An Interview with Fiona Clements of Senorita AweSUMO

Fiona Clements a Pakeha, Kai Tahu, Clan Gordon, Craftivist and zero-waste textile practitioner.
She grew up in Waitati, Dunedin and is connected closely with nature and environmentally minded. Her beliefs are reflected in her textile design.

Designer Fiona Clements. Image credit: Senorita AweSUMO

Tell us about family background – geography, culture, language, and religion.

I identify with the earth as a Kai Tahu, Clan Gordon, Pakeha. I am kaitiakitanga for Papatuanuku. I believe we as humans can make a difference in creating a more holistic space for us all to evolve on this earth. One that doesn’t centre around money, fashion or power.

I identify with no religion other than humanity! Love is the answer!

I grew up in Waitati, just north of Dunedin, New Zealand. I spent my childhood at the beach and the outdoors. I am of mixed culture, neither of which I wholly identify with but parts of such I understand and take head.

My grandmother was a tailoress. She had a shop in Dunedin when my mother was small, I spent many hours in both their sewing rooms as a child, I still use my grandmother’s treasures now.

What is your personal story – education, prior work, and so on?

I graduated from Otago Polytechnic School of Design with a Bachelor of Design, Fashion in 2011. Before that I worked as a Signwriter.

Fiona Clements. Pakeha, Kai Tahu, Clan Gordon, Craftivist, Zerowaste Textile Practitioner.

I grew up in Waitati, Dunedin. Connected closely with nature and environmentally minded, my beliefs are reflected in my textile design.

Senorita AweSUMO is my response to workplace related harm. Re-examination of my own beliefs and experience took myself and Senorita AweSUMO into a new phase of life, growing a holistic lifestyle, nurturing and nourishing the whole.

I believe that designers can serve their community by providing solutions to problems. Witnessing the amount of waste created in commercial fashion production, I set about creating a solution.

An opportunity to create unique garments and provide a local solution to a problem facing the fashion system globally.

Reducing waste without compromising style. My designs aim to mitigate environmental harm from modern fashion production. Up cycled garments minimise impact to the environment from disposable consumer items.

Utilising a textile resource recovered from landfill, commercial off cuts, and recycling centres, adding value to otherwise discarded materials.

Senorita AweSUMO empowers ethical and conscious consumers with unique environmental fashion.

Encouraging conscious consumption by spreading awareness and giving an environmental choice in clothing.

Global problem, Local solution.

How did you get interested in ethical and sustainable fashion?

Whilst studying at Otago Polytech I was disgusted at the amount of fabrics my classmates would throw out as off cuts and toiles they no longer wanted. I started using this out of necessity on a low budget where I couldn’t afford to buy new.

This idea sparked a thought of “If this is how much my one class wastes how much waste is created in the Fashion system globally?” So I explored and found that around 8 – 30% is wasted depending on cut during manufacture!

The Perfect AweSUMO asymmetrical drape just perfect for spring layering or summer lightness

How did your educational/professional experience inform fashion work?

I came into the world of fashion in my late 20’s after experiencing some terrible working conditions of my own in my previous profession. It informed me how to NOT work and how things can be done better. It also gave me a stronger voice in speaking up about what is and isn’t right.

What is the importance of ethical and sustainable fashion designers and companies?

This is hugely important, we need to show how the system can be better at closing the loop and stop harming the environment and humanity.

What is the importance of fair trade?

Again a large amount of importance as Fair Trade shows value of the commodity and of the humanity that does the work.

Who is a personal hero or heroine within the ethical and sustainable fashion world for you?

Orsola de Castro – From Somewhere and Fashion Revolution.

What is Senorita AweSUMO?

Senorita AweSUMO is my alter ego, a persona I created to escape work related harm, to help myself grow and to have a creative outlet as solution to the problems I see in the world.

What inspired the title of the organization?

An image I have of a badass Senorita taking a stand, and the cartoon South Park where in one episode Cartman dresses up as a robot to trick Butters about something and he has the acronym A.W.E.S.O.M.O written on the front. I adapted this to my needs: “What you have and are as a being should always be honest to self and earth alike!”

Shear terry towelling stripe vintage fabric tunic.

What are some of its feature products?

Zerowaste Goddess Tunics are one of my biggest sellers. I use drape a lot in creating my garments.

What are the main fibres and fabrics used in the products?

As I am zero waste I utilise a lot of fabrics that I find in op shops, recycling centres and off cuts from local manufacturers, these can be vintage fabrics or remnants. If I do purchase fabrics it is natural fibres only such as Merino, Organic Cotton and Hemp and as locally as possible.

Who grows, harvests, designs, and manufactures the products of Senorita AweSUMO?

I design and manufacture every product, I hope to outsource and employ local sewers and manufacturers in the future.

In regards to growing and harvesting fabrics I can only go off the information I get from suppliers which I do question a lot before I am happy to purchase.

Will the fibres and fabrics for the products from the company biodegrade?

Natural fabrics will yes, I hope that when people are purchasing my products that they are buying for a long term reason at least 30 wears. I am happy for them to be returned to me at the end of their useful life.

What is your customer base – the demographics?

Senorita AweSUMO is a gender neutral lifestyle brand but at present mostly caters to woman 18+.

What topics most interest you?

Zerowaste, Human and social equality, Environmental leadership, Product stewardship, Kaitiakitanga, Conscious Consumerism.

 

 

There have been large tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse, which was the largest garment factory accident in history with over 1,000 dead and more than 2,500 injured. Others were the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (1911) and the Pakistan Garment Factory Fires (2012). How do tragedies shed light on work conditions in garment factories?

