Conscious Style Podcast

94) Can Slow Fashion Businesses Scale Without Encouraging Overconsumption? With Mahdiyyah Muhammad

Episode Summary

How can we reimagine the traditional role of fashion designers in a world filled with fashion waste? And how can we rethink our primary role as consumers in a way that allows us to become contributors to collective wellbeing instead? It’s no secret that we live in a world with far too much clothing. If we are to work towards a more sustainable fashion industry, we need to unpack the ways that fashion brands and designers can pivot away from the mainstream business model of take-make-waste and embrace alternative sustainable fashion business models that limit waste. And our mindset as consumers plays a pivotal role in this too. In this episode, we hear from Mahdiyyah Muhammad who is a sustainable fashion designer, circular fashion strategist, and educator. We’re talking about the realities of designing, building a business, and engaging with fashion and style in our current fashion system where all we need is less — less resource extraction, less consumption, less clothing waste, less focus on passing trends, and less exclusivity. But, as you will hear from Mahdiyyah, to make this happen, we need more community. Cultivating community is essential for sharing resources and ideas, and creating meaningful connections, as well as making the slow fashion movement more accessible and inclusive. Hit play to dive in!

Episode Notes

How can we reimagine the traditional role of fashion designers in a world filled with fashion waste? And how can we rethink our primary role as consumers in a way that allows us to become contributors to collective well-being instead? 

It’s no secret that we live in a world with far too much clothing. If we are to work towards a more sustainable fashion industry, we need to unpack the ways that fashion brands and designers can pivot away from the mainstream business model of take-make-waste and embrace alternative sustainable fashion business models that limit waste. And our mindset as consumers plays a pivotal role in this too.

In this episode, we hear from Mahdiyyah Muhammad who is a sustainable fashion designer, circular fashion strategist, and educator. We’re talking about the realities of designing, building a business, and engaging with fashion and style in our current fashion system where all we need is less — less resource extraction, less consumption, less clothing waste, less focus on passing trends, and less exclusivity.

But, as you will hear from Mahdiyyah, to make this happen, we need more community. Cultivating community is essential for sharing resources and ideas, and creating meaningful connections, as well as making the slow fashion movement more accessible and inclusive.




Kotn is a slow fashion brand that's taking transparency to a new level with their fully traceable supply chain. 

The brand sources the cotton for their collection directly from over 2,000 smallholder cotton farmers in the Nile Delta in Egypt and ensures living wages and fair working conditions along every step of the way, from seed to final stitch.

Each piece from Kotn is made ethically and transparently with natural materials — like long-staple Egyptian cotton, recycled cotton, and linen — by people earning living wages.

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Juliemay offers a natural alternative to the synthetic-heavy lingerie market. They use GOTS-certified organic pima cotton as their main fabric, line all of their products with Mulberry peace silk’ and do not use harsh chemicals in production.

The brand is accredited by AllergyUK to be friendly for people with allergic reactions to synthetic fibers and who have sensitive skin. This is something that I have become personally really interested in since I started to experience psoriasis after wearing synthetic undergarments myself a few years ago. 

Additionally, Juliemay has bras for a wide range of circumstances, like post-surgery bras or bras that offer back support. Juliemay also supports several environmental and social impact nonprofits.

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Episode Transcription

Stella Hertantyo

How can we reimagine the traditional role of fashion designers in a world filled with fashion waste? And how can we rethink our primary role as consumers in a way that allows us to become contributors to collective well-being instead? 

It’s no secret that we live in a world with far too much clothing. If we are to work towards a more sustainable fashion industry, we need to unpack the ways that fashion brands and designers can pivot away from the mainstream business model of take-make-waste and embrace alternative sustainable fashion business models that limit waste. And our mindset as consumers plays a pivotal role in this too.

In this episode, I’m sharing a conversation with Mahdiyyah Muhammad, who is a sustainable fashion designer, circular fashion strategist, and educator. 

We’re talking about the realities of designing, building a business, and engaging with fashion and style in our current fashion system where all we need is less — less resource extraction, less consumption, less clothing waste, less focus on passing trends, and less exclusivity.

But, as you will hear from Mahdiyyah, in order to make this happen, we need more community. Cultivating community is essential for sharing resources, ideas, and creating meaningful connections, as well as making the slow fashion movement more accessible and inclusive.

You will hear Mahdiyyah sharing that she is part of the Conscious Fashion Collective Membership, which is an online community linked to our sister platform, Conscious Fashion Collective. 

If you have been wanting to dedicate your career to driving change in the fashion industry, then you'll want to check out our sister platform. 

Conscious Fashion Collective has a job board, career newsletter, and resources like interviews with sustainable fashion professionals all dedicated to helping you learn more about sustainable fashion as a career path. You can check all of this out at

And we also have a membership where we go even deeper for those who are really serious about making sustainable fashion their career. We host several events each month, like workshops, community calls, and expert Q&As. And we also have a member job board, a resource hub to support your journey, and so much more. You can check all of that out at

You can also visit the show notes in the episode description for any relevant links, and to subscribe to our free weekly newsletter, The Conscious Edit, which is packed with resources for you to keep learning about all things sustainable fashion.

