DOMINIQUE DRAKEFORD & WHITNEY MCGUIRE
founders, Sustainable Brooklyn
“sustainability means more than just natural fibers or recycled water bottles.”
Dominique Drakeford and Whitney McGuire started Sustainable Brooklyn to bridge the gap between the sustainability movement and targeted communities — ie. the ones most often impacted by environmental issues. through resources, events, workshops and the such, the two are evolving the idea of sustainability, from the Bed-Stuy ground they call home up. here’s how they do it.
you both live in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
Dominique: “for the eight-plus years i’ve lived in New York, i’ve resided in and around Bed-Stuy, so it's my home. it’s culture is very similar to Oakland, and as someone who is working on revitalization effort and helping to build community, that's important to me because I did similar work back home.”
Whitney: “it’s the only neighborhood i’ve lived in since i moved to NYC. ”
what do you do — professionally, personally, passionately?
Dominique: “interestingly enough — my passion, profession and personal lifestyle are all woven into one and i’ve actually never seen or understood them as separate. i’m a student and educator of sustainability across every dimension of living, being and thriving. redefining its beauty through myself, my life cycle, and sharing that with my community and the larger inequitable systems.”
Whitney: “i do me! professionally, i am an attorney for creative entrepreneurs. i am also a founder, organizer and non-traditional educator in topics pertaining to sustainability, fashion, law and race. personally, i mother, i love, i create, i interrogate, i agitate. i exist to enjoy every delicious facet my life can offer while constantly giving back to the source: spirit, family, community, self. i am passionate about my liberation and that of everyone else targeted by dominant culture, which is why i co-founded Sustainable Brooklyn with Dom to start reframing the conversation about what we’re actually sustaining when dominant culture shouts “Sustainable!”
what path led you here?
Dominique: “i’ve actually been thinking about paths a lot lately, and every aspect of my path has led me here. my family upbringing, my education, random conversations i’ve had in life, things i questioned in my youth, my ancestry, my birth chart — all of it. the mosaic of my experiences led me here, doing exactly what i want and need to be doing as my legacy work. i’m most inspired by people on the ground in targeted communities who are doing the work in various ways but aren't social media-recognized or don’t have any grand notoriety. the everyday hard-working Black and Brown folks in particular who are unsung heroes — they inspire me the most, especially the youth as creative vessels of expression and activism.”
Whitney: “i grew up in the Midwest. working class family and before that sharecroppers and before that enslaved. so I would say that path led me here. my mother is an artist, so that’s the seed that was nurtured and watered and grew into a passion for protecting the intellectual property of Black artists. i received a full tuition scholarship to a boarding school in Newport, R.I. when i was 13 and that opened my eyes to the higher standards dominant culture set for the education of their children. so i gained somewhat of a skill in navigating a drastically different world from the one i grew up in. after that, i moved to DC to attend George Washington University, where i became more engaged in organized activism. i helmed a few social justice organizations and graduated into a recession. i worked as a paralegal (which i was terrible at) and quickly realized i could be paid five times more to do the same shit. so i went to law school a couple of years later. i also wrote grants for an adaptive athletics organization for children with disabilities between college and law school. my property professor introduced me to fashion law during my first year of law school. this was 2011. it was also the first year of Fordham’s fashion law symposium, which i attended. during my second year, i linked with some Black women at Howard University School of Law, who actually started a week-long fashion law symposium before Fordham’s. anyway, that’s when i started creating intentional spaces for community education about topics that impact them, but are routinely kept out of public discourse. especially when it comes to sustainability. over the past decade, i’ve maintained that commitment to non-traditional education, and community activism, especially within fashion in various capacities.
i’m inspired by people who live full lives. i am fortunate to be surrounded by so many amazing and nuanced humans, especially Black women. i’m inspired by the people i know and love daily. i’m driven by this overwhelming aversion to injustice i’ve had since i was a small child and the promise i made to myself to live a liberated life despite. the work i produce and ideate is an extension of that aversion and promise.”
SOMETHING YOU’VE REALIZED “ON THE JOB”?
Whitney: “this is an interesting time for Black people to negotiate, demand and receive equitable pay, support, safety. so as companies are realizing that sustainability means more than just natural fibers or recycled water bottles, they are more open to also making these changes internally. i’m seeing both the theory and work i do with Sustainable Brooklyn being directly applicable to my legal work and the ways i advocate for the sustainability of my clients.”
fill in the blank: this summer, you are getting out and _______________.
Whitney: “connecting with mama nature. i’m trying to balance my valid paranoia about COVID-19 when I leave my house. i need to be more receptive to natural laws versus the manmade laws that have us dying out here in the first place.”
Dominique: “learning. i’m learning so much more about myself. i have a much more intimate relationship with who i am and where i want to be, and, as person born in the heat of summer, it's even more symbolic to take this time to understand my inner lion. it's become such an evolutionary time for me.”
we are living in crazy — but important, for so many reasons — times. what is life like right now for you?
