From forest to fibre to fabric to fashion, Sophia Yang BSc (Nat Res Cons) 2019 has created a career where, as she says, “I have finally found my voice”.
As the Founder and Executive Director of Threading Change, a non-profit organization working to reduce the environmental and humanitarian impacts of fashion, Sophia is stitching together many of the issues that have energized her since her teen years.
Growing up in Calgary, Sophia started reading about climate change and environmental issues when she was just 11 years old. In junior high school she wrote and directed a play about climate change, and invited the mayor of Calgary to attend.
Once at UBC Forestry, Sophia was introduced to an interdisciplinary perspective that has shaped her ever since. “In the Natural Resources Conservation program I learned about the interconnectedness of our environment by studying a wide range of subjects,” she says.
Choosing the co-op option allowed Sophia to pursue her passion for the environment in a variety of settings. “In 2016 I worked as the National Communications Intern with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and in 2017 I was a Forest Reclamation Intern for Natural Resources Canada,” she says. “Working with NCC in particular was enriching and challenging. I was able to use my conservation biology and wildlife management knowledge to communicate clearly to NCC’s large and diverse audience.”
In her second and third years at UBC, Sophia served first as the Events and Outreach Coordinator, then as the External Director of Common Energy UBC, the largest and most active student-run sustainability organization on campus.
In the summer of 2018 she worked with the Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning (CALP), led by Professor Stephen Sheppard. “I was involved in the second annual Citizen’s Coolkit workshop as well as in community engagement,” she says.
In 2018 and 2019 Sophia was a youth delegate to COP 24 and COP 25, the United Nations Climate Change conferences. “At the first conference, I felt that everyone was so accomplished and had already found their niche; it was a little intimidating,” she says. “But at the COP 25 conference I met a group of people discussing the sustainability and climate aspects of fashion and it really resonated for me. That’s when the seeds of Threading Change were planted.”
Sophia launched Threading Change (the name is a play on “spreading change”) in 2020, with the aim of involving more youth in taking action to mitigate the negative impacts of fashion. The organization’s mission is expressed as “The 6Fs: Feminist, Fossil-Fuel Free Fashion Future”.
“Fashion and forestry are interconnected,” she says. “Millions of trees are harvested each year to make rayon, viscose, and lyocell, in processes that are chemically intensive. In addition, forests are being cleared around the world in order to plant organic cotton, a fibre that’s in high demand but is extremely resource-hungry.” Threading Change is working to raise awareness of more sustainable practices.
Threading Change is also concerned with the humanitarian impacts of the fashion industry. “Right now we are working with a foundation in India that is looking at how the fashion industry has negatively impacted the culture and livelihood of communities near the Nepal border,” she says.
Sophia’s experience at UBC Forestry has taught her to look at an issue from various perspectives. “You might just see a piece of clothing, but I see something with a travel history,” she says. “For example, wood is harvested in Bolivia and made into fabric, then shipped to Bangladesh or China to be sewn, then shipped to Spain to be modeled and photographed, then shipped to a retail store in Canada.
“It’s a greedy ideology. And as long as we keep consuming without thinking we keep harming people and the environment,” she says. “At the same time, Threading Change isn’t about making people come to us; it’s meeting them where they are. I want to find the commonalities among us and then extend the conversation.”
To find out more about Threading Change and how you can get involved visit threadingchange.org. If you have a story to share as an alumnus then please get in touch with Michelle Lindsay at firstname.lastname@example.org