And as you might have noticed, we are already at episode 94 of the podcast. This is truly unbelievable to say out loud, and the fact that we are just a few episodes away from episode 100 is such a huge milestone!  

So to celebrate, we are planning a special edition 100th episode. And to do this, we are curating a collection of guest responses to our final question which we ask every guest that comes on the podcast right at the end of the episode which is: what does a better future for fashion look like to you?

But this time, we want to hear from YOU, our listeners! So if you’d like to be a part of this celebrate celebratory 100th episode, you can submit a short voice note to us via the link in the episode description or send in your answer to the question "what does a better future for fashion look like to you?" to the email podcast @

That’s podcast @ And if you’re unsure about any of those links they will be in the podcast episode description so you can check them out over there.

But for now, let’s get into the episode with Mahdiyyah Muhammad! 


Stella Hertantyo 

Welcome to the Conscious Style podcast. I am Stella, and today, I am delighted to be in conversation with Mahdiyyah Muhammad about reimagining the traditional role of fashion designers in a more equitable fashion system, whether it is possible to mindfully scale a slow fashion business without promoting overconsumption and the ways that slow fashion can be a form of healing and wellness for ourselves and the planet.

So welcome, Mahdiyyah, before we dive into our conversation. I was wondering if you could tell us a bit about yourself and what led you to work at the intersection of fashion and sustainability.

Mahdiyyah Muhammad 

Yes. I'm happy to be here. My name is Mahdiyyah. I’m a self-taught designer and fabric alchemist. And I currently run a brand that focuses on upcycled clothing, created from discarded linen, cotton, and wool.

But what led to my work at the intersection of fashion and sustainability, I would say definitely my early childhood and just learning about these things in the household just sort of as a way of life, you know, that quote, “make do with what you have”. 

Stella Hertantyo 

Yes. Yes. I love that. And I think this probably leads into your journey towards fabric alchemy which I know you refer to yourself as a fabric alchemist, and I really like this term. Because for me, when I first heard it, it was kind of signifying a reimagining of the role of the designer in the fashion system. 

In what ways do you think we need to rethink the traditional role of fashion designers in a world where we have more than enough clothing and also a massive fashion waste crisis?

Mahdiyyah Muhammad 

Hmm…That's so real. I think we should approach the design process completely differently. This should also be, like, integrated into school curriculum and learning. With the process being so focused on the need to create and satisfy the trending consumer desires, I think using clothing waste as a resource instead definitely helps. You know, in that respect, we can design with the end in mind instead.

And something I read in a fashion takes action article recently about, like, circular fashion systems said that a linen garment is not stretchable by nature, but the retailer decides to blend linen with a stretchy material so that it's comfortable for the consumer. 

This may satisfy the customer, but it makes recycling very difficult as blended materials, especially those made of plastics, are difficult to separate and recycle compared to mono-material garments.

So the practice of fabric alchemy actually allows me to upcycle from discarded materials that are mono-material. So, you know, that's bio based. It's naturally occurring. So designing in this way prompts me to consider the entire life cycle of the clothing I'm creating, not just the beginning or what's trendy or what's now. 

So mono-materials, I think, are an easier way to recycle. Bio-based materials tend to bile the grade much quicker, and my zero-waste design approach forces me to use techniques like mechanical recycling, for example, to use every last bit of fabric so that there isn't any runoff or waste.

I think it's the fact that we have more than enough clothing and I think among the many issues in an industry where fashion greatly impacts the waste crisis, designers should just consider the ways we can create more intentionally with the end in mind. Like, some of what I mentioned earlier. I I kinda think that's the key.

Stella Hertantyo 

It's almost like there is this responsibility to be more creative because sometimes I feel like just producing new is obviously kind of the easiest way to do things, but you really have tap into that creativity. 

And, yeah, I was speaking to Carmen Gamma, who also works in circular design, and she works at Eileen Fisher as the Director of Circular Design, and also, she co-founded a business called Make Anew. And I'll link the episode below. 

But, she really reminded me of how expansive of circular designers and how exciting it is because of how many options there are. As you were saying, like, the way you approach it in your design practice is to focus on, you know, really thinking about what the end goal is and what happens at end of life, which is such an important consideration, right, from before a garment is even made. You know? So I love that approach and the way you've woven fabric Alchemy into that. Yeah.

And I think as you mentioned, your childhood or growing up is key inspiration point in your journey. And in previous interviews, I've also heard you speak of, like, quote, unquote resourcefulness that characterized your childhood. And I'm thinking specifically of an episode of the Black Material Geography's podcast with Teju Adisa-Farrar that you have featured on, and I will definitely link that because it's such a great episode. Yes. 

