Women Of Impact: Emi Ito, Founder at Buy From BIPOC
Emi Ito (she/her) is a mother and public school educator on Ohlone land in the Bay Area. She is the founder and co-moderator of Buy From BIPOC and has written several pieces about the cultural appropriation of the kimono and Japanese culture in fashion.
She recently worked with her friend, Gina Stovall of Two Days Off, to co-design and release a capsule collection of five pieces that was inspired by Emi’s late mother, Yoko. Emi also volunteers with two grassroots organizations, Japanese Americans for Justice and Tsuru for Solidarity.
Let’s start from the beginning! What was your childhood like? What/who shaped you to be who you are today?
My childhood was very complex and filled with a lot of trauma. I moved a lot as a child and both of my parents died of AIDS when I was eight and ten years old. My mother was the main person who shaped who I am and she inspires me to this day. In spite of everything she went through she was kind, loving, gentle, strong, and full of grace. Anything that I do of any merit is always in her honor.
Tell us about Little Kotos Closet. You write about a multitude of important issues like cultural appropriation, being a multiracial Mama and a public school teacher, and of course, sustainable fashion. What inspired you to start writing and speaking about these topics?
I suppose in my own way I’ve always been outspoken about topics having to do with racism and identity, so it only felt natural to continue speaking out on social media and to connect with like minded people. While Instagram can certainly have its moments of being a very unsafe space filled with racist trolls, the genuine community and friendships far outweigh the negative experiences. I never would have met Gina without the community I have connected with through @little_kotos_closet and @buyfrombipoc. Co-creating the Two Days Off Yoko Capsule Collection with her was a dream come true and an experience I will cherish for my whole life.
You founded Buy from BIPOC which is an IG page and online platform to discover and celebrate Black, Indigenous, and People of Color makers focusing on slow, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Why is this mission important to you personally and what has the general response been?
When I first entered into the sustainable fashion community, it felt overwhelmingly white. It was important to me and the other original co-moderators, Brooke (@yokeandbore) and Bea, to contribute to another space that centers people of the global majority because sustainability comes from our cultures first and foremost. Our output has really ebbed and flowed with our busy lives, but we’re okay with going slowly and we love the community that has stuck with us and is as excited about supporting BIPOC makers as we are!
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
I love board games and I’m thrilled that I can finally play some with my five year old!
What’s your personal motto?
I’m not sure if it’s a motto, but as a Buddhist, I really appreciate the teaching of Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, who said, “No mud, no lotus. Without suffering through the mud, you cannot find the happiness of the lotus.” This teaching reminds me that suffering and mistakes lead to the blossoming of world and self knowledge.
What values are most important to you when shopping for products that are sustainably made?
I always prioritize supporting makers of the global majority, shopping locally if I can, and taking the time to research a brands practices.
What's your number one sustainable living tip?
When I took the time to remember and reconnect with the cultural practices of my family, there were already so many sustainable practices embedded in how my family in Japan lives. I’ve especially taken the time to reflect on how my grandmother took care of her items and garments, and how she made things stretch far. The act of remembering and reconnecting has not only been healing, but has been a guide for how I need to continue my sustainability journey.
Who is a woman of impact we should talk to next and why?
Masego Morgan (@coconut_cracked) who is the co-creator of @cnscs_ and @swapsocial_sa is an incredibly inspiring sustainable life leader. She has impeccable style, is deeply thoughtful, abundantly creative, and she is a beautiful human whom I am honored to know and call my friend. You’ll have so much fun connecting with her!