While designers like Stella McCartney and Gabriela Hearst get a lot of the mainstream credit in sustainable fashion, there are numerous other women founders in the space reaching for recognition.
Though venture capital firms like First Round Capital said investments with a female founder performed 63 percent better than all-male founding teams, the immeasurable impact comes in terms of the lasting strides to make the industry more inclusive, equitable and sustainable. From founding businesses that focus on clothing repairs to disability awareness or artisan rights, these women entrepreneurs (all of whom were recognized in The Conscious Fashion Campaign’s latest honoree list) share their modus operandi on making fashion with impact, identifying what they see as the biggest change to implement within their respective businesses.
Enhance visibility for disability
“The fashion industry — indeed, all brands and companies — must either drop the use of the word inclusive, or actually mean it. DE&I policies need to include disability as well as any campaign, content, marketing and products where possible. Too often it is the only marginalized group not included in these practices and that has to change for equity for all to be achieved. Finally, disability exists within every intersection we have, so imagine how it feels to belong to not just one but maybe two or three marginalized groups and still not see yourself? Some 40 percent of the LGBTQIA+ community are disabled and yet, Pride events are so often inaccessible.” — Victoria Jenkins, founder, Unhidden Clothing
Expand “access” to regenerative practices
“I hope to support Black makers, designers, farmers, artists, communities and activists in having access to regenerative practices and sustainable resources. I want to ensure that Black communities have agency and support in creating healthy environments that affirm our lives, as well as can meaningfully participate in a sustainable fashion ecosystem….Through designing regenerative systems, providing community-based resources and learning about cultural connections to nature we can support more sustainable lifestyles and a livable future for all life. This is the focus of my life’s work.” — Teju Adisa-Farrar, independent consultant
“Create equal opportunities”
“My life’s work is filled with building an impact-based fashion empire and working with young women mainly from underserved communities who aspire to be the future pioneers of the African fashion industry. We hope to create equal opportunities for young women from underrepresented communities to have access to quality education that allows them to become employable or start their own businesses and ultimately become financially independent.” — Tamburai Chirume, cofounder, OneOfEach, and founder, BceAfrica
“Grow the future of materials”
“With MycoWorks’ technology and culture, I hope the biggest change we implement begins in the fashion industry and ripples out to the most innovative sectors of manufacturing and design, across a wide range of material goods. Our vision is to grow the future of materials, which is an ambition that’s not only about the way we make the things we use and wear, but also our standards for what a truly generative process and set of systems look like, to create the best future we can imagine.
“To keep producing without exhausting our resources, we have to generate in a way that replenishes and benefits our energetic inputs, whether we’re talking about the labor and lives of workers or the raw resources we transform into products. I hope the biggest change we drive is an ethics of production and design that inspires the most powerful organizations in the world to become more rigorously holistic, ethical and inclusive in their approach to sustainability.” — Sophia Wang, cofounder, MycoWorks
Prioritize “gender equity,” in handcraft sector
“Growing up with a great-grandmother and grandmother who were quilters and sewers, I was always fascinated by the possibilities of craftsmanship as a means of self-expression and opportunity. Turning that fascination into passion, I founded Nest to prioritize gender equity and economic advancement in the global handcraft sector to improve women’s well-being globally.
“Nest is continuing to expand its work around climate change. We really want to understand how interconnected consumption and well-being are to shed light on climate change’s impact on artisan populations around the globe. We will be conducting global research and building solutions over the course of the next year with a symposium to further dialogue and fuel industrywide changes slated for 2024.” — Rebecca van Bergen, founder, Nest
Power inclusive “redesign”
“As founder of The Vault by Volpe Beringer, my personal goal reflects my professional goal as a designer; I believe no matter what your ability or disability, you have the same right to use sustainable and accessible fashion to feel empowered and to express your individuality.
“I feel that I was provided the opportunity to become a fashion designer at age 61 is not to create more fast fashion, which harms the environment, but to use my role as a fashion designer to advocate and uniquely redesign for those whose voices are not heard by the fashion industry. The Vault by Volpe Beringer minimizes ecological and social costs by extending and renewing a garment that was solidly constructed to last, but would be considered at the end of its life cycle.” — Nancy Volpe Beringer, founder, The Vault by Volpe Beringer
Change the “vocabulary” for artisans
“On the grassroots level, I would like to see more and more women become financially independent through sustainable fashion. On an international level, I would like the people to recognize us as the leaders of the fashion world and not as victims. I would like to change the tone of fashion platforms and use ‘artisan rights’ rather than ‘labor rights.’ We are more than mere labor, and I want the world to acknowledge that and respect us on an equal level.
“I do not associate or link myself with the words ‘worker’ or ‘laborer.’ I think creating a garment piece is not just a labor job, it demands tremendous skill and competence. I want the vocabulary used in the fashion industry to change, from workers and laborers to artisans and worker rights and laborer rights to artisan rights. In doing this, we immediately become more empowered from this language. The current language is so colonial. As soon as we are known as artisans with artisan rights the whole perception shifts. I strongly believe that people on the grassroots level know so much about sustainability, it is a core value of their lives, and all they need is a platform to use their voices and share their knowledge.” — Madhu Vaishnav, founder, Institute for Philanthropy and Humanitarian Development
Change the “culture” of consumption
“When I founded Sojo, my aim was to change the fashion industry for the better by bringing care and circularity to the forefront of how people interact with their clothing. By making clothing alterations and repairs mainstream we hope that people will start to understand that clothes that fit you well and last a long time are essential pillars in a sustainable fashion future.
“We have two main aims: change the culture around our approach to clothing by shifting the consumer towards a slower and more considered approach to fashion, and two: drastically reduce the number of clothes that get wasted or sent to landfill. Many clothes aren’t worn or are thrown away due to poor fit or being broken. We want to make sure this is never the case by making solutions of fixing or fitting your clothes totally effortless.” — Josephine Philips, founder, Sojo