10 Women Revolutionizing the Fashion Industry Today or Why You Need to Start With "Why"
Regardless of this article being way overdue due to my rather out-of-control recent schedule, let me introduce you to 10 power women revolutionising the fashion industry today. They do that by bringing transparency and sustainable practices into the their brands’ value chain. They do business with a purpose, and are an example of capitalism with common sense.
From some very young fashion label-owners to big fashion industry players, they have one thing in common - they all lead fashion businesses that start with the “Why”. But what do I mean by that, you may wonder. First time I heard this concept while interviewing Hang Osman, the founder of ethical fashion brand All The Wild Roses, for my master thesis, and I was completely sold. The “Start with why” TED Talk by Simon Sinek that Hang suggested I watch was not only super inspirational and made so much sense in the context of my work, it also made me question the way we teach management in university as well (I was a tutor at our university’s Institute of Strategic Management at the time), and how little we actually talk about ethics in management, while it is not only extremely important, it is, as Hang put it, “the glue that sticks everything together”. After checking out some other TED talks by Simon Sinek as well as his book, this concept of businesses that start with the “Why” became a “backbone” of my master thesis and I can only warmly suggest you check it out if you don’t know it yet.
Sinek explains his concept based on a simple model, called “the golden circle”, pictured below. According to him, every single organisation in the world knows what they are doing (outer circle), and most define how (middle circle), but few are those that focus on the “why” (inside circle). According to him, all the greatest and most inspiring leaders of this world, on the other hand, have one thing in common - they all think, act and communicate from the inside-out, starting with the “Why”. Having said that, check out the 10 badass women that have put the “Why” in the core of their organisations and are thus changing the fashion industry one beautiful piece of ethical clothing at a time.
Stella McCartney, Stella McCartney
Stella McCartney’s been born and raised in London and the English countryside. After graduating from Central St Martins in 1995, she’s quickly managed to established her own style and soon was appointed the Creative Director of Chloe in Paris in 1997, where she enjoyed great success. She launched her own brand in 2001 and being a lifelong vegetarian herself, she was the first fully vegetarian high fashion brand that has never used leather or fur in their production.
Stella McCartney is one of the first high fashion designers to break down the barrier between high fashion and ethical fashion. Her commitment to sustainability is evident throughout all her collections and is part of the brand’s ethos to being a responsible, honest, and modern company that creates beautiful products that are also sustainable. The designer shot one of her recent ad campaign in a Scottish landfill to encourage a debate about the wastefulness in the fashion industry, and is partnering with the second-hand website TheRealReal to encourage a circular economy - fashion lovers, that one is a real must-visit if you are into designer brands. By pioneering alternative materials, using cutting edge technology and partnering with organisations such as Canopy, COTY, Ethical Trading Initiative and Centre for Sustainable Fashion among others, Stella McCartney make sure they push towards circularity and sustainability with each step of their value chain.
2. Hang Osment-Le, All The Wild Roses
Hang Osment-Le, the founders of All The Wild Roses was one of my interviewees at the time I was writing my master thesis about sustainable and ethical fashion a year and a half back. We had a scheduled 1-hour Skype call that turned into an absolutely inspiring more than 1,5-hour-conversation that I am forever thankful for.
All The Wild Roses is a brand that creates quality clothes and timeless designs in celebration of empowerment of women and “the connection to a spirit within all of us”. The founder gets inspired by timeless style and vintage clothing, and the pieces are created by artisans with the aspiration to provide opportunity and prosperity for underserved communities. Being born and raised in Australia, Hang made a trip to her native Vietnam at the age of 19, which had a very profound effect on her life, experiencing a culture shock discovering the lifestyle of her extended family and their community. This life-changing experience made Hang feel very fortunate and inspired her “to do something to share her good fortune with her extended family and anyone else that needed some luck and opportunity to improve their lives.” And so she did - soon after she founded the company in a quest to make a difference in the community of her family and beyond, creating an atmosphere where the community can grow, support each other and talent can be unleashed. For Hang, the makers of the clothes are part of all decisions from design, logistics, delivery and price that they are getting for the work. She wants to create products that create a win-win situation for everyone along the value chain and products that everyone is proud of.