But, yes, many of, like, the resourceful practices that you spoke of would now be considered, quote, unquote, slow fashion.

And I wanted to talk about the importance of language and accessibility in this movement to build a more sustainable fashion system. Do you have any reflections on this and also how, the language we use can strengthen the sustainable fashion movement and make it more accessible?

Mahdiyyah Muhammad 

I love this question. So, you know, what’s now called sustainability and upcycling, I honestly learned in the household just as a way of life like I mentioned. Making do with what we had was just what my mom did like many other elders have done historically. So that's nothing new. Right?

The funny thing is when I teach my workshops, a lot of the elders who join don't know the commercialized words like sustainability, eco-friendly, upcycling. But then I start to explain to them that their original practices that were passed down for generations are what people are calling this now, and then they get it.

So language has a way of uniting people, but it can also exclude and alienate whoever doesn't know the language. And when I think about it I’m like, in this country, whoever calls a thing a thing first, gets to call it their thing despite it all existing before someone even, quote unquote, discovered or decided to call it that thing. 

I honestly believe, like, the language should include where the practices originated first, and definitely, historical context is important here, and that's where education plays a major role.

Language is important, but so is like action in regards to the part about accessibility. So giving more platforms, opportunities, and non-dilutive funding to those of us who have been doing these practices ancestrally. 

So right now, much of the sustainable fashion space does look very, like, white. And in addition to this, it can also be an exclusionary class thing. Like, I think a lot of people don't consider that part. So, like, if you can't afford this, then you can participate and that actually is a problem. You know?

Stella Hertantyo 

For sure. And I think the only movement worth creating is one that includes everybody where people can feel reflected and affirmed in the space. And I think that's also part of acknowledging and celebrating that it's gonna look different for everybody. Right? 

Because when I first became curious about sustainable fashion, I thought it looked one specific way. And I was like, well, I guess that doesn't fit me, and I felt a bit, oh, I guess so I can't really participate.

But to acknowledge that these practices have age-old roots, like, they've been going back generations, and Yes, maybe it looks different to somebody living in a specific geography now or in a different class. it's still all, you know, part of this collective and so important in its own way. I love the way that you explain that as well and how language can really be something that brings us together. It can also be something that tears us apart.

Mahdiyyah Muhammad 

Right. So true.

Stella Hertantyo 

I wanted to talk a bit about another element of your work, which is you are a circular fashion strategist. And, yeah, I was just curious about what this entails and how you approach this in your life?

Mahdiyyah Muhammad

Well, first, it took me a while to figure out what to call it. Going back to the language thing, it's like, I do all these things, and I have all these skills, but it was very hard for me to sort of squeeze it into, what do I stamp it and call it and title it. Right?

A lot of job descriptions as creatives, as I'm sure you know, it can be really hard for us to go, well, this is me. This one title encompasses everything that I do. Yes. And that's very rare, you know, because we can do all the things.

But, you know, my experience through the years, like, we mention before, first, I'm just running my own fashion business, and then, of course, working in public relations, project management, operations, all the things, it positioned me to, like, produce strategies for how people and brands can do more creative things with their textile waste, while also supporting and giving opportunities to the very communities, you know, who have been at the forefront of the conscious consumption and sustainability movements before they were commercialized.

So sometimes that looks a lot like creating a road map, for example, for a brand to operate in a more intentionally circular way, which could break down to anything from strategizing the rollout of things like in store activations, pop ups and exhibits with other sustainable brands. Or working with HR to reduce, like, a database of upcyclers, contractors, local tailors, vendors, you know, things like that to hire. Or even securing, like, relevant partnerships. Right? Creating circular economy training materials, their curriculum, researching thought leader opportunities to sort of introduce them into that world.

And then also, like, planning what it looks like for the brand to maybe figure out what to do with back stock or damage materials or dead stock. Right? So the idea is to work with the person or the company to reach their sustainable development goals through a like, a curated intentional roadmap because it looks different for everyone.

I don't think there's, like, a one size fits all for how people approach sustainability, and that was something I had to learn over time. But as I've sort of matriculated through the fashion industry, through all these different hats I got to wear and see, like, the different sides of the business, I think that really informed me to be able to sort of step up and go, hey, here's a way that you can be doing a better thing for a planet.

Stella Hertantyo 

Yeah. That's amazing. And I think it's such a valuable skillset to have because sometimes businesses or individuals do want to think about end-of-life or more creative ways of doing this, but don't necessarily have that experience or perspective. And because you've worked in so many different elements of the industry, you can look at it from your bird's eye view and see, more of the systems around it.

It's something that's really, really necessary because brands also can't sometimes do it all. Like, they need collaborative help. And I think that's also good to acknowledge. 

I'm sure people can get in touch with you via your website if they're interested in using your services because I think that's a really great resource for people to have access to as well.

