10 Questions For Samata Pattinson
Image: Naomie Harris / Courtesy of RCGD
Red Carpet Green Dress are championing sustainability at the Oscars. We asked CEO Samata Pattinson 10 Questions to learn more.
In a celebrity obsessed world it can often be difficult to cut through the noise to get to the real conversations that matter. Red Carpet Green Dress is a women led organisation that uses our fascination with the red carpet to promote and support the growth of sustainable fashion. Founded by Suzy Amis Cameron in 2009, the organisation is responsible for the RCGD Global Design Contest which seeks out and supports new talent in the design space. Entrants must design a red carpet outfit that focuses on the two design criteria; waste and eco textiles. The winner then has the opportunity to create their winning design and see it in all it’s glory worn on the red carpet.
In addition to the contest, RCGD also work with NGO’s in Bangladesh and Myanmar to support garment workers in some of the poorest and unethical working conditions. This year they also launched 3 incredible luxury sustainable fabrics with TENCEL ™ Luxe, all of which are available to the winner of the design contest as well as any brand or designer wishing to use them. RCGD have made it their mission to penetrate as many areas of the fashion supply chain as possible and make real change. CEO Samata Pattinson was a contest winner herself, winning the competition in 2011. Fast forward to 2019 and Samata helped RCGD celebrate it’s 10th successful year. Not only is she a noted designer and sustainability advocate but she is also a published author and writer and noted philanthropist. Samata kindly made time to speak to us about this years competition, their TENCEL ™ Luxe partnership and why supporting the next generation of designers is crucial to making lasting change within the fashion industry.
The Vendeur: You are launching the RCGD Global Design Contest 2020 in partnership with TENCEL™ Luxe for young emerging talent in the sustainable fashion space, why is this initiative so important?
Samata Pattinson: The contest is open to a wide reaching community of emerging and established designers from every corner of the globe. We felt that the challenges that designers are facing right now are overwhelming. Therefore it was really important to us that we champion work that created opportunities for the creators within the design community, i.e. the designers. However it was also important to include the makers, the garment workers, in this case, in Bangladesh and Myanmar. We wanted to create a campaign which focused on promoting hope and opportunity, especially now when it feels like there is none. Our intention was to put something out there that gave creators and makers something important to look forward to.
Léa Seydoux wears a Louis Vuitton gown as part of the RCGD x Tencel Collection
TV: Can you tell us more about the waste and materials parameters for the competition?
SP: Waste is an ugly situation in the fashion industry. We are a wasteful industry but too many of us have or used to have wasteful mindsets. When we worked with will.i.am’s company he said something that stuck with me. He said, ‘Waste is only waste if you waste it’. Waste is also only waste if you create it. Through research we learnt that the World Bank estimates that the textile industry is responsible for as much as 20% of industrial pollution in our rivers and land. It sparked something in us at RCGD, particularly as textiles were already on our radar. We struggled so much with the Oscars project when it came to finding sustainable textile solutions.
With materials, we wanted to find something which didn’t require toxins and large amounts of water, or harm to the local ecology. That is where Lenzing’s new luxury brand TENCEL™ Luxe came in. The collaboration saw us launch a range of eco-couture textiles at the Oscars and we have incorporated those into the offering we have for the contest. Entrants have to think about how their designs will reduce waste and choose one of our three RCGD X TENCEL™ Luxe sustainable textiles to make their design from, if selected as a winner.
‘Waste is only waste if you create it.’ – Samata Pattinson
TV: In 2019 you celebrated the 10 year anniversary of RCGD. Since the inception, how has the mission and design criteria evolved?
SP: I think in the beginning we were more focused on design solutions on the red carpet and raising awareness of how beautiful sustainable design can be, using our gowns and suits as examples of this. Whether working with Greenpeace, Cradle to Cradle or Good On You, our criteria has become more nuanced and multilayered. It’s gone from certified silks and natural dyes across to fully biodegradable garments. In addition our work now has expanded beyond the Oscars project. We have also collaborated with other brands like AMUR and Reformation. As well as sustainable design solutions such as our upcoming textile range, in addition to our student-focused work such as internships and educational platforms.
TV: Can you tell us more about the eco couture textile that you created with TENCEL™ Luxe?
SP: Our inaugural RCGD textile range incorporates innovative filament yarn in varying percentages. Beginning with a luxury textile derived from 100% TENCEL™ Luxe filament yarn, to a lush silk and TENCEL™ Luxe blend, as well as a rich TENCEL™ Luxe and cashmere material. We’re excited because it has earnt United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) BioPreferred® designation. This is because the renewable fibres (a biobased product) are produced from wood pulp from sustainably managed sources. We wanted to create something which really had a more positive impact. All are fully biodegradable in water, soil and compost under industrial, home, soil and marine conditions. Our textiles made with TENCEL™ Luxe yarns can fully revert back to nature within 3 months up to 5 years (Cashmere blend). When you consider that a pair of nylon tights or spandex leggings will still be on this planet for the next 1000 years compared to this, it’s important. This is how we create positive impact.
