It’s summertime in the Northern Hemisphere and the air is hot and sticky with the scent of flowers blooming. You can’t wait for music festival season this summer; a time for dancing, a time for singing, a time for bumping shoulders with strangers, and making new friends. The memory of an evening yet to pass is etched perfectly in your mind: shimmering stars fill the night sky, a deep and thumping bass fills your chest. A rebel woman stands proudly on stage, DJing with colourful gobo lights lining the perimeter; she’s illuminated by a single spotlight, “like a free-flowing, evolving kaleidoscope.”
“A Feminist Fossil-Fuel Free Fashion Future”
Both labels of “sustainable fashion advocate” and “Techno DJane” characterize Sophia Yang, 杨雅程 (she/her), Founder and Executive Director of Threading Change. Sophia was born in Daqing, China in the Heilongjiang province. She grew up in Calgary, Alberta but is now grateful to be living in K’emk’emeláy (Vancouver, BC, Canada) on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Peoples. Sophia has been recognized as one of The Starfish Canada’s Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 in both 2017 and 2018, one of Corporate Knights’s Top 30 Under 30 Sustainability Leaders, and was recently awarded The Greenest City Leadership Award by the City of Vancouver.
In 2018, her roommate challenged her to thrift all of her clothing for a year, and thus, her sustainable fashion journey began. Sophia started attending sustainable fashion events and seminars as often as she could. However, it wasn’t until she attended COP 25 in 2019 that she decided to found Threading Change, a youth-led, ethical fashion, not-for-profit organization in 2020 centered around the 6 Fs: “A Feminist, Fossil-Fuel Free Fashion Future.” While attending the UN Sustainable Fashion Charter event at the Annual United Nations Climate Negotiations, she noticed the lack of diverse representation within the UN Sustainable Fashion Charter Working Group. At Threading Change, Sophia has dedicated her advocacy efforts to bringing an intersectional and equity-focused lens to discussions about fashion.
“Intersectionality is inherent in our mission statement…I really don’t think you can talk about the environmental impacts of fashion without talking about the societal, the social, the humanitarian, the economic, and the political impacts as well. Fashion is all of these things.”
In her role as Founder and Executive Director, Sophia facilitates educational programming, policy jams, online webinars, sustainable fashion consulting, and now, in-person clothing swaps and creative events on the West Coast of Canada. Her organization engages directly with youth, brands, and community members through a Tri-Impact Model that includes education, innovation through storytelling, and consultation. Each of these areas play an important role in Threading Change’s engagement and mobilization of community action on fashion and climate justice.
Outside of her work at Threading Change, Sophia is a member of Vancouver-based DJ collective, VANTEK Group, which hosts techno music events and outdoor experiences. DJing is Sophia’s way of finding her “zen” at the end of a stressful day. She also loves spending time outdoors and, with the motivation of her friend, is aiming to go hiking once a week this summer in order to clear her mind and find peace in the forests of Coastal BC.
She also loves travel and hopes to connect her worlds of fashion and music again this September by traveling to the Black Rock Desert to attend ‘Burning Man’, the art and music festival, in the sands of Nevada. Trips like these always prompt climate-related questions for Sophia as she contemplates climate-friendly travel methods and sustainable festival wear.
Sophia’s interests include learning about the circular economy, sustainable sourcing, ethical fashion, youth involvement and engagement, climate action, and anything creative. At the intersection of all of these passions is a belief in advocacy, equity, and justice: “Without equity, there is no circularity.” She finds purpose in combining all of these different areas of her life in order to spark discussions about social justice issues within diverse communities.
Be Curious, Be Inquisitive, and Be Disruptive
Growing up, Sophia was known as the ‘troublemaker’ of her family. She remembers walking with her grandfather and wanting to jump in every puddle to make a huge mess. She refused to ‘just sit there.’ Instead, she became a dedicated disruptor.
“This very much still rings true for me as an adult. Disrupting, innovating, constantly evolving, thinking about new ideas, challenging myself, and putting myself in uncomfortable situations…I always love being the ‘dumbest person in the room’ and I always love being in a room full of strangers because it’s just a room full of potential new learnings and new friends.”
Sophia’s rebellious and disruptive character allowed her to seek out new opportunities to challenge herself and imagine new possibilities. After immigrating to Canada from China as a young girl, she remembers not being able to communicate for the first while as she had not yet learned English. Being forced to learn in an unfamiliar environment taught her to be bold, unapologetic, and unafraid of confronting gaps in her knowledge. These experiences shaped her life philosophy: “Be curious, be inquisitive, and be disruptive.”
Adventures in nature also defined Sophia’s upbringing. When she was eleven, she had the opportunity to visit almost every National park in Alberta with her family:
“It was amazing to be able to experience the nature of Alberta and of Canada just in general, especially as an impressionable eleven year old. I think that’s what really instilled my love for the natural environment and for sustainability because I’ve experienced how magnificent it is and how much I would hate to lose it.”
