Jake Okechukwu Effoduh is not only a Climate Reality Leader, but also a Vanier Scholar pursuing his PhD at the Osgoode Hall Law School of York University, in Toronto, Canada. He is also a World Economic Forum Global Shaper.
We sat down with Jake to discuss his latest initiative as a Climate Reality Leader—the creation of an sustainable fashion collection that goes by the name of “Sage.”
Jake, could you tell us a little bit more about the creation of this project?
Most fashion companies want to make great clothes and, of course, make profit. However, they hardly give due consideration to the impact that their industry has on the planet or on society at large. I am not a fashion designer. I am a lawyer. But as an activist, I believe in the collaborative efforts of all and sundry to achieve a common goal. As a Global Shaper and a Climate Reality Corp Leader trained by former U.S Vice President Al Gore in 2018, I committed myself to delivering free presentations on climate change and to influencing collaboration and acceleration towards a low-carbon economy. This personal project of creating a collection to demonstrate sustainable fashion is one of them. This collection that I have created is a product-level initiative—to use less environmentally harmful fabrics and fashion products, as well as produce a collection of eco-fashionable clothes to tell a story about globalization. As a first of its kind in Nigeria, I partnered with April9ine, a Nigerian fashion brand that is interested in fostering change in the fashion industry. I engaged April9ine on the ways that fashion can contribute to greater ecological integrity and social justice.
What kind of creative challenges did you experience on this project?
As a novice in the fashion space, I learned so much from April9ine and their staff. I was able to appreciate the creative thinking and massive labour that goes into producing each outfit. Luckily, the team I worked with were a very dedicated and creative bunch, so I relied heavily on their expertise. The major challenge was how to work with the tailors to ensure that we accomplish a thirty percent reduction in production waste—right from the very beginning, when designing the patterns for the garments so that when the textiles are cut, there are no extra fabrics going to waste. This required a lot of strategy and it took more time than usual. We also had to remain creative and to maintain the message of the collection. This was new for the tailors and designers, but they were surprisingly excited about recycling old fabrics and learning to use alternatives to acrylic, leather and auxiliary chemicals. I was committed to being engaged through the entire process of creating this collection: from picking the fabrics to the finishing stage, and even wearing them to model them. It took a lot of my time, learning and attention.
How and why did you come up with the concept "Sage"?
Beyond the literal understanding of the sage as a feature in ancient history and wisdom, sage is also a plant: one of my favorite herbs. It is a sweetgrass with indigenous symbolism that relates to spirituality and healing. It grows only in certain habitats, but it is used all around the world as a culinary herb. I decided to call this collection “Sage” because I wanted the outfits in this collection to represent globalization and a connection with our common habitat. My creative objective is to also promote cultural collaboration between both “First World” and “Third World” fashions, specifically Canadian and Nigerian trends. I wanted to do this all whilst preserving the uniqueness of individuality and the diversity of cosmopolitanism. The sage represents growing with resilience. The sage also speaks of ubiquity. So, like the sage, I believe that through fashion we can create meaning for ourselves, but that fashion can also serve something greater than ourselves: helping to protect people and our planet.
Where are you aiming for with this project?
The fashion industry in Nigeria is big, and I think this industry can contribute to the decarbonization of clothes production, and the use of eco-sustainable materials. The goal for me is to get many fashion houses to start advancing towards zero waste design. The fashion industry should be able to work with governments and even the United Nations to catalyze scalable solutions for climate action. With this collection, we have proven in a small but new way that by recycling fabrics, using only environmentally friendly materials, and cutting down on production waste by thirty percent, sustainable fashion is possible in Nigeria. Our clothes should not come at the cost of people or our planet. It starts one kaftan one collection at a time.