for a conscientious lifestyle for those around us and our environment, we would be able to prevent the flagrant consumerism or over consumerism present here in North America.
Speaking to Gazelle further proved our notion that environmental sustainability cannot be achieved without social sustainability. Gazelle’s story is unique but at the same time resonates with other similar minority journeys, showing us how the unheard are needed as a powerful voice against climate change. It is clear that differences need to be celebrated and normalized as a first step of cleaning our planet.