Mahdiyyah Muhammad 

I realized too with all the years I've had in the industry and just doing all the things. One of the biggest things that's I think about is community and just, like, how I've been able to sort of build this amazing network of people I've sort of shook hands with or, like, brush shoulders with throughout all the different spaces I've gotten to be in. And it's like, that's sort of a testament to these are my resources too.

So it's like, when I come into these spaces, and I'm telling people, this is a way that we can do this or sort of strategize a better option, I also can come and be like, hey, I also know people to connect you with to do these things just because I've not really shied away from trying the different avenues.

Stella Hertantyo 

There's a quote that goes your network is your net worth, and I feel like that is so true. And, also, just in the way that I imagine a more equitable fashion future, It is all these connections because we work in silos at the moment, and it's just not serving anybody to ignore how connected everything is. 

So to hear you speak about, like, you're bringing yourself, but you're also bringing one of the experiences and people that you've made before to the table when you're working with people as well. That's amazing.

Another element of your multifaceted work in circular fashion strategy is the directory that you started, which is called the Upcycled Web Directory, and it's a database called fashion upcyclers. 

So what prompted you to create the starter base? And what lessons have you learned from it so far?

Mahdiyyah Muhammad 

I get so excited when I talk about this because it's one of those things. It's like a passion project. But that was like, oh, what directory was an idea? It came to me a while ago, but it hadn't been materialized just yet. Mhmm. 

And after doing, like, a few discovery calls with different stores, to get my designs on their sales floor, I realized just how outdated most of the memberships and opportunities in the retail space are.

So, like, most of them still model what they offer on current and, like, previous business models, which have traditionally been linear, which usually follows the timeline of design, resource, acquisition, garment production, garment use, then disposal. Right? 

And that idea that you're, like, mass producing clothing overseas in large quantities and bringing in a huge revenue every year. But they haven't quite started to consider how different it is to carry smaller, handmade brands, you know, like, slower fashion, unless it's for, like, a pop-up or limited run, for example. 

And I think as an upcycler, I'm aware of just how different our production process is. And when you are the one doing all the things, the sewing, sourcing your materials from discarded clothing, more than likely, there's not gonna be exact replicas of any design let alone availability in, like, 20 colors and fifteen sizes. Right? 

So retailers I think need to open their minds to the idea of offering smaller, slower brands based on their sales floors would like amended memberships tailored typically to the way slow fashion works.

I.e., I'm also interested in helping to create what that looks like. So, you know, we, myself and Halima Garrett, of Threads of Habit as a long time childhood friend of mine. She runs Threads of Habit, which is a really, really dope thrift to resell company. She's retailed in the outlets and AC, the Tander outlets, and she also has a website. She's amazing. But I came up with the like, I hit her up and I was like, hey. I wanna do this thing. What do you think? But so we, you know, we're creating this database of up cycles for opportunities just like this and to have a community and also for, like, resource sharing.

And I've had some opportunities as an ucycling designer, and I think it would only help our community and others to be, like, more aware if it existed. So just like a place for fashion up upcyclers all over to connect with one another, resource, share for opportunities, and really just make our work more findable and known to the world, you know?

Stella Hertantyo 

Again, the power of community and also being able to share, like, what you're going through to feel like you're not so isolated because Yeah. I'm sure that there are many things that are unique to each business or each designer, but there's also a lot of kind of things that you collaborate on to make easier across the board. 

So that's really, really exciting. And I will also link Yeah. The website of Threads of Habit because that sounds incredible as well, and it sounds like the perfect collaboration, honestly. 

And I guess, as you were speaking, I was thinking about when I was looking at your website, and I noticed that in some of your designs, you note about how long it takes you to make that design, which was really unusual to me, because I don't think I've seen that before. 

But I really appreciated it because I think coming from the consumer or citizen side, sometimes we don't realize how much time and effort, and care goes into making something. Honestly, the only time I've properly realized this is when I tried to make something myself when I'm, like, crocheting something or mending something, and I'm like, wow. This takes so much time.

So I really appreciated that detail on your website, and it made me think about how challenging it must be to create like an intentional upcycling business that focuses on slow production in this world that really just prioritizes fastness and fast fashion business.

So, yeah, on your previous point, as you were speaking about the directory and from your perspective, do you think it's possible to mindfully scale or grow a slow fashion business without encouraging overconsumption? Yeah. And what are a few of the biggest lessons you've learned when it comes to this?

Mahdiyyah Muhammad 

So I think it's possible. Yes, to run a slow fashion business, but this scaling part is where it gets really tricky. Because, like, we talked about earlier, we don't really need more clothes or fashion brands. 

Another way to look at this is that people should definitely become more aware of slow fashion, and that might be the first stepping stone into stopping a lot of the mass production issues.

