How did you decide to found Maven Women?
The idea for Maven Women came to me about a decade ago. At that time, I was a frustrated lawyer seeking elegant workwear created in a socially conscious way. I literally could not find a single option.
Our lives are more connected that we realize and we have more power to create positive change than we know. Maven Women brings together my desire to make all of my consumptive choices in line with my values, using my purchasing power as a form of advocacy to create a kinder, gentler world.
“Maven Women has become a movement for all of the women out there who demand better and want to create the change they seek.”
Its aesthetic is founded on my love of elegance and glamour, which I believe we could use more of in the workwear world. We also have a focus on comfort, using only materials that are just lovely to touch.
Maven Women is no longer just my idea. It represents the vision of so many women who want better options in terms of both sustainability and style.
I spent the past decade in dialogue with social impact leaders, as well as amazing professional women who shared with me the types of styles they were seeking.
This helped us develop our co-creation process, and I encourage you to spend 30 seconds engaging in this.
Maven Women has become a movement for all of the women out there who demand better and want to create the change they seek.
What is “slow fashion” and how does it inform your brand?
The fashion industry pumps out far too many well-marketed yet poorly made clothes that don’t fit, flatter, or speak to each of our authentic personal styles.
The vast majority of Americans have more clothes than they wear on a regular basis.
In fact, the average American buys five times as much clothing as in 1980 and throws out 65 pounds of clothes per year, which often get dumped in the developing world.
“Why is it that we, who have so much, still struggle with feeling like we have nothing to wear?”
We don’t like what we have, and we only wear only 20 percent of the clothes in our closet.
Slow fashion aims to reverse this trend by producing quality clothing with beautiful, timeless styles in a way that is made to last.
It’s the exact opposite of “fast fashion,” and, much like the “slow food” movement, it focuses on going back to basics and the way clothing used to be made.
I’ve spent time in very poor parts of the world and seen how people dress themselves and their families with pride, looking beautiful with the few items they have and taking great care of them.
Why is it that we, who have so much more, still struggle with feeling like we have nothing to wear?
Tell us more about your collaborative approach to production, and how the pre-sales model works.
I believe women inherently know what looks good on them and what fits and flatters. However, too few companies are asking them what they want to create.
They are pushing trends on women that might not work for their frame, fit their personal aesthetic or lifestyle, or really not even be all that attractive when measured against the test of time.
All of our designs start off with a “focus group” of busy working women, many of whom are working moms.
I run sketches by them to get their feedback and make quite a few tweaks based on their ideas. I may repeat this process a few times until I get something just right.
We also have honest conversations about price point to make sure that whatever we develop is affordable for women in a wide range of professions, including those who work in the public and social sectors.
The next step is to get those designs turned into a beautiful watercolor sketch for voting.
“Too few companies are asking [women] what they want to create.”
We encourage women to vote on their favorite designs, and once they receive enough votes they move into pre-sales. We may also go back to women who have voted to ask them why they did—or didn’t!—vote on particular designs, using that feedback to create new ones. The “Elizabeth” was born out of this dialogue.
By selling via pre-sales we’re able to pay our supply-chain partners upfront, a socially conscious practice in line with the fair-trade ethos.
It also cuts down on waste, as we really get a sense of the cuts and colors that have the most interest without just guessing.
And finally, it puts power back in the hands of consumers who are demanding better, demystifying how clothing is created, and bringing them in as co-creators and investors in a better future for fashion.
At this point, your customers aren’t “customers” in the traditional sense
We see everyone who purchases during pre-sales as an “investor” in creating something truly beautiful inside out, that honors people and the planet every step of the way.
In gratitude for their patience, we offer them deep discounts. Once an item goes through pre-sales, it can be purchased via regular channels.
We’ll also make any tweaks necessary and take customer feedback from that in creating future styles.
You promote plenty of like-minded organizations and even competing brands on your site.
People ask me often what my “end game” is and I tell them it’s simply this: for the global garment industry to fulfill the promise of economic empowerment that drives people to work in it.
A universal truth that spans cultures is that people want good jobs that give them the ability to provide for themselves and their families.
The goal is for the woman in Bangladesh—or India, or Peru—who takes a job working at a factory or farm to see an increase in her family’s socioeconomic status and education level, rather than suffer the abuse that may put her in a worse position than when she started.
This is also intricately linked with the ecological impact of the industry, as the environmental issues are often most acutely felt by those who work in it in the developing world.
