To tackle the lofty goals of climate change and social justice at the same time is a tall order, but fashion environmentalist Runa Ray launched the Peace Flag project to do just that.
The Peace Flag project aims to unite humanity using art and fashion. The project consists of converting old garments into canvases upon which individuals can artistically express themselves. Thousands of the canvases sent around the world garner returned submissions from individuals, schools, prisons and refugee camps. The artwork and expressions are then converted to flags. The goal is to connect 193 countries’ flags for display at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
“The Peace flag was born, to flip the script on fashion waste and repurpose it towards a cause,” said Ray to SQNews in an email interview. “The project aimed at educating people on their individual and collective choices which were necessary for the health of the planet and the advancement of the SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals).”
In 2016, the UN introduced the 16 Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty, reduce inequality and build more peaceful, prosperous societies by 2030. Ray worked extensively with the Sustainable Development Goals and Climate Action at the UN.
Ray was able to get California’s city of Half Moon Bay, the county of San Mateo, and New York state to pass a peace resolution that allowed them to participate in the Peace Flag project together. Schools received canvases, made of upcycled clothes, upon which children and adults could write about what peace means to them.
“We had 900 submissions from most of the schools in Half Moon Bay,” she said. “So we collected them, and we constructed them into large flags. And all these flags are right now being displayed at the City Council in Half Moon Bay.”
Ray hopes to have all the flags moved to and displayed at the UN once she gets the canvases from San Mateo. Prisoners in San Mateo county jail also participated with a flag.
“By using the unifying power of art, we are ensuring that prison inmates, migrant workers, schools and the global north and south are engaged together on a common canvas which is displayed across locations around the world,” said Ray. “By explaining a garment’s journey, the people involved in making it, the lack of transparency, child labor, lack of women’s rights and low wages, people are made aware of fast fashion and the human price it has to pay.”
Through the simple concept of upcycling [recycling] old clothes, Ray seeks to create a paradigm shift in behaviors toward consumption of fashion, and then changes can be made for climate action.
“As a fashion environmentalist, I believe that environmental and social justice are inextricably linked, and have always used the power of creativity in fashion to help educate and advocate for policy change,” said Ray.
“Fashion as an industry is responsible for 20% of the global waste water and climate change because of fast fashion which ends up in the land fill. It is estimated that 20% of climate change abatement lies in the hands of the end users and that a shift in consumption patterns could greatly impact the march towards climate action,” she added.
The well-being of the planet and security of all also includes the incarcerated population and their contribution to the flags, notes Ray.
“While the flag has engaged the incarcerated, the migrant workers, [and] refugees, there always remains a black hole with regards to the future of those who should not be left behind,” said Ray. “The concept of reintegration seems to be lost in most cases and a wide gap exists between the aftercare and rehabilitation provided to the incarcerated.”
Ray aims to make a difference and continue to bring awareness to Sustainable Development Goal causes to end inequality.
“The future objective of the Peace Flag,” said Ray, “would be to encourage the rehabilitation of those who are left behind; to provide support, extend help and protection to those of the minority; to help them integrate, overcome mental, social and economic difficulties by showing them the path in environmental jobs and voluntary paid services which involve green jobs and require work force to make an impact.”