But to scale in the traditional sense, I think would be harmful to the environment. So why are we even doing it? Right? This might be an unpopular pain, but I think as designers, it's time for us to stop thinking about, like, designing clothing as a scalable business is like, oh, now people are gonna hear this to me like, what? I think maybe it's time to start to consider, like, the other ways you can be of service in this industry.

And I'm aware of how crazy that might sound to someone who's passion is fashion, and they've solely created this lifestyle around it. But I don't have any desire to scale or grow my slow fashion business. And that's a reality I had to come to on my own once I sort of educated myself about many ways industries contributing to so much of what the problems are.

And, alternatively, that was a very hard truth I had to face because I was socialized to really being that that that whole thing of, like, turning a hobby into a hustle, and then turning the hustle into a stream of income. And, like, everything has to be a stream of income, because we're, you know, positioned to participate in capitalism whether we want to or not. Right? 

And I'm not privileged right now to do other things to earn, but I am definitely positioning myself to transition out of that whole create sell, create more sell, more cycle. So I know that that's definitely gonna be one things people don't wanna hear, but it's it's the truth. 

Stella Hertantyo 

That's an important perspective to have. And I guess I'm hearing that you also need to diversify your fashion skills. Like, it can't just be about producing, you have to learn that there are other ways to, I guess, lean into your creativity and desire to, like, create beauty in the world.

So would you say that, like, your circular design strategy is, like, how you've leaned into that or I'm interested in how you think people that are maybe wanting to pivot and not just focus on production can also be of service and think about ways to diversify their work.

Mahdiyyah Muhammad 

I think yeah. That's well, that's a good follow-up. And I think one of the biggest things is what you'll see in my journey is every time I learn something new, I'm applying it to my process. So you're seeing that change and, like, that evolution happening. And like I was just mentioning, I think, the next step will be me transitioning out of production altogether. And I'm okay with that. But like I said, it took me a while to sort of get to that conclusion.

And I think what that might look like for someone who needs to pivot is really as simple as just we have to restructure the way we think about the whole process and our relationship with clothing and producing and creating. And whether we wanna beautify the world or whether we are trying to actually make a dollar. There's other ways of doing it, and there's more intentional ways to do it. And that's why I said, I know that that's not something that's gonna happen overnight. Right?

So maybe the first step to that just looks like a designer considering the end first and thinking, like, if I make this thing, can a person recycle this or repurpose this how easy or how hard would it be for them to sort of, you know, do that. And that's what they call, like, closing the loop. Right?

So it's like, I make something that's a mono-material? Because as we mentioned now, we know, mono-material is much easier to break down, so maybe avoiding those like polyesters or, like, plastics or other fabrics that just, you know, it goes to sorting facilities like Fab Scrap, for example, and make their job easier. Because that ultimately makes it much easier on the environment. So I think that's one way to do it.

Another way is, you know, sort of infiltrating the way schools are teaching this, because a lot of schools are teaching sort of with demand in mind first, right, because of these old outdated models. 

And like I was mentioning, we have to consider what happens when we're done making this thing.It goes into a store, a person purchases it, and maybe it's a trendy thing, like, some sequin mini dress for New Year's, they wear it, and then what? You know, it's just, like, sitting in their closet where they're gonna throw it away. Right? And so this is why I was like, thinking it's not just something that's gonna happen overnight.

So, like, my opinion about how we need to sort of, you know, transition out of this idea I know it won't happen tomorrow, but I just know it'll take some time, and that's okay. You know? So that could look like we're encouraging more swapping businesses to pop up, or more designers have a model included in their their sales or in customer retention where they do this thing where they'll take back your clothing. Right? 

Or once you're tired of it being a dress, we'll upcycle it into a tank top for you or things like that. So I think that sort of the wait to sort of give smarter about what we're doing until we can really sort of, contribute a little bit in a bigger way to the problem.

Stella Hertantyo 

I think that's really practical advice as well because as you're saying, you can't sometimes just, you know, stop your day job or to the overnight thing and close down your brand, but there are ways to take that next step and the ways to really question what value your business is adding and what next step you can take to make that a bit more intentional and limit your way and also look after the people in your supply chain, yeah, alongside all of the other considerations of business. 

Also, those alternative sustainable fashion business models you were talking about are really exciting because there are actually ways of financial sustainability alongside, you know, not extracting and harming the planet and people at the same time. And You just have to get creative. Like, it's that having into that creativity again, which is not always easy, but it's what it will take. It's not.

Mahdiyyah Muhammad 

And I'm hoping people don't listen to that first part where I'm like, we need to change the word and they're like, what? I want them to please listen all the way through, like, listen to the end. I promise it's gonna come clear and make sense.

Stella Hertantyo 

I agree. But sometimes it's important to also just be stopped in your tracks. Like, there are a lot of things in my life where I've had to be shocked first and then be like, okay. Let me learn because, unfortunately, it is a little bit shocking the crises that we are facing, and we can't really shy away from that sometimes. So yeah. I hope it deserves our attention. But, yes, exactly. It deserves our attention.

