Fashion isn’t just about creating attractive and trendy products. It can also serve as a vehicle for enacting positive change around the world. More and more fashion designers and entrepreneurs are adding a charitable or ethical component to their business model.
2 Examples of Turning Profits into Social Change
One example is Stacey Boyd, founder of luxury fashion and beauty brand Olivela.
When people shop with Olivela, which features items from some of the world’s most popular designers, 20 percent goes to causes that promote girls’ education. Cause partners organizations like CARE, Malala Fund, and Too Young To Wed.
Boyd decided to start the business after some world travels where she got to witness school conditions for girls in other countries firsthand.
She explained in an email interview with Small Business Trends, “The idea for Olivela came to me almost two years ago, when I flew to Kenya and Rwanda to celebrate what is known there as Malala Day, the birthday of 2014 Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, now 20 and studying at Oxford. Traveling with Malala, I met girls in makeshift primary schools in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, and in Mahama, another camp that provides safe haven to more than 50,000 Burundians, 4,000 of them unaccompanied minors. There is nothing starker than realizing that it’s a lottery when your child is born. That they’re just really lucky to be born in a place that has so much to offer. I knew then that we could unleash the equity in luxury shopping to yield benefit and opportunity for so many children around the globe.”
Boyd believes that this personal experience was essential for building the brand, since she’s able to convey her message in a way that’s really authentic.
She explains, “What drives our success at Olivela is authenticity and transparency. Customers and partners know immediately that we come from a place of pure passion with a true commitment to supporting the work that matters most to us. Anything short of that—shoehorning a “trendy” cause into a “hot” platform—can really confuse, or worse, alienate customers.”
And Boyd isn’t the only one who is trying to make change through fashion. Shannon Lohr, founder of Factory45, is actually working to change the entire landscape of the fashion industry.
She said in an email to Small Business Trends, “Fashion is one of the most polluting industries on the planet and accounts for countless humanitarian issues, including modern-day slavery and child labor. Through Factory45, I aim to do my small part in bringing more sustainable and ethical fashion choices to consumers. If I can help conscious fashion brands launch and succeed, then that’s my personal way of combating fast fashion.”
To accomplish that goal, Factory45 serves as an online accelerator for sustainable fashion brands. The six month program helps entrepreneurs take their business from idea to launch, all with the idea that they’ll use ethical manufacturing and distribution practices, meaning they can create less waste and avoid relying on facilities that use child labor. The platform even helps designers source fabric, find manufacturers and raise money to fund sustainable production.
The idea for Factory45 came to Lohr after she launched her own clothing sustainable clothing brand and realized just how difficult all of those steps could be.
She says, “In 2011, I launched a sustainable fashion brand that became the highest-funded fashion project on Kickstarter at the time. It was featured in The New York Times, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and another notable press. But it took my then co-founder and I nearly two years to get to that point. We were committed to American-made and sustainable materials, but it was extremely difficult to get in the door with suppliers and manufacturers.”
Both of these companies exemplify a major shift in the fashion industry. So if you have a clothing line or are thinking about breaking into the industry, it could be worth exploring opportunities to give back in some way, either by donating a portion of profits or using ethical and sustainable techniques. These initiatives can help you stand out and make your brand more appealing to an increasingly large base of socially conscious shoppers.