Right: Kaitlyn Dever wears dress by Louis Vuitton created using ethical & eco responsible certified silk & Swarovski crystals.
TV: Have you seen an evolution in the quality and innovation of the entrants over the years?
SP: Yes, and in the diversity of what was being presented. It went from ping ponging between zero waste and GOTS silk to encompassing fasten-free pieces. We actually stopped the contest a few years ago as we weren’t getting the alchemy right but it’s exciting to reintroduce it now.
‘We are part of the change we want to see in the world.’ – Samata Pattinson
TV: Apart from the incredible competition, what are the other arms of RCGD?
SP: As I’ve mentioned previously, since its inception over a decade ago, the campaign has grown to include brand collaborations, internships, knowledge-share platforms and educational experiences for students. Our remit continues to grow, through our Oscars design initiative with the Annual Academy Awards®. But also across our ongoing collaborations with global brands to deliver sustainable products to market. We are part of the change we want to see in the world. Since we were founded in 2009, we have grown so much!
TV: The initiative does a lot to help garment workers, why do you think they have become such a neglected part of the fashion industry and what can we do to help?
SP: I think that there is a racial dynamic here that we can not ignore. When it comes to garment production, a huge percentage of this work in the fashion industry is carried by women of color and children, often under harsh and unsafe conditions. For example – in Bangladesh’s garment industry alone, of the 3 million people employed a staggering 85% are women. It’s been calculated that workers receive only 0.5% – 4% of the final retail cost of a garment as salary. We should end unfair and forced labour and the structural racism embedded in these practices. These patterns are reflected around the world – which makes this not just a social justice issue but a women’s rights issue which can’t be ignored any longer. With our current contest we are working in allyship with two NGOs – the Awaj Foundation and The Fifth Pillar (TFP) . Awaj Foundation in Bangladesh aims to empower workers and enable harmonious industrial relations. TFP is a nonprofit rights and legal based organization with a mission of strengthening democratic institutions in Myanmar. We have also more recently provided PPE. However the spotlight should be on the organisations we are working with and their work to empower the garment workers to unionise, advising them of their legal rights and so much more.
‘At RCGD we talk about going from ‘Moment to Movement’ because the red carpet is a moment in time, but it’s what we all do once that is over that really matters.’ – Samata Pattinson
TV: Apart from your work to support garment workers, what are RCDG doing to support the sustainable fashion industry during CVOID-19?
SP: We are working on a few projects which are focused on creating opportunities for independent and emerging designers, a sector hit so badly during COVID-19. More to come on that soon.
TV: Why do you think that the red carpet serves as such an important platform for the sustainable fashion cause?
SP: For us, our partnership with The Oscars is really crucial. We are aware that trends are set on that carpet and we are lucky to have a window to the world. Each year our campaign receives phenomenal visibility, whilst collaborating with brands like Louis Vuitton, Laura Basci and Vivienne Westwood. It’s a mainstream platform that we are able to bring a sustainable spotlight to and move the conversation where we need it to be – on sustainability.
Right: Lakeith Stanfield wears an ethically sourced Tussah silk suit by Ermenegildo Zegna
‘It is impossible for me to ignore how my community have played a huge role in shaping the fashion industry, but are rarely included in decision making dialogues.’ – Samata Pattinson
We can’t deny that celebrity is a huge sphere of influence and can magnify reach. Our talent ambassadors really bring an important voice to our work and help us to connect new audiences, across age and demographic. But they also bring attention to the companies we ally with. For example when we worked with Penny Walsh on the natural dye for Naomie Harris’s dress, or the Royal School of Needlework on the vintage embroidery with the Vivienne Westwood gown. Afterwards, those organisations got a surge of interest and attention too. When Emma Roberts and Kaitlyn Dever wore vintage or Lakeith Stanfield wore the Tussah Silk suit, it was hugely impactful. We had vintage stores contacting us to say thank you for including them in this dialogue. At RCGD we talk about going from ‘Moment to Movement’ because the red carpet is a moment in time, but it’s what we all do once that is over that really matters.
TV: RCDG has also collaborated with brands over the years, do you have more more in the pipeline?
SP: RCGD have worked with talent and designers from over 21 countries with our campaign, and are able to use the red carpet to communicate their cultural lens of sustainability and reach a diverse and inclusive audience. With all that is happening now with BLM, we didn’t have to suddenly start going back to repopulate our feed with more ‘inclusive’ content, because we were always doing it and will continue to do so. As a woman of colour, a black woman leading this organisation as the CEO, it is impossible for me to ignore how my community have played a huge role in shaping the fashion industry, but are rarely included in decision making dialogues. I am working to ensure this dynamic changes! We have more collaborations in the pipeline which will broaden the global lens.
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