Stella Hertantyo 

Something that struck me about the way that you approach, I guess, your work, but also just the way that you approach clothing and design in general, is that you're passionate about uncovering how our clothing is more than just these garments that we adorn ourselves with. 

And I was wondering if you could speak a bit about the relationship between fashion, health, science, and responsible consumption, maybe by telling us the story of one of your designs.

Mahdiyyah Muhammad 

Well, yeah, the knowledge of, like, the fabric alchemy thing, you know, that I speak about. It's just research that I've done to show, like, the different fabrics affect our bodies in different ways. Right? 

So, like, fibers that are naturally occurring carry a much higher vibrational frequency than those who are synthetic. So those fabrics tend to help synthetic fibers like polyester, which is essentially a plastic that's derived from oil. It's nonbiodegradable synthetic fabrics. So long term where it's not really the best for us. With that in mind, all of the designs are either a 100% discarded linen, cotton, or wool, and they're constructed of monomaterial. 

I upcycled a 100% cotton military sleeping bag cover. And, I found it at thrift, and it was, like, three bucks. And it was so much fabric. And it was like khaki green, that sort of color. And so I was like, what am I gonna do with this? I don't know. I was like, oh, I wanna make, like, a parachute skirt and something else maybe. So I got into it. 

And then as I'm creating with it, I sort had this moment where I thought about it, and I was like, wow. This was used for a completely different purpose. And I'm like, somebody could have been out in the trenches, like, in this military sleeping bag cover or traveling with it or, like, on active duty. Right? Something like that. 

And think about the fact that they're they're out there. And then I'm like, I have this piece now, and I'm about to breathe new life into it and have its purpose be totally different. And I'm like, it's a 100% cotton. 

Cotton has a vibrational frequency between 75 and 100 and the body's vibrational frequency at optimal health is a 100. So whoever gets to wear this next, it's gonna be healing them. And it's it's sort of, like, almost like the reverse of war. Yes. It's like, in a way, it was very, like, oh, this is really interesting. You know, I have those moments when I'm creating sometimes, and I love that.

Stella Hertantyo 

And it's was going to go to waste, so it's also healing the planet because we're not adding something else to a landfill. 

And I think something that we keep coming back to in this conversation is community and community folding, which is such a big part of your work.

I can see it threading through your teaching, your curriculum design, workshops, mentorship, and your sewing classes. And I know we also spoke about you creating the upcycle web directory community, and you're also part of the conscious fashion collective membership, which is an online space dedicated to helping people start or grow their careers in sustainable fashion. 

So, yeah, if you could sum up this, I guess, what is the importance of community in strengthening impact and fashion?

Mahdiyyah Muhammad

I mean, I believe that resource-sharing databases and directories are really our version of trade routes. And being a part of, like, a member-based organization for example, like, conscious fashion collective. Right? These organizations that care about, like, the same things I care about or align with my interest, I think it's really important, because community just helps us connect, share, have safe spaces, and just really learn from others.

And in a way, I kinda look at it like cross-pollinating. Cross pollination is, like, you know, supplying pollen from one flower to another, but, like, similar to our communities pollination occurs in nature with the help of, like, other insects and wind.

So creating these sort of, like, ecosystems of varying people from varying walks of life and experiences where everyone has heard, everyone can teach and learn, I think that only strengthens us as a community. 

I think is a really beautiful experience in exchange of, like, energy, knowledge, joy, pleasure. Right? Like, we can share griefs. We share all these things in these spaces. And I think that's really the key to strengthening our connections and also reminding us that the same way that nature has ecosystems, so do we. And we're also a part of nature's ecosystem.

Stella Hertantyo 

Definitely. And I think also something I've had to unlearn from being a part of these communities as well is, like, the scarcity mindset of you have to hoard everything for yourself and there's not enough to go around. And I think that unlearning that is such an important part of creating, yeah, justice and equity.

And so to be a part of those spaces and then feel like everybody's actually there to help each other and to share in a way that is building up each other, it's really challenging sometimes because fashion often feels like a skiff like, you have to have a scarcity mindset. You have to take everything for yourself to thrive, and it's a different way of doing things when you unlearn that. 

Mahdiyyah Muhammad 

Yeah, I love how people like Elizabeth are sort of coming into this space and working with people like you and me, and everyone else in their membership and kinda going, like, it doesn't need to be this one thing that I am just doing alone and me me me. Right? 

It's like, it's about us and we and, like, ours. This is our thing. And then once everyone really feels empowered to sort of contribute equally, then there is always so much better.

Stella Hertantyo 

Yep. Exactly. Exactly. And it just feels better overall when you don't do it alone.

Mahdiyyah Muhammad 

No. Like never. That's so false. Yeah. I'm like, people who sort of give this image that they're doing it on their own. It's like, someone somewhere along the way gave you advice, gave you some kind of help, cut you a break - something. You know what I mean? 

