Net-Zero Hero: Reza Cristián
I’m helping to make Austin Net-Zero through inclusive storytelling, sustainable fashion, and community organizing.
Meet Reza Cristián, founder of SUSTAIN THE MAG, co-founder of the Slow Fashion Festival, and our newest Net-Zero Hero. Through her everyday actions and community organizing, Reza is helping others understand that living a sustainable lifestyle can start small. From the clothes you wear to the ways you engage in community, Reza understands that there is a place for everyone in the sustainability movement — but especially for those whose experiences have been historically left out of the narrative.
We met with Reza at the Slow Fashion Festival and at her home in East Austin to talk about climate and mental health, her online publication SUSTAIN THE MAG, and how growing up in a Mexican-American family shaped her sustainability journey.
What inspired you to take action?
I was inspired to take action through the way I was raised. My parents — often unintentionally and just by default of being frugal and Mexican-American — shared ways for us to save money. They would have us recycle our cans and water bottles or take us to swap meets and thrift stores to purchase clothing items.
Reza works on sewing a dress from scratch with fabric purchased from Austin Creative Reuse.
I also truly loved animals. When I was in middle school, I was inspired by my mother, who became a vegetarian first after reading and watching docs on animal abuse in the U.S. This led me to also become a vegetarian at age 12. I’ve since turned pescetarian.
I became more inspired to take action when I went to college in NYC. I was a first-gen college student in my family and met so many new friends who showed me the world of sustainability. From there, it was all uphill!
How did you do it?
While attending college in NYC, I was studying journalism, my dream major. It was then that I came up with the idea to start SUSTAIN THE MAG, a sustainable inclusive magazine. We’re currently only online with hopes of having a print version one day.
Reza shows off the most recent edition of SUSTAIN THE MAG.
Before I started SUSTAIN, I saw a lot of magazines and blogs at the time that did not talk enough about sustainability since it wasn’t buzzworthy. The sites that were talking about sustainability didn’t showcase inclusivity and diversity. I wanted to change that and create a community that was the opposite of what high fashion profile magazines were.
That was five years ago. I brought that same community and mindset to Austin when I moved here four years ago. I’ve since hosted many clean-ups, mutual aid fundraisers, community fridge activations, and now co-organized a Slow Fashion Festival right here in Austin.
Above: The entrance to the Slow Fashion Festival; Below: Reza welcomes attendees and introduces Saloon, a Slow Fashion Festival partner, at the opening of the September 2023 festival.
What’s been most rewarding about getting involved in this way?
Truly, it’s been rewarding seeing how I could use my connections with brands to raise funds for mutual aid. For instance, this past SXSW, I hosted an eco-concert and raised over $1,500 to help buy groceries for the local ATX Free Fridge Project. I enjoy hosting experiences for folks while also raising funds and bringing awareness to issues that many people may not think about in their day-to-day life. All of this can help shift the narrative of what sustainability looks like.
Reza moderates a panel at the 2023 South by Southwest Festival.
What’s been the toughest part?
The toughest part has been doing all of this while not having enough funds to allow me to work on these projects full-time. It can be challenging to also juggle other priorities. For this reason, I am looking to turn SUSTAIN into a non-profit, as we work strictly as a grassroots organization now.
In recent years, we’ve started to hear more about climate anxiety, especially among younger generations. What are some of the strategies or practices you use to avoid burnout and stay optimistic?
I have general anxiety already, and it's gotten worse over the years since the pandemic. I have been so proud of my journey as I have asked for help and gone to therapy. I also try to work out as little or as much as I need to and gain movement in my body so I am not chronically online. I try to find the time to read or meditate more often.
Reza relaxes at home, her own little refuge.
Since moving to Texas, I have experienced more climate anxiety from seeing the dramatic weather events here — from the winter storms to extreme heatwaves. But again, I try to do my best to ease my anxiety as much as I can, and also have learned to live through the anxious thoughts and not let them overwhelm me.
Our interview will come out during Latine Heritage Month. Through all of your platforms, you’ve been vocal about the need to lift BIPOC voices in the climate space. Have you seen shifts around this since you started SUSTAIN THE MAG, and what do you hope the future of climate storytelling will look like?
With it being Latine Heritage Month and with myself being half Mexican- and Iranian-American, I have felt it necessary to push BIPOC voices in sustainability in the media. I also do this work through the Slow Fashion Festival by being conscious of who is participating as panelists, designers, models, etc. I had the idea for SUSTAIN THE MAG in 2017 and launched in 2018. As I’ve mentioned previously, inclusivity and diversity weren’t at the forefront of media or the environmental space until just recently, really in the last couple of years. I am glad it’s changing, but of course, it took a while to get here when, in fact, it has been BIPOC — specifically Black and Indigenous folks — who have been teaching and living sustainability for centuries.
Reza moderates a panel as part of the September 2023 Slow Fashion Festival featuring Camille Lee, owner and creator of Wear Em Out Tees, and SaSha Rachel, founder of Aomih Design.
I hope the future of climate storytelling continues to push more everyday change makers in this space — not just influencers with large platforms, but the BIPOC & Queer folks on the ground in their own communities actively doing the work without an agenda.
Is there a book, documentary, or other piece of media you would recommend for folks wanting to learn more about these topics?
This is a shameless plug, but I would like to plug SUSTAIN THE MAG. We have so many great writers from all around the world who have such incredible insights to share. We dive into multiple, intersectional sustainability topics in each edition.
What advice do you have for others?
I would tell people to not feel defeated by all that is going on and to do as much as they can. And if they have the privilege and money to do so, try to put in more work to provide for their neighbors, communities, etc. Sustainability isn’t just about small personal lifestyle choices but also about sharing resources and giving back to our communities as well.
The Slow Fashion Festival takes place every spring and fall. Learn more at slowfashionfestival.com. To learn more about Austin's net-zero goal and the actions you can take to support a greener community, view the Austin Climate Equity Plan.
Share your Net-Zero contributions with us on Twitter or Facebook, and use #NetZeroHero. If you know a Net-Zero Hero (or heroes!) who should be recognized for their efforts, send your nomination to email@example.com.