It’s going to take an entire ecosystem making every type of product you can imagine—from tap shoes to lingerie to sweatshirts to blue jeans—to change things.
“It takes a village to launch an ethical brand. It’s important for those of us doing the right thing to stick together.”
Customers can only buy what the market offers, and much of the innovation here is happening with newer, smaller players. If there isn’t a competitive product which is environmentally or socially conscious in any major product category then we don’t have a chance for a complete transformation.
One of the reasons why America hasn’t gotten further with sustainable fashion is that it’s hard to “unravel”—pun intended!—the fashion industry’s status quo.
Doing something the right way in every way can have tricky ethical issues that are easy to sidestep if you aren’t looking for them. You need to have people you can trust to chat with when things get complicated.
It takes a village to launch an ethical brand. It’s important for those of us doing the right thing to stick together.
Many of the sustainable fashion leaders are entrepreneurs, and it can also be lonely and hard and often rather scary to launch a company.
Sadly, most new companies also don’t succeed, so the stakes are high. One of us may also be able to provide key advice or insight to another who is always happy to return the favor.
To use four examples, the conversations I’ve had with Sica Schmitz of Bead & Reel, Marissa Heyl of Symbology, Amy DuFault from the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator, and Safia Minney of People Tree have been instrumental in starting up Maven Women and a great encouragement.
It’s also an awesome life when you get to know people as passionate, lovely, and dedicated as these ladies.
What are you most proud of achieving with Maven Women?
It’s very hard to unlearn bad habits. This is one of the reasons why I think the fashion industry is so far behind where it could be.
By starting things off the right way, we’ll embed socially consciousness into our thinking, so that as we scale we’ll already have asked some of the tough questions and have a solid framework.
I’m proudest that our values are part of our founding DNA and guideposts that we follow in every decision we make. You can see them in our outward decisions as well as our inner workings.
We take ethics and integrity very, very seriously.
How do you vet and choose the manufacturers you work with? How important is it that the workers are paid a living wage?
I have a background in supply-chain work and researching and vetting supply chains for a number of human and labor rights nonprofits, which I use to develop the Maven Women supply chain.
We seek for our entire supply chain to be socially conscious, from farm to factory to final product.
“We identify and vet groups at each stage around their social and environmental impact, quality, professionalism, and price point.”
We identify and vet groups at each stage around their social and environmental impact, quality, professionalism, and price point.
It’s essential that our clothes are made in a way that honors people and the planet. However, we also make sure the final product will be of high quality, an affordable price, and delivered on time.
We look to standards and certifications like Fairtrade and the Global Organic Textile Standard in our vetting and we also develop relationships with the groups we work with, as we see our supply chain members as true partners.
Just two weeks ago, we were in India meeting with Mehera Shaw and a number of other groups there!
Our aim is for the global garment industry to fulfill the promise that leads people to work in it, which is a better life for them and their families through economic empowerment.
This can only be done if workers are paid a living wage and treated with the dignity all people deserve. We believe the 10 fair-trade principles are good guidelines [as established by the World Fair Trade Organization here, as they both promote a living wage and also ensure worker rights are protected.
Why did you choose to produce in India rather than the United States?
I started Maven Women to remedy the exploitation—and even enslavement—of people around the globe and environmental degradation caused by the global garment industry.
The workers who are at the greatest risk for exploitation are those operating in countries without labor and employment laws as strong as those in the United States.
Additionally, the environmental impact of the industry harms all of us, but it is felt most acutely in the developing world where rivers are polluted, clothes are dumped, and the lungs and skin of workers suffer from the harmful chemicals used in factories.
Only 2 percent of the clothes Americans wear are made here, a nosedive from where the industry was decades ago.
“The workers who are at the greatest risk for exploitation are those operating in countries without labor and employment laws as strong as those in the United States.”
I am originally from North Carolina and my grandparents worked in the garment industry there- my grandfather picked cotton and my grandmother worked in a woolen mill.
The loss of this industry has really hurt that state and a number of other states in the country. There is no doubt in my mind that the race to the bottom and fast fashion has cost American jobs.
My hope is that companies like Maven Women that create quality products priced at the true cost of labor will even the playing field and make American-made goods more competitive, as there is no way American companies can compete on price with clothing made by exploitation.
I think our country is still figuring out what 21st century manufacturing jobs that provide for a good quality of life will look like. It’s not something we are currently focused on at Maven Women, however we applaud, support, and promote a number of companies and other groups working in this space.
We’re also considering a “Made in America” collection in the future, potentially made in North Carolina.