So it's like, No man is an island. Right? We all have something somebody somewhere that's that's kind of propelling us to keep going and allowing us sort of lean into something or lean on somebody to help. You know?

Stella Hertantyo 

And I think another kind of theme that we keep talking about alongside community is creativity. And I know that from listening to previous interviews you've done, you've also been deconstructing and reimagining clothing from a very young age, which I think is super cool. I wish I was also doing that. 

But, yeah, this creative, curious energy is something I feel like the fast fashion industry has forced us to forget, because it means, like, we can get caught up in trend cycles and hyper-consumption when we disconnect with that side of ourselves.

I always come back to this phrase that I first heard from sustainable fashion stylist, Alyssa Beltempo, who has also been on the podcast, but she always reminds people that we need to choose creativity over consumption. And I think it's so important for us to find ways to redefine our role in the fashion system as more than just consumers because it's a label that gets put on us every day all the time.

And I was wondering if you have any tips or advice for simple ways that we can all reconnect with our creative potential in fashion and style beyond just being consumers?

Mahdiyyah Muhammad

Yes. I mean, I think I really like the idea that you mentioned about creativity over consumption because My thought about that is maybe considering ourselves to be contributors instead of consumers as much as possible and I think to change our way of thinking into that will probably be very beneficial.

But the deconstructing thing is so funny because when I was younger, I I always wanted to know how a thing was made. So that was, like, this general curiosity that I had. I'm like, well, there's this beautiful jacket or this dress. But I'm like, how many pieces does this take to make? And I'm like, so if I seam rip or cut open the arms and laid that flat? What does that look like? 

And a big part of it was that I was so young, and I had all these visions about things I wanted to make. But the disconnect when you're young is, like, your skill isn't matured yet for you to be able to make a 100% to show a person what's inside of your mind. Right?

So that always looked like me sort of creating and making things. And then I would try to fit it or put it on and just didn't fit, and it wasn't right. And I'm like, why don't you get these, like, dimensions and measurements wrong, and what that looked like for me in practice was to take things apart. And then I'm like, oh, now I can see. I'm laying it all flat, and I can actually get an idea. And now, of course, you know, that's pattern making. Right? And, like Yes.

So I didn't know that when I was younger, I was, like, 11. So but that's what I'm doing. Right? And it's so funny because I think that in a way also informed my approach to end of life cycle in mind first kind of going, what does it look to take this apart. Right? How easy is it to, like, disassemble this thing and and then put it back together and you know?

But I think one of the biggest ways to do that is research. And, like, as a child, I was just very curious about what made things tick. I asked a lot of questions like most kids do, and that's just how you stay connected to that part of yourself. 

So, like, always tell people, get curious about how things are made, get curious about where things come from, ask all the questions about why things are the way they are, you know, take classes and workshops, research those random facts that pop up in your head. 

And I guarantee you somewhere along that process, creativity will just hit you like a ton of bricks. Because, like, whenever I've researched or learned about something, it always opens up my mind to all these other hallways and avenues on the way to the answer. It's like it's never just a straight journey to the answer.

You know, I think about, like, my studies in school, I was an English major, and I would be reading an assignment or something. Right? And then as you're reading as an English major, you also are having to sort of study while you're reading. 

It's like active reading and learning where you're reading a blind, and maybe the character says something, or there's something that's mentioned in the text, and you're like, what does that even mean? And then you to learn the origin of it. Right? So then you go down this rabbit hole of figuring out what does this word mean? What was the origin of it? 

And then that teaches you a whole other thing. But then in a way, it gives you the context that you need to truly understand the text in front of you. So I think that's a very a way that we can sort of approach other things too. It's all connected. You know?

Stella Hertantyo 

Right. And in a way, that learning is an unpicking of the fashion system because it's they don't want us to look below the surface. you know, or connect the dots or understand that completely different continents are connected in these extremely complex ways with power dynamics and a whole lot of different lines of exchange.

And, yeah, I think when you start getting into that It is almost like a rabbit hole, though. Like, you start learning all these things about the things that just adorn your life, and it's not just, you know, clothing. 

You can do it with food. You can do it with a whole bunch of things as well.And it's also just allowing yourself to relearn that curiosity, which is something that I had to do. Because actually we're not taught to be curious enough, I think.

Mahdiyyah Muhammad 

I agree. Nope. I agree. It's like a real it's like an unlearning to relearn.

Stella Hertantyo 

Yes. Exactly. I wanted to ask you a bit more about your thoughts on contributors as opposed to consumers because I really like the way that you said that. So what do you see as, like, I guess, somebody who can learn to be more of a contributor than a consumer.

Mahdiyyah Muhammad 

I think just always asking what: how can I be service to something? I think that's important. You know, we're socialized to take and take and take, right, especially from planet. So how can I be of service? Right?

