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Independent fashion brand Paulo Redeem is a new force in sustainable design




NaaAmerley Badger is in many ways only the beginning of her fashion journey, but it is already an unusual journey.

As the creator of the brand Paulo Exchange, Badger recently won the very first Amiri Prize and landed a $ 100,000 grant with no formal fashion training to her name. Rather than spending the last decade bending over a sewing machine or attending fashion school, Badger worked as a teacher, and then as a vice-principal, in the Philadelphia public school system.

She launched her brand, which focuses on rescuing unwanted clothes, textiles and garments and transforming them into new clothes, in response to the excesses in her own wardrobe.

I had a lot of clothes, like a lot of people, and was thinking about how I could maybe rework some of them rather than just give them away, Badger said in a phone interview. (It was a smart decision from a sustainability standpoint, as a lot of the clothes we donate ends up in landfills.)

Badger started pinning things together, adding cargo pockets to a jacket or ruffles to a hoodie to create a handful of beautiful Frankenstein-style clothes. She got help putting the pieces together, got a claim from a designer friend that the designs were something really special, and before she knew it Badger was creating a whole collection.

Paulo Redeem’s NaaAmerley Badger.Alice doyle

She spent the next two years of nights and weekends devoting herself to the project while continuing her work as an educator during the day, before making the leap to quit her job to focus on Paulo Redeem full time. in 2021. Relocating to Mexico City to be closer to potential production partners closely followed after.

Two years ago I had this idea: what if I remix clothes, using things that already exist to create something new? And now I’m in that place where I can actively do it, she said. I was able to receive the support that I think I deserve. And it will allow me to express myself in a more creative way and to dream even bigger.

We jumped on the phone to chat with Badger about his unique journey in the fashion industry, the rich history of black sustainability, and more. Read on for highlights from our conversation.

What is the story behind the brand name?

i was inspired by The alchemist by Paulo Coelho; that’s why I chose Paulo. And then redeeming comes from this idea that the clothes redeem their impact on the earth, and redeem them by using them to do something else.

Where do you find the materials for your parts?

I started the first collection with things from my own wardrobe. By the second collection, people knew what I was doing and said, Hey, I’m tidying up my closet. Can I get you some stuff? Now that I have the opportunity to evolve the brand, I am looking for opportunities to buy more dead tissue.

How did being a fashion outsider impact your experience?

I had to educate myself, seek information and learn through community and relationships. I listen to a lot of The cutting room floor; and that (plus the MasterClasses, YouTube, etc.) has been in many ways my education. I think, if anything, it allowed me to really chart my own course.

What was it like to go from being an assistant manager to a full-time fashion professional?

I have really enjoyed my time as an educator and in many ways the young people have inspired me to truly believe in myself and take this work to the next level. Sometimes they saw things in me before I could see them in myself. And some of the models in my shoots were former students who were also interested in expressing themselves that way.

I see this moment as an opportunity to get rid of the older versions of myself, maybe the version of myself that was afraid to quit my job because I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, or the version asking how am I going to pay my bills, or how am I going to get into this industry that I was not educated in? I don’t know much except that it’s something that appeals to me.

Photos by Superbloom Shop + Studio

Often the story we tell about sustainable fashion is really whitewashed. How do you approach this in your work?

When I think of sustainability, I think of growing up in a household where my mother put leftovers in a recycled container, or how I received gifts from my cousins. There is a rich history of black people practicing sustainability, whether it is in clothing, food, or how we support our communities. But when I Google on sustainable fashion, there is a certain type of person that shows up, and that person is not like me.

Often the way the sustainability movement has responded to this kind of criticism is simply to swap a black model for a white model, without significantly changing the system. How could having real black leadership change that?

Over the past couple of years, especially since the murder of George Floyd, there has been so much performative activism. There was so much that people said they would do, but now it seems like people just forgot about it. I feel like I see more examples of black people in leadership, but I think it’s also about looking beyond a person’s identity and not assuming that their identity means that she is actually thinking about liberation, or that she is thinking about how to exist outside of the system that is already in place. Because you can easily have a bad person and leadership that will only perpetuate the status quo.

What’s the main thing you hope to accomplish with your brand?

I want to be able to express the depth and the extent to which I can create, and to be able to show that we can exist outside the traditional models and paths of fashion.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.




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