One of Sophia’s most impactful learning experiences took place in the sixth grade when she came across an article written by David Suzuki, well-known science broadcaster and environmental activist. In this article, Suzuki sought to raise awareness of “global warming”, now referred to as climate change. She remembers reading the article and feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and alarmed: “I was so confused why other people around me didn’t feel the same way.” She channeled her anxieties into action by delivering a presentation about the importance of climate action to her teachers and classmates. Despite Sophia’s efforts, she still felt powerless and unable to enact meaningful change. However, she notes that the ‘pats on the back’ she received for the presentation were an important step in her journey as a climate action leader: “You need those pats on the back for your accomplishments to push you in the right direction.”
In University, she spent some of her time studying, but most of her time on campus, hosting events, planning jams, and collaborating with like-minded community members. Did she think she would end up where she is today? “100% no!” Despite some major changes, Sophia has always known that she wanted to do something impactful.
“I don’t think I would be able to work a job where I’m not making an impact or where I’m not engaging with youth…It’s about starting the conversation. Being a disruptor.”
Community Connection and Change-making
In all aspects of her work, Sophia prioritizes connection and community-building. Thus-far in her career, she has placed her trust in the meaningful relationships which she has built with her mentors and community who have encouraged, supported, and believed in her when she didn’t believe in herself. Sophia concentrates on community care as an act of radical resistance against the deeply-embedded narratives of competition within sustainability spaces, and she encourages others to do the same.
“We don’t have time to focus so much on competing and not collaborating. We’re in a climate emergency. There is no time. Young people are frustrated. We’re not divesting from pipelines and fossil fuels. We’re still taking away valuable land that doesn’t belong to us. When you really stop to think about it, all of these things are happening because everyone is fending for themselves.”
Even still, Sophia recognizes that meaningful connections cannot be forced. “I’m not everyone’s cup of tea and not everyone’s my cup of tea, and that’s okay.” For her, connection is about embodying the energy that you want to receive and surrounding yourself with people who are similarly aligned.
Sophia’s ability to be open-minded and curious when it comes to discussions within the various communities she calls home have allowed her to learn new ways of thinking about fashion and new ways of thinking about environmental issues more broadly. “When you merge different communities, everyone learns something unique.” Sophia notes community is about starting conversations and planting seeds of knowledge and having people learning from each other in new and unique ways.
“Community is integral to how we show up and do our kind of changemaking in this world…Imagine what we could do if we were stronger as a collective.”
”Be the Change You Wish to See”
In 2007, Sophia created a blog with a famous Gandhi quote displayed on the header: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” This approach to activism still pervades her work in different sustainability spaces as she advocates for disrupting the status quo and radical action. “You don’t like something, get up and change it. You don’t vibe with something, find out how to make it better…Ask questions and figure out how you can be a part of it.”
Sophia stays inspired and empowered by looking to racialized female leaders in both climate justice and music spaces. She values the opportunities to “…amplify the voices of those that don’t necessarily have a voice”, stating the important need for direct consultation, engagement, collaboration, and connection with those voices and communities first.
“[We need to] get more women, more non-binary folks, more people of colour, more Indigenous leaders, more Black folks – out there, up on the stage, talking about our experiences, talking about the challenges, talking about the micro-aggressions we face, making people realize that these issues are coming at us.”
Time in nature provides her with valuable space to process and reflect, to get out into the forest and take some big deep breaths. “I just feel so empowered when I’m in the forest and I want the younger generation to be able to experience it too – to breathe in the fresh air, to feel the cleansing, to feel their feet firmly rooted into the ground, hands up in the air, and feel the waves in the wind around them. I just love that feeling of being in nature.”
Never Lose Sight of the Big Picture
Recently, Sophia has been centering joy and gratitude by “never losing sight of the big picture and the mission.” While she can never be sure just how much change is really possible, she chooses to focus on her community’s accomplishments while remaining positive, hopeful, and curious. Small wins help her remain focused and remind her that meaningful action does have an effect on people through the power of creative disruption and community-building.
Sophia’s advice for those looking to get involved in the sustainability space? Make mistakes! “Don’t be afraid of making mistakes and don’t be afraid of rejection. If you don’t get a grant or if you don’t get a job, ask them why! Be communicative. You never know if you don’t ask. That communication is key to not only fostering community but also connection.”
Sophia leaves us with one final piece of advice to reflect upon:
“Hold onto moments of beauty in order to keep yourself moving forward.”
This article was written by Charlotte Taylor, Writer at The Starfish Canada, and Edited by Micaela Yawney, Editor-in-Chief at The Starfish Canada. Endless gratitude to Sophia for allowing us to share your story in today’s article. To learn more about Threading Change, please go to @threadingchange on Instagram and https://www.threadingchange.org/ online. Stay tuned to both their Instagram and website for updates on Community Hours and Meet and Greet sessions throughout the summer. Monetary donations to support their work are always appreciated. Please go to https://www.threadingchange.org/donate to contribute. Lastly, Sophia encourages readers to reflect on their own fashion consumption, to share those reflections within their own communities, and to engage with the sustainable fashion space as much as they can.
Stay tuned to our Youth Journal over the next few weeks as we introduce more incredible individuals from our community within this series. Thanks for reading Chapter Two of the Stories to Empower: The Starfish Community Spotlight Series!