Like, maybe we can study the ways in which nature sort of keeps a replenishing system with within how systems work. Right? It's like, oh, this bee is pollinating this flower. And then, you know, like, things like just little things like that. Just paying attention to that and going well, how can I go and do something similar to that? Like, how can I contribute to a space where I'm not kind of walking into it with this transactional idea in mind? because even transactional thinking is very capitalism capitalist based. You know?

So all these things of, like you said, unlearning those things and those ways of being. like all these ways we've been socialized to show up in spaces and kind of go, what am I gonna get out of this? 

And sometimes when we go, what am I gonna give to this? Right? And contributing yeah, of course, you know, you should be compensated for work. You should be compensated for the knowledge, you know, things like that, but also just, like I said, when we're creating these communities and these networks of spaces where everybody's showing up and giving something, then there's an equal share. And you're not showing up to this space and feeling like something's being take and take taken and nothing's being given back.

So it's really important to build those spaces where we can become contributors. Right? And not just consumers or not just have things taken from us, and we're, like, you know, drained of whatever we have. That's another important fact. So I think it's all about that community aspect again.

Stella Hertantyo 

And that I'm realizing is can also look different from person to person, depending on your, I guess, time and capacity and all of that. But contributing doesn't necessarily mean you have to take on this whole new persona. It can just be the step of acknowledging a role in these systems. 

And as we were talking about the curiosity on maybe just trying something new, like, instead of tossing out a jersey or a shirt that has a hole in it contributing could be learning to mend it or, you know, like finding more creative ways to style your garments, it just has to be away from that, like, take and waste cycle that we get stuck in too quickly sometimes.

Mahdiyyah Muhammad 

Right. And I'm always thinking about how things can give to something in a way where it's, like, how can this give life to something or give an opportunity to something?

So even like you said, jerseys, for example, I'm always, like, you know, work with sports team to take, like, those discarded, like, throw away shirts at fans get. Or, like, you know, the jerseys that are damaged or whatever. that are damaged or whatever. 

Like, why not maybe create some kind of a fund for, like, a specific just like a charged donation drive or something where, like, they you know, we work with a certain amount of upcyclers to upcycle these jerseys into things. And then this like a special collaboration where it's sold, and then the funds from that go towards building some type of community based learning center or things like that.

You know, I'm like, what can we do in order for things to sort of give back to what it's taking from? And that that's, like, again, another loop. It's like closing another loop. 

Stella Hertantyo 

An important part of also thinking about circular economies is the flow of capital and, like, creating ways for the flow more equitably, so it doesn't just always end up in higher places and big billionaires pockets.

There are ways to flow into communities and into spaces that have true impact. So, yeah, I think that's something that isn't talked about enough actually in the circular economy. Agreed. So thank you for bringing that up.

But to end off the episode, I'll ask you the question that we ask every guest on the podcast, which is what would a better, beautiful fashion look like to you?

Mahdiyyah Muhammad 

I like this question, because initially, when I, like, heard you say this on the other podcast episodes, I'm like, I don't know what the future looks, but it could definitely look a lot, like, more education around the origins of things. 

Like, people need to know the basic origins, like, the bare bones of what's started a thing where it comes from. Right? The history of production in this country not being left out or glossed over in learning spaces, I think that's so important and so key.

Dominique Draper actually did a collaborative workshop with Fiber Shed. Where she really broke down the details of production in this country and then how that brought us into fashion and, like, mass production and fashion. And it was just so informative and just layered with all this amazing information and all these, like, materials to take away and study for later. So I'd definitely recommend things like that. Right? Finding those people who are doing that work and, like, supporting them too.

And then also more opportunities for people who look like me, who look like us. Like, these things sound small, but would make huge waves in the industry and the direction it's heading. 

Because I think about even, like we mentioned, that sort of circular capital flowing because it's like if you think about it, a lot of the people who are doing a lot of the work, you know, boots on the ground work are like these grassroots organizations. Or just people who wake up in the morning and feel like, okay, how can I contribute in a better way to this society or this, like, community or this planet? 

And those are the people who should be getting that non-dilutive funding and, like, should be getting these platforms to talk about the things more. Right?

I think a lot of the preference tends to go to the people who can sort of pay to play, and that's an issue in and of itself. Right? Because then that trickles down into so many industries like I'm before retail, for example, right? 

If you presented more stores where there were more slow fashion brands, I don't know, maybe contributors would wanna buy from those stores more. You know what I mean? But it's like, if every corner you turn, there are these, like, fast fashion brands and it's so easy and so convenient to go into these stores and get the things you need, then, of course. You know what I mean? I it's a lot easier to go that route.

But if you are starting to sort of give people more options, and then not just options, attach those options to opportunities to learn. And I think that's one of the biggest things education and just, like, knowledge sharing and knowing these things and research. And I think that, like I said, they they all sound like small things, but all the small things amount to a big thing and that's how you make a wave, you know, or an impact.