According to Hang, in business school the “last thing that you did was ethics, when it should be the very, very first thing.” For her, ethics is the glue that sticks everything together, that is in the core of her business. With that in mind, today she empowers women through thoughtfully sourcing materials, collaborating with artisans across the globe and organisations such as Opportunity International Australia, that provides micro loans to help women start their own business. They are also the 5th apparel brand in Australia to become a Certified B Corporation. And Hang’s love and dedication to what she is doing totally sparks through each and every word she says.
3 & 4. Adriana Cachay Anardo and Lærke Skyum Blichfeldt, AYNI
AYNI is another brand I was lucky enough to interview for my master thesis at the end of 2017. They were founded in 2009 by Laerke Skyum, a Dane, and Adriana Cachay, a Peruvean. The two women come from different cultures, but according to their own words share the same passions and personal values. They met in Peru and out of the combination of Laerke’s passion for sewing and fascination with Peruvian culture, colours and diversity, and Adriana’s knowledge on textile, combined with both women’s passion for fashion design, AYNI was born. The two founders have made social impact the core of their business from the very beginning, stating that their aim is to “show how fashion and social development can go hand in hand and encourage a more conscious lifestyle and consumption”. The motivation for creating the company is the “common love for high quality products, nature’s finest materials and strong social, economic and environmental engagement”. Furthermore, the founders empower local Peruvian women through micro-entrepreneurship, paying fair wages, building strong long-term relationships and using sustainable materials, and having created their own “AYNI CERTIFY” program, that certifies artisans and thus helps them improve their living standards and find employment opportunities.
5 & 6. Karin Bjørneboe and Ida Anesdatter Schmidt, Tricotage
Karin Bjørneboe and Ida Anesdatter Schmidt founded Tricotage in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2010 with the mission to create a wardrobe that is at the same time meaningful and beautiful. Karin was also kind enough to take her time to talk to me about Tricotage in order to help the research of my master thesis. Karin and Ida were driven by their passion for craft, the environment and the beauty of everyday life to create designs for the modern woman. Their collections are a mix of knitted, basic and elevated everyday pieces, and as Karin explains: “We don’t go by trends... for us, it is about creating organic, sustainable fashion that is not monochrome or boring.” On the contrary, they develop unique and hand-made prints “providing a modern, yet timeless expression in the fusion of ecological and sustainable materials for the woman who wants to create her own style.” The collections consist of printed dresses, shirts, made of bio cotton, and knits that focus on interesting techniques and craft.
The company owns a GOTS certification and works with other GOTS certified suppliers, but one of the most important values of the brand is the timelessness of their pieces - high quality items that look just as good now as in several years. And what is more sustainable than clothes that are created to pass the test of time? Also, a big thank you to Linda Ekström for taking her time to talk to me and share more about Kerber as part of my master thesis project.
7. Joanna Dai, DAI Wear
Johanna Dai founded DAI Wear in 2017 and was also one of the founders I was lucky enough to interview shortly after - in the first days of 2018. The brand creates effortless, comfortable pieces for high-performing business women. Joanna’s 8-year investment banking career in New York and London gave her the best basis for starting her own business - teaching her to negotiate, work with people and work long hours. The long hours also made her recognise there is a gap in the market for women’s workwear that was functional, effortless and of high quality. She had the vision of a brand that empowered professional women to success by delivering elegantly tailored, functional pieces in a premium quality. The brand uses activewear fabrics that are stretchable, machine washable, comfortable and do not wrinkle to create professional, tailored workwear pieces that are also sustainable.
