Stephanie Cordes on Fashion, Women & Empowerment
Women Moving Millions
September 2017 Member of the Month: Stephanie Cordes on fashion, women and empowerment
Fashion. Women. Empowerment. A $3 trillion industry, the world’s second largest, fashion employs 1 in 6 people, 80% of them being women. Ever since opening my first issue of Vogue as a child, I immediately became enamored with the beautiful silhouettes, intricate designs and luxurious outfits that filled the pages. As my fascination with the industry apparently grew over time, it became clear to me that my dream was to pursue a career in the fashion and media industry in NYC. After a number of internships with high-end designers and magazines, I remember how excited I was to land my “dream job” at Conde Nast a month after college graduation. This new position would allow me to spend every day immersed in an industry that was filled with prestige, style and grace – or so I thought.
I had always loved everything about fashion… until I began to learn the degree to which human trafficking is taking place throughout the supply chain. For an industry that is so often portrayed as aspirational and glamorous on the outside, it became hard to discern its immense slavery and environmental footprint on the inside. From high water consumption, discharge of hazardous chemicals and violation of human rights to greenhouse-gas emissions and waste production, the industry not only takes a toll on its workers but also on our planet.
This realization, along with a number of other eye-opening conversations that took place at an annual gathering focused on sustainable solutions to poverty, called the Opportunity Collaboration, in Ixtapa, MX, set off a light bulb in me. The undeniable sense of inspiration I came away with that week encouraged me to leave my position at the magazine and begin working at my family’s foundation full-time.
Shortly after joining the Cordes Foundation, we formed a strategic focus around ethical fashion, an area where we felt we could provide the most value and impact given our individual areas of passion, expertise and collective mission to provide economic opportunities for women. Combining my dad’s focus on supporting the next generation of social entrepreneurs after being a successful entrepreneur himself, with my mom’s commitment towards advocating for the rights of women and girls around the globe, with my love for the creativity, design and beauty the fashion industry embodies – together we seek to invest in and support female social entrepreneurs who are finding innovative ways to transform the fashion industry and its supply chain to be as beautiful from the inside as it is out.
A few star examples from our portfolio are:
- Indego Africa – a non-profit that provides employment opportunities and education to woman artisans in Africa in order to lift themselves and their families out of poverty and become empowered businesswomen.
- Nest – a non-profit committed to the social and economic advancement of global artisans and homeworkers through supply chain transparency, sustainable business development, and widespread industry advocacy.
- Soko – a female founded ethical jewelry company that employs a network of 2,100+ artisans in Kenya through a revolutionary supply chain technology. Their products are sold at 400+ stores including Nordstrom, Michael Stars, Anthropologie, Reformation and others.
A new initiative we are particularly excited about is an institute that we are building in partnership with NYU and their Center for Social Enterprise. The aim of the institute will be to apply the same principles that have made significant sustainable strides in other industries (think organic food and electric cars) to the fashion space. By integrating sound research into action in partnership with key stakeholders across the industry, we can transform the apparel system into a force for good. The first year’s focus will be two-fold: The first will bring the most visionary brand, communications, marketing, styling and storytelling minds to develop a highly impactful long-term strategy to build awareness like there is in the food movement. The second will be to serve as a resource by bringing together in one central hub all the research, innovations, brand commitment, regulations, sustainable solutions and standards used by the industry. From these initiatives we hope to lay the groundwork for change across the industry, ultimately leading to a greener, more prosperous and just planet.
I welcome our incredible Women Moving Millions community to get involved in whichever way speaks to you – share your ideas, help us develop allies with other non-profits or media/PR, connect us to people in the fashion industry and philanthropy who are also passionate about using fashion as a tool for empowerment, not exploitation. The possibilities are endless!
Original article in Women Moving Millions