It shows us the realities of the industry that need to be brought to the surface, the western world lives in its own bubble and some enlightenment about what others go through so we can stay clothed is important. It is sad that it has come to this though.

Women and children remain the majority of the exploited and violated work forces. What is the importance of the status of women’s and children’s rights in the ethical and sustainable fashion world too?

Woman standing up for woman, we are the nurturers, the life givers, the protectors. It is one of the most important things beside climate change, equality for all humans is a must. We cannot have a proper system without this as it degrades humans and makes us feel worthless.

Who is a women’s rights and children’s rights activist or campaigner hero for you?

Every woman who works in the garment industry are my heroes! The woman at Standing Rock. Kia Kaha Wahine Toa.

If women had access and implementation of these fundamental human rights, would their livelihood and quality of life, even working life in the garment factories, improve?

Yes, I definitely think so, if the industrial revolution has taught us anything, it is with those small improvements that quality of life also improves.

When women lose, everyone – boys, girls, men, and women – loses. What might bring this basic fact, with ubiquitous positive consequences, into the public discourse in ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ nations?

These are some really heavy questions which I don’t have answers too at this point sorry.

According to Global Affairs Canada (Government of Canada) in the article entitled Women’s Economic Empowerment: Guidance Note (2016), women comprise 1/3 of formal business owners, 2/5 of the global workforce, and have responsibility for 8/10 of spending for consumers. Economies and societies lose potential “development and growth” without women. Possible national moral authority lost, too. Rights and economies imply each another. Rights for girls and women develops economies and, therefore, societies. Likewise, economic and societal development gives grounds for implementation of girl’s and women’s rights. What educational campaigns and pragmatic initiatives might the fashion industry encourage and support to improve the chances for girls and women?

Fashion Revolution is doing a great job of raising global awareness in this regard. The many initiatives of sharing educational resources and campaigns are right at the forefront of where and what we need to be doing and encouraging. Woman make up 80% of the workforce in the fashion industry and we need to help them first by raising awareness of their plight, then taking actions to respond to those feelings brought up by the awareness. We can do many things individually and in our communities. We can shop consciously, we can ask questions of our retailers and shop assistants. We can take small actions like the Craftivist Collective, or larger ones like Labour Behind the Label, War on Want and Clean Clothes Campaign, there are many more out there. We as consumers are holding a great amount of power in this instance and until we realise that we will not move forward.

What is the relationship between the need to implement women’s rights and children’s rights, and the fashion industry?

This relationship is huge and neglected, 80% of garment workers are Woman and children. They need their basic needs met. The need to implement is hugely evident to me. We cannot go on the way we are. We are destroying humanity.

How can individuals get the word out about these extreme children’s rights violations?

Speak up, Ask questions. Be curious, Find out, Do something, get involved in Fashion Revolution!

What mass movements or social movements can fight for the implementation of the children’s rights outside of the fashion industry?

Fashion Revolution, Labour behind the label, Clean clothes campaign, child labour free, craftivism collective, war on want. tertiary, primary, intermediate sectors, businesses, designers, consumers, everyone and anyone is capable of making that choice for themselves, but can they?

Hand painted Tunic

How can individuals, designers, fashion industries, and consumers begin to work to implement those rights so that these vulnerable populations, women and children, in many countries of the world have better quality of life?

Be transparent, approachable, honest as a designer. By asking questions and getting involved in local actions, take up one of your own. Creating awareness and sharing ideas, collaborating with other forms of art/designers.

From personal observations, more women than men involve themselves in the fashion industry by a vast margin of difference at most levels. Why?

Clothing traditionally is Woman’s work is my first answer. We are born to it I expect.

Also, more men than women appear at the highest ends of the business ladder in fashion. Why?

Power.

What might make men more involved in the fashion world in general?

Awareness and creating a space where men are allowed to be emotional so that they are not the only ones who can hold power. Bringing them to a more equal level with Woman.

What might make men more involved in the ethical and sustainable fashion world in general?

Awareness and responsibility to act consciously.

Will having men in the discussion and on-the-ground improve the implementation of children’s and women’s rights?

Yes, as they are the ones leading the workers, they need to be the ones to achieve the actions. This is a conversation for everyone.

What personal fulfillment comes from this work for you?

Creatively full filled, watching other people learn and share together. Creating community.

What other work are you involved in at this point in time?

Just Atelier Trust, Fashion Revolution, Grad Dip in Sustainable Practice at Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin Designed Inc and the GUILD store here in Dunedin.

Any recommended authors or fashionistas (or fashionistos)?

Tansy E Hoskins STITCHED UP – An Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion.

Holly McQuillan, Timo Rissanen – Zerowaste Fashion Design

I love my friend MelanieChild.co.nz work.

http://atelierzuhal.com/

Any recommended means of contacting, even becoming involved with, Senorita AweSUMO?

email senorita.awesumo@gmail.com, check out my website senoritaawesumo.com follow me on instagram, facebook and twitter –  SenoritaAweSUMO

What has been the greatest emotional struggle in business for you?

Stepping through my fears.

What has been the greatest emotional struggle in personal life for you?

Having HNPP, suffering from depression and anxiety at times and having no current fixed abode nor financial security. Being without a dog.

What philosophy makes most sense of life to you?

What you have and are as a being should always be honest to self and earth alike! Senorita AweSUMO 2007.

Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?

We as humanity and consumers hold all of the power to change this industry. We must do it by acting and conversing together to raise awareness. Be Curious, Find Out, Do Something!!!
Thank you for your time, Fiona.

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About the Author

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping and gardening, and runs In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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