In Your Element with Tasnim Ahmed

For our fifth and final interview for our Sustainability Month series, we spoke with Tasnim Ahmed  –  founder of @shopnahar, @journalnyc. She’s an activist for cultural preservation and sustainability.

Tasnim Ahmed Smililng on Ettitude Organic Bamboo Sheets and Organic Bamboo PIllowcase

 

  1. Define sustainability.

This term has so many different meanings now, and the trendification of sustainability made it a difficult concept for me to comprehend for some time. Mainstream sustainability is more focused on eco-consciousness, and the human rights aspect is often left out, even though one can’t sustain without the other. Earlier this year I took a class on the question of human rights in the global fashion industry, and I was introduced to the works of this brilliant economist named Kate Raworth. She came up with this no-frills concept called “Doughnut Economics”, which explores a balance between social and planetary boundaries. Taking from Raworth’s work, to me sustainability means a “safe and just space for humanity”, a balance of consciousness and care for both the environment and humanity.

 

  1. What does the term and practice of sustainable living mean to you, personally?

Sustainable living to me means being conscious and respectful of the environment and humanity in the way I live my life, from how much energy I’m consuming to why I’m buying the clothes I’m wearing.

 

  1. How do you uphold sustainable practices in your day-to-day life? 

I’m still at a very basic level of practicing sustainability in my day-to-day life. While I have some knowledge about the fashion/textiles and social aspects of sustainability, I know very little about sustainability in the agriculture and food sector, which is a fancy way of saying I still eat take-out and feast on Cheetos. My beauty routine is fairly simply, and I try to avoid products that contain parabens and sulphates. I use a cleanser and moisturizer by this brand called Matrescence, which was originally founded to provide mothers with clean beauty products from pregnancy and/or into motherhood. It’s that care to their approach that drew me in. And their cleanser is verified by the Environmental Working Group, which is pretty cool! When it comes to my home, I was buying a hodge-podge of things spur of the moment that weren’t made of great quality and would wear out quickly. Now I try to decorate my home with items that really appeal to me, and not things that are part of a passing fad. What’s most important to me at this stage of my life and at my level of understanding about sustainability it paying attention to the process – how and where things are made, who is making them, and is there a commitment to ethics and integrity.

Tasnim Ahmed's Hands Touching Organic Bamboo Sheets Ettitude Lyocell Sheets

 

  1. What are your tips for conscious shopping? 

For those who don’t have an extensive knowledge in textiles, fashion or food (like myself), making conscious choices while shopping can be a bit daunting, particularly when you’re being bombarded with information on social media. My best tip is this: do your own homework. Rather than trying to funnel through the chaos of information, pick one thing to start off your sustainability shift and read up on it. For sustainability to be sustaining, our knowledge of it shouldn’t be hurried and fleeting, but rather deliberate and with purpose, so that we can educate and inform our communities to make better continuous choices. Also, if you have the privilege of being financially stable, support brands that are doing the hard work of being sustainable from the ground up. Be more mindful of your own overconsumption. We’re in this problematic era of Influencer culture that encourages more more more and self-worth is wrongly conflated with the ability to have and own things, wearing things once and never again. Then there are “sustainability” influencers who are constantly receiving gifts from “sustainable brands”; one can only have so many recycled plastic sneakers! Again the message becomes about having things, instead of educating audiences to make informed decisions, and it was that unsustainable lifestyle that was even very alluring to me. I recently cleaned out four bags worth of clothing, shoes, bedding and even rugs I’d accumulated that were not of great quality, not sustainably made or used only a handful of times and then discarded, and this is really troubling because a lot of what we over-consume ends up in landfills or as someone else’s waste. If I’m buying clothes, I have to come up with at least five ways of wearing it in order to buy it. If I’m buying for my home, I have to really love it, and in either case I let a week pass before I actually purchase something – most of the time I forget about it mid-week and that’s a pretty clear indicator for me. It sounds a bit nutty, but it works!

Tasnim Ahmed Smililng on Ettitude Organic Bamboo Sheets and Organic Bamboo PIllowcase

 

  1. Are there people in your life or network that have impacted your decision to live sustainably?

I spent the greater part of my childhood in Bangladesh, and I grew up in a bubble where I completely oblivious to the human rights violations in the manufacturing industries and of the environmental degradation there. It was a bubble constructed by classicism and the privilege of choosing not to know. I also come from a working-class immigrant family, and in America the script was suddenly flipped and I was confronted with the lack of access in knowing. Minority and low-income groups are often demonized for the choices they make as consumers, but the pathways to knowledge and access to understanding concepts like sustainability are so limited and often withheld from these groups. While I had some knowledge about sustainability, it was at a surface level, but I wasn’t piecing together my role in all of this as a consumer. It wasn’t until I had the privilege of taking graduate classes that dealt with the interconnectedness of sustainability, human rights, and the environment that I made the decision to uphold the ethics of sustainability in how I live. So the works of radical individuals like the economist Naila Kabeer, Kate Raworth, Timo Rissanen, and the labor of many others committed to the field of sustainability completely reset my way of thinking. I think I first came to learn about sustainability through Stefania Borras and her clothing brand Datura – she’s been gracefully operating her sustainable brand for several years and deserves a lot of credit for her work!

 

  1. What has been the most valuable reward or effect of sustainable living?

This may seem trivial, but getting my parents to make more sustainable choices was a huge milestone for me. As immigrants, they had little opportunity and access in learning about things like recycling. After years of trying to teach them – or rather nagging them – about sustainability, they make a concerted effort to recycle, use reusable bags for groceries and use cleaning agents that don’t have a massive environmental impact. Now that they’re in that rhythm, they make more mindful choices when they’re out shopping, checking ingredient lists and interrogating how something was made. Personally, I feel like Mother Nature has given so much for so little in return, that it’s going to be a long time before any of my efforts feel rewarding. But I am grateful to be in a position of being able to live more sustainably and help my community in understanding sustainability better.

Tasnim Ahmed Dress on Ettitude Organic Bamboo Sheets and Organic Bamboo Pillowcase

(Photos by Elena Mudd) (Interview by ToBe Content)

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