PARIS — As a prelude to the Women’s Forum Global Meeting, which opened in Deauville on Wednesday, Cartier hosted a lunch for the finalists of the 2015 edition of its Women’s Initiative Awards.
In a speed dating format, the 19 participants from 16 countries gathered in the restaurant of the Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg hotel in Paris on Tuesday to present their plans, which ranged from a sustainable housing project in Nigeria to a platform that can track and detect anomalies in livestock behavior.
Carmen Hijosa, founder and chief executive officer of Ananas Anam, has developed a new sustainable nonwoven textile made from pineapple leaf fibers called Piñatex. The first industrial run of the leather alternative, which is produced with a cooperative in the Philippines, is about to hit the market.
“We are developing the supply chain from the farming community to the end, so after these five years of intense research and development, we have reached the point where the material is technically viable,” she said.
“Obviously our inclination is to sell it to people that are looking or that have some sustainable background,” she added.
Early prototypes using Piñatex include sneaker designs by Puma and Camper and bags by Ally Capellino. “It’s very, very light. It’s about the quarter of the weight of leather, which as a woman carrying all this stuff, is important,” Hijosa noted.
Mouna Abbassy, managing director and founder of Izil Natural Argan Beauty, used her experience working for L’Oréal in the Middle East to found her own natural cosmetics brand using organically certified argan oil and other traditional ingredients.
“When you are buying argan oil, you are directly and indirectly affecting the lives of Moroccan Berber women, because those are the ones who are harvesting by hand these nuts,” she said. The line is available online and through four concept kiosks in the United Arab Emirates, where it is based, but Abbassy has set her sights high.
“Our benchmark is to become the L’Occitane of Morocco. When you go into L’Occitane you feel like you are in Provence. You don’t have a Moroccan brand where you feel like you’re in Morocco, with all the benefits of Morocco,” she remarked.
At 22, Thato Kgatlhanye, ceo and founder of Rethaka Trading, was one of the youngest entrepreneurs in the room. The South African for-profit business is behind Repurpose Schoolbags, a backpack made from recycled plastic bags that incorporates a solar panel to provide light for pupils without access to electricity.
Rethaka sells the bags for $25 to corporate donors, non-governmental organizations and individuals, with 4,000 bags distributed so far in South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique. Having produced conference bags, Kgatlhanye aims to reach a wider audience.
“We’ve looked at developing a luxury brand which will launch at the end of this year, probably in November, which will be a line of handbags, clutch bags and backpacks for women who obviously want to go green. We’ll be mixing plastic and leather, which has never been done before,” she said.
“It will be called Kiama, which actually means ‘magic’ in Swahili, because that’s exactly what we’re trying to do, and for every one of those bags that we sell, we will give a child a schoolbag,” she added.
The awards are an international business plan competition created in 2006 by Cartier, the Women’s Forum, McKinsey & Company and INSEAD business school to identify, support and encourage projects by women entrepreneurs.
The Paris-based jewelry and watch brand is due to announce the winners at a ceremony in Deauville on Thursday.