Idia’Dega: Eco-Fashionista (Kenya Dig It?)

Tereneh Mosley, Pittsburgh native, moved to Los Angeles a few years ago after studying culture and fashion at the University of Kenya. Working with a scholarship from the Rotary Club designed for study abroad, Mosley had five countries to consider: England, France, Australia, New Zealand and Kenya. The African nation was admittedly not her first choice. Nor did Kenya seem happy to have the Westerner when she arrived. After bungled housing plans left her temporarily adrift on the dirt streets of Nairobi, Mosley was met with hostility at the university by America-hating staff. But once the dean intervened, granting Mosley grace and a certain diplomatic immunity, the not-quite-native daughter began her voyage to Idia’Dega.

Idia’Dega is Mosley’s eco-conscious fashion line — “elegant ethical apparrel for men and women.” Inspired by Kenyan organic cotton farmers, Mosley opted to use exclusively organic fabrics and materials: cotton, bamboo, soy, hemp, recycled sari and kimono silks. She’s part of a growing movement that understands that resources are becoming more scarce, and the processes to create our wardrobes have become to taxing with emissions. The tragedy is that while Africa is least responsible for overconsumption of resources, and greenhouse gas emissions, they are and will continue to be the hardest hit by the consequences through famines, droughts and increased warming.

I caught up with Mosley in L.A. over Cinco de Mayo to talk about how her eco-vision came to fruition:

Green Currency: So what did you see in Kenya that strengthened your environmental resolve?

Tereneh Mosley: The first community service project I did there was a famine relief walk. The people there told me how there’s droughts, the rains have changed, the way people have been farming and the agricultural calendar people used for thousands of years have changed. and so theres people who dont have food. So you see people who have survived quite well for thousands of years living where they live then suddenly they can’t grow the food that they used to grow. And then you see places like Mathare, a huge slum in Nairobi, where outwards of almost a million people who live there, but most don’t have access to running water. They get their water shipped in by tankers and end up paying more than I did for water.

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GC: What was your “A ha!” moment, when you figured you’d marry environmentalism with fashion?
TM: We went to a forest — it was the forest that Wangari Maathai was instrumental in saving. What we did was plant trees there. It was a huge swath of land and we were replanting trees in the heart of the land where humanity started. I thought, I’m so lucky to be here, where a Nobel winner (Maathai) fought and also where humanity began and we’re continuing the cycle, but at the same time we’re part of the problem. I started thinking about how clothes are a part of it, and how we can help.

I met an organic cotton farmer and he said “I’m changing the way I grow cotton, and it’s going to cost me a lot of money right now, but I hope it’s worth it. I hope people decide to make clothes with my cotton because if not I lose everything.” He took a big gamble. People rely on him for their food everyday. So based on faith he was hoping that some designer in New York or Paris would buy his orgnaic farmer because the average Kenyan won’t spend even $20 on a pair of jeans. So he’s not growing cotton for Kenya, he’s growing cotton for other people in the world in Los Angels, Paris, and New York.

So I thought, I have to buy his cotton, I have to be part of the process that moves him forward and proves him right. The farmer next door is doing the same thing as other cotton growers by using pesticides, ruining the water and continuing the situation where the Earth will be worse off than from when it started.

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GC: What do you think it will take for the masses to get that, or to care in the same way?

TM: I think it is a process. I was talking to a person who has been buying organic cotton from Kenya and Uganda for their jeans. I asked, ‘How do we do this?’ because making new clothes is consuming. And there’s something to be said about not making any new clothes at all. His response was, ‘As an artist, as someone who creates what else are you going to do? What else can you create?’ I said that this is all that I want to do. He said, ‘If this is all you want to do, and you have a consciousness about it then you have to do it like this, you have to do it ethical.’ I thought, but everything can’t be ethical, but he believed that we have to take little steps.

So maybe we do a 80/20 organic cotton blend so that we’re supporting this whole process, and then maybe in 10 years it’s 100 percent organic. Then we let people know not just in a “We are the World” kinda way, but just, this is who you are buying your cotton from. The only way organic cotton jeans won’t be 200 dollars is if supply increases, but right now there isn’t enough demand for it.

It can’t be a situation where I’m guilted into buying it. It has to be a thing where I have the option to buy 200 dollar jeans so I’m going to do that in hopes that in 15 years or less, that every jean that Gap or Wal-mart makes is organic. Where we are now in 2009, we’re at the frontlines of the ethical fashion movement.

Be Mock’D is one of PLR’s featured contributors on the environment, politics and how the hood gets mocked by both. Read the rest of his opinions here.

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