Rethinking the future of sustainability with Janaya Future Khan
In our exclusive interview, the endlessly inspiring Black, queer, non-binary activist and social-justice educator tells of the importance of telling the truth and rethinking the future of sustainability.
‘Sustainability is immediately about climate, but it’s also a bit of a metaphor,’ says Janaya Future Khan (they/ their), the Black, queer, non-binary activist, storyteller, boxer and social-justice educator from their adopted home of Los Angeles. ‘We have to renew our energy and focus on the things that matter, so that’s climate justice, but it's also racial justice. If you think about the past year, there was this idea that everywhere in the world was going through a racial reckoning and that everything in America – and by consequence the world – was going to change around race. And here we are a year later and not much externally has changed.’
Khan fought for change as the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Canada and as the former Program Director at Color of Change, and they’re now going direct to their Instagram followers, using their ever-growing personal platform to speak out about social transformation, justice and equality in a popular pulpit show called Sunday Sermon.
‘Sunday Sermon really started because there were tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who were like, ‘What can I do?’ My hope with Sunday Sermon and all the other projects I'm working on, is to bring people back to that question of purpose.’ Here they talk about asking the right questions, telling the truth and also share what they think about style.
‘There has to be a way to make fashion accessible to everyone while also changing the footprint that it has on the planet.’
ON PAYING ATTENTION
‘People always ask, ‘What can I do?’ When it comes to climate change, to climate justice, it's one of the hardest questions to ask because the immediate answer is, ‘I don't know.’ But it's always good to start out with questions, and those questions are meant to take us somewhere else. You don't have to be a scientist to figure out what we can do about climate change, how to pressure governments to do what's right, how to deal with the inevitable crisis of humans, of people all over the world who need new resources, new homes. When we hear about climate change or climate justice and sustainability, we think of it as something scientific or outside of our lives and power. The energy around the planet is also the energy that we have, that we put out, that we exert, that we regenerate. When we put our energy in, it always leads to a return to ourselves, a return to community and a return to the planet. It's very simple: it's about paying attention. You don't have to be a social scientist expert to understand racism, you just have to pay attention.’
ON TELLING THE TRUTH
‘What I've learned in this work is that everybody really does care. It’s the work of organisers, artists, storytellers, media platforms and even fashion houses to communicate what we know to be true to the masses, to take what we know to be true to the people. In all of these fashion houses, all the major tech firms, there are people who are making it run, and we always have to move those people closer to justice, then, by extension, our society will move closer to justice. If we know more – authors and creatives – we have an absolute responsibility to tell the truth. Culture shifts societies, and when those shifts in culture happen, anything is possible.’
ON CLIMATE & RACIAL JUSTICE
‘I've been an activist for maybe 12 to 15 years, so about half my life. I mainly focus on class, gender and race. When I was growing up, climate justice was in a different area. There wasn't a lot of infrastructure around it. I have seen the climate justice model change. At first, it was inaccessible. It felt very elitist. It felt very white. There were rudimentary challenges of, ‘Well, you're talking about recycling and literally these people are trying to eat.’ Now I think it's evolved and I think a lot of racial experts have infiltrated these climate justice movements to say that racism is an environmental justice issue. It is not a coincidence that the people being most impacted are people of colour and Black people and the native people. Poor people, right? People who have less resources.’
ON SUSTAINABLE FASHION
‘I remember when there was a point in time where if you didn't have a lot of money, you couldn’t keep up with what was in fashion. But then it changed and was like, ‘I have less money, I can now buy this thing that is currently in fashion, that is replicating these houses and I can feel good about myself.’ There's something in that that’s really wholesome and lovely, but can we do this in a way that is less damaging to the planet? So, maintain the accessibility and address the issues around sustainability that make it harmful. I believe that we can do that. We just need our government to empower the scientists, the sustainability experts and the climate justice activists to collaborate at a higher level. There has to be a way to make fashion accessible to everyone while also changing the footprint that it has on the planet. There was fashion before there was fast-fashion. People were fashionable, whether or not they had money. Style is about how you wear your clothes.’
ON THEIR STYLE SIGNATURES
‘I love finding a way to make men's clothes work for me. Oftentimes the generic male for a lot of these places is 6'1’, and I am a mighty 5'3’, so I love making these oversized clothes work for me. I love an oversized button-down that's never buttoned up. I love smart trousers and really shiny, metallic sweatpants. Texture is a big thing, animal print and anything that makes me feel like I'm wearing art. I like to wear a little marina, or a vest or an A-shirt. I'm Caribbean so we've always called them marinas. It's one of my favourite looks.’
ON THE POWER OF CLOTHES
‘Fashion for me is authenticity, expression, innovation and the idea that I can become whatever it is that I can create in my mind. That's a beautiful thing and it’s something that gets stripped from us. In society's terms, I don't meet beauty standards. I don't. I'm not what a traditional woman is supposed to look like, and I'm definitely not what a traditional man is supposed to look like. But because of fashion, I was able to carve out a space for myself to feel beautiful. And when I stepped out and became that person, I was embraced by the fashion world. To me, it's a really integral part of my sense of expression and self. And I think my life is enriched because of it.’
‘When we put our energy in, it always leads to a return to ourselves, a return to community and a return to the planet.’
QUICK FIRE Q&A
What was your first album purchase?
‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. No shocker there. It was my first and I was like, ‘We'll listen to this album forever and not get tired of it.’’
What do you collect?
‘I have a huge collection of dog toys. My dog is a rottie mix and her name is Sula, and she loves to destroy stuffies.’
If you could share a message with your younger and older self, what would you say?
‘It would be the very simple Toni Morrison, Alice Walker framework of ‘just as long as you're here, everything is possible’.’
Words by Stuart Brumfitt
Photography by Jack Davison
Styling by Clare Richardson
Janaya Future Khan (@janayathefuture) wears the AW21 collection for COS. Watch Janaya live in conversation with actor Jodie Turner-Smith @cosstores at 10am PDT / 6pm BST on Thursday the 16th of September.
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