SUSTAIN is a Bushwick-based sustainability platform millennials and Gen Z need right now. Created by a team of mostly recent college grads, the platform covers a range of topics as diverse as sex toys, diapers, and food justice, but it has one straightforward mission: to normalize sustainability.
Reza Cristián, the platform’s founder and editor-in-chief, brought her budding sustainability interests all the way to New York from her suburban southern California hometown. At St. John’s University in Queens, Cristián met two of her closest friends, both of whom were deeply into sustainability, and she was quickly converted.
A former fashion and lifestyle blogger, Cristián felt she could make the biggest difference if she combined sustainability with her passion for journalism. She put together a team of talented women, many of whom are fellow St. John’s alumnae, to help launch SUSTAIN. The platform covers three distinct areas from a sustainability vantage point: style, food, and wellness.
While many of the articles on SUSTAIN promote small-scale actions like buying sustainable fashion and refusing single-use packaging, the staff are grounded by their interests in activism and the impetus for comprehensive environmental change. Julia Le, SUSTAIN’s fashion editor and creative director, is an International Business graduate who sees a cultural shift toward both large-scale and small-scale change.
“People are recognizing that there is a climate crisis,” Le said. “People are seeking solutions one way or the other, whether it’s individual ways that you can kind of reduce your own waste, versus organizational changes, versus changes in design.” After learning about business and supply chains in the fashion industry, Le saw the impact the industry could have on everything from social politics to the environment.
Sam Baselice, SUSTAIN’s brand and events manager, feels similarly. “Obviously a huge reason why we’re having a problem on this planet is because of corporations, capitalism, etc,” she said.
Making more conscious purchases is one way Baselice hopes to make a change. Growing up, her family bought all of their clothes at consignment stores. “We weren’t getting anything new.” Whenever she bought something, she’d use it until it fell apart. Like Cristián , Baselice carried these habits into adulthood.
Another thing that sets SUSTAIN apart is its focus on size, gender, and POC inclusivity.
Cristián noticed a lack of representation in the issues of Teen Vogue and Cosmopolitan she read growing up. “We don’t want a person of color or a person who is gender-fluid to feel like they can’t be a part of [sustainability] because it’s not their scene,” she said.
In one SUSTAIN article on size-inclusive fashion, the author, Naabia Romain, writes, “An ethical fashion movement that doesn’t recognize the importance of size inclusivity is simply unethical.” Another article, titled “Shifting from Binary” celebrates the move away from gender normativity in fashion, and still another, “This Political Fashion Blogger is Breaking Down Barriers,” highlights the struggles and triumphs of Muslim and second generation Persian blogger, Hoda Katebi.
While the platform is still fairly green, they’ve already got an international readership and contributor list. Cristián says that 20 percent of their readers are in the UK and Europe, and many of their writers live in places like Paris, Los Angeles, and Detroit. That’s what excites Cristián the most. “When we first started, we had to find the contributors. Now we’re having writers come to us from all over the world,” she said.
While Cristián is excited to see the platform grow, one of her main concerns is maintaining SUSTAIN’s integrity. While she appreciates every opportunity they can get, she says, she wants to make sure that the brands they work with are truly sustainable and not guilty of greenwashing – falsely marketing their product as environmentally friendly. On top of this, she wants to make sure SUSTAIN honors the budget needs of their demographic – Gen Z and millennials, skewed slightly toward Gen Z.
“Companies are now jumping on the bandwagon,” Cristián said. Because of this, “people think they need to spend money to be sustainable.” Growing up in a lower income household, Cristián’s mother would do things like wash and reuse Ziploc bags, plastic water bottles, and plastic utensils. It wasn’t to be sustainable, necessarily – it was to be frugal. But Cristián remembered those habits, and realized how they might help people with limited disposable income but a big desire to limit their waste. This sparked the concept for last week’s Sustainability Superstars Summer Soiree, for which SUSTAIN teamed up with influencers like Refinery29’s Mi Anne Chan and Dominique Drakeford of Sustainable Brooklyn to present budget-friendly ways of reducing waste.
Summer Soiree was the first panel SUSTAIN hosted since their launch last year, and it’s gotten Cristián pumped to do more, particularly through nonprofit work. For one, she’d like to teach kids about budget-friendly sustainability practices. “Action’s going to change with children,” she said. The team will host volunteer-based workshops in schools or at museums or libraries.
Still in its early stages, SUSTAIN is mostly a passion project for its staff. “Our major challenge is, how do we actually profit off this as a business?” Cristián said. Most of the staff maintain one or more side gigs or even a day job, but they devote much of their free time to growing the platform. In spite of the struggle involved, Cristián is proud of how far her team has come in just one year.
“We’re all doing this because we like it,” said Baselice. “The goal is to really be a thing that we dedicate our lives to.”
Cover photo courtesy of @sambaselice.
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