The founder wants to give back to society by partnering with different oganizations that support women, such as her current cooperation with Dress for Success, that helps disadvantaged women get professional clothing, find job opportunities and build a professional network. Furthermore, their partnerships with Positive Luxury - a platform that connects luxury brands with consumers that care about sustainability, helps Dai “hold the brand by the standards which it demands.” and helps bring in even more standards, such as the UN Global standards for ethical practices for employees, for treating people and making sure they are paid well and work in a healthy environment.” From choosing suppliers with the OEKO-Tex, EPD and REACH certifications, making sure their Portuguese factories meet the highest standards, to offsetting their shipping, recycling their packaging and educating customers on how to care for their items, DAI makes sure they incorporate sustainability through all steps of the value chain and continue to seek partnerships around the message of empowering women.
8. Marielle Kerber, Kerber
Marielle Kerber had been a fashion designer for many years already, but she only founded Kerber in 2010 after travelling to Vietnam as a volunteers, with the mission to help individuals she had met on her journey. This way she saw an opportunity to combine her passion for fashion with the wish for helping others. She formed close partnerships with skilled tailors in the Vietnamese town Hoi An and consequently set her own production there under fair conditions.
At the beginning, the brand’s production was in a house the designer had bought with a couple of tailors, where the first “must haves” collection was created. What was important for her was providing tailors with employment and a sustainable income. “Sustainability was not so much a strategy, as coming from the heart.”
Today, Kerber’s tailors are not only their long-term partners and employees, but also their friends. The company constantly works to ensure they have favourable working conditions, living wages and employment benefits, as Marielle intended from the start. Kerber’s purpose is to provide them with a secure and sustainable form of employment while also strengthening the local community through their long-term business relations and support of charitable organizations. Furthermore, Kerber takes responsibility for the natural environment by committing to minimise harmful impacts of their production in the choice of textiles and the organisation of their supply chain and logistics.
Kerber works with different organizations to spread their message and increase their impact, such as “The Love School” - a school for disabled children, which they helped build a library for and continue working with, since they “feel it has more of an impact, than picking a different one.”
9. Sophie Wirth, Fitco Sportswear
Sophie founded Fitco Sportswear in Austria in 2016, combining her two big passions - doing sports and the wish to create something on her own, that is sustainable and is going to make the world a better place. Sophie says she also wished to fight the unethical sports industry and show that a different way of producing sports apparel is possible, without exploiting people and nature. Being an Austrian brand, of course I couldn’t not approach Sophie for an interview for my master thesis, and I thank her so much for her contribution.
The first Fitco Sportswear collection was launched in 2017 and made exclusively out of Econyl - a recycled nylon Italian fibre regenerated from old fishing nets. The used, very often torn and ragged fishing nets would normally be thrown away and end up in the oceans or in landfills but this way, they are regenerated in a recycling plant in Slovenia and being put to use again and the final products are produced under fair working conditions in Portugal.
Today Sophie is selling her sportswear across multiple channels online and in stores, always continuing her efforts to ensure compliance with social standards.
10. Ayel Aflalo, Reformation
Yael Aflalo has completely revolutionised the fast fashion industry as we know it. While on a work trip to China, she saw the unfairness and overwhelming amount of pollution created by the fashion industry, which has motivated her to make a change and break the cycle. She wanted to fill the void of intersection between design and sustainability, and create beautiful products first, which happen to also be sustainable. Thus, she founded Reformation in 2009 and from the very beginning has made sustainability a core tenant of the brand, opening a factory in downtown LA to better manage her own supply chain.
The brand incorporates sustainability in every aspect of the business - from the design and production to fulfillment and operations under one roof at their headquarters in Downtown LA, everything from the pens, to cleaning products, to lighting is eco-friendly.
As a passionate environment defender, Yael believes that there are many aspects of the fashion industry that the right technology can improve. She believes that the entire fashion supply chain should be scrutinized since fashion is, after all, the third most polluting industry in the world. In a thoroughly data-driven way, their RefScale feature quantifies how much waste items create at every point in the manufacturing process, and then finds ways to offset pollution.
In the context of these inspiring stories, I think it is important to mention that there is no perfect brand or person, but there is real, genuine, purposeful effort and drive to bring about change. And in times where revolutionising the fashion industry value chain is so necessary, that effort has never been more important.