Whitney: “life is hard right now. i am dealing with the grief of losing loved ones to COVID-19. i am dealing with financial insecurity. i am worried about the future of this country my ancestors willingly and reluctantly have called "home" for more than six generations. but i’m also reclaiming my time and my liberation now more than ever, meditating on the fact that none of the deaths of my ancestors by the hands of broken men were in vain. i’m finding motivation, most days, to get up and work on the various initiatives Sustainable Brooklyn is ideating for our community. i’m resting much more, and becoming more intentional about putting my health, imagining and care first. outside of this global pandemic, nothing about these times is crazy to Black people. all of this has BEEN crazy. de jure and de facto violence and discrimination are part and parcel of our existence.”
Dominique: “for me, life is actually the same with the exception of consistent air travel. fighting against racism, anti-Blackness, genocide while building sustainability through community has been consistent in our work from the beginning. since before the pandemic, i was growing my own food in my backyard, discussing the importance of intersectional paradigms in fashion, food and wellness, integrating healing into my personal rituals, checking on community, writing / reading, etc. my immediate lifestyle hasn't shifted much and my work has been streamlined in that way, but, of course, made even more important, especially for the BIPOC community who is continuously impacted. however, i’m absorbing the waves of a global pandemic, anti-Black epidemic and climate change — all of which disproportionately affect the Black community and Native Brown indigenous communities globally — and for that — there is a shift in my thinking and daily practices and my urge to help build solutions and stability.”
what’s important to your daily routine?
Dominique: “my mornings are most important. it's the time i take to myself (by myself) to get grounded and affirm my existence through breath work, journaling, reading. every aspect of my routine is important, from cooking, to gardening to dancing and even moments of frustration and anxiety. it all creates awareness and stimulates personal growth.”
Whitney: “prayer. i was born into a Buddhist household. my parents practiced Buddhism during my childhood and my mother continues to this day. i have had quite the journey with my spiritual practice as a second generation Black Buddhist from the midwest, but ultimately, it's what grounds me. it's vital that i check in with my spirit daily.”
how are you staying fit?
Whitney: “i’m not. well, not in the traditional sense of the body being fit. i’ve been depressed about the world and life, i’m also a full-time mom because no child-care, while balancing two jobs. it's a lot and most days i’m exhausted. while i’m not as active as i was pre-COVID, i’m currently dismantling my preconceived biases and fatphobia as they show up in my need to "stay fit." fatphobia is anti-Black. Period. the more I focus on unlearning all the ways i’ve been conditioned to hate myself and those who look like me (despite actively loving myself and my community), the more "fit" overall i’m becoming. so yeah, there's extra rolls on my frame, but my heart is losing the weight of carrying generational trauma as it relates to body image. and I'm maintaining my need to sweat with more consistent Ashtanga yoga (for beginners).”
Dominique: “LOL. i’m not. but also the question about staying fit is so irrelevant and is not important. it's more about “how are you staying healthy” because a "fit" personal can be extremely unhealthy mentally or physically. it's almost as if that question needs to disappear because it has no relevancy on wellbeing. but in terms of fit-ness activities, i garden and cycle.” [ed.note: fair point, and great call.]
WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO? READING? WATCHING?
Whitney: “listening to Prince, Funkadelic, Chaka Kahn. re-reading Beloved by Toni Morrison. watching I May Destroy You.”
Dominique: “i just finished re-watching Pose and have started watching some HGTV home improvement segments. i’m reading Working the Roots (Over 400 Years of Traditional African American Healing) by Michelel E. Lee. i’m very big on reading as many Black authors (especially female) as possible. and i listen to everything: i love old school music like Prince, Luther Vandross, Tevin Campbell, Cameo, Whitney Houston, but also i take it back to high school with Missy Elliott. i also love a mix of J Cole, Smino, Snoh Alegra, Gold Link Saba… I love jazz, tribal instruments and meditation music. honestly, it varies but there is rarely a day that goes by where I'm not listening to music.”
what are you wearing everyday?
Whitney: “undies. and the one crop top. nobody wants to wear an underwire while they are at home, so I love the support the crop top gives without cutting into my ribs. i also love that the crop top is versatile. i can wear it with undies, which is my usual work from home uniform or i can throw on my favorite jeans and take my kid to the playground.”
Dominique: “undies and a tee shirt or tank top, really any comfortable top. however, i do get dressed from time to time — it's such an important intuitive expression to me. and I actually haven't stopped wearing the all day cami! so comfy and easy to dress up or down.
all-around life hack you swear by?
Dominique: “drink lots of water.”
advice to other women navigating it all?
Dominique: “feel the feels and adjust accordingly. communicate with your inner ecosystem and connect with self. tap into your community and be authentic with your pain, joy, needs and vision.”
Whitney: “you're gonna drop the ball and that's ok. you'll also do amazing things. consider your legacy and water your garden (self, family, support system) often.”
Dominique: “re-watching emotional shows like Pose, Parenthood, This is Us. i can't stop watching quality series.”
Whitney: “nothing about my pleasure is guilty.”
Whitney: “I am safe. I am healthy. I am loved.”