The latest Billboard stars in Times Square? Women lead conscious fashion

You may have seen the founders of your favorite Fashion scattered non-profit new York City posters without realizing it.

The Conscious Fashion Campaign orchestrated the placement of 10 women-led honor organizations (including such as Fashion Revolution, Remake, Fabscrap, Custom Collaborative and more) in a series of billboards and digital campaigns across town during new York Fashion Week last month.

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But its impact lasts much longer than just a fashion week moment, according to Kerry Bannigan, executive director of the Fashion Impact Fund, which launched the campaign alongside the United Nations Office for Partnerships and the media-centric nonprofit PVBLIC Foundation.

“The honorees celebrated with their communities, families and teams. Shock, yet overwhelming joy, was the overall reaction of many,” said Bannigan. “These award winners, like many of their peers, are so focused on their mission and rarely have marketing budgets; Being able to be part of a collective digital billboard campaign across NYFW reinforces the importance of this work and reinforces that it is being heard and seen.”

According to the Global Media Monitoring Project’s sixth research study, women receive only 25 percent of the news stories that men receive, and with the Conscious Fashion Campaign kicking off in March, Women’s History Month, the organization finds it all the more important to keep the spotlight back .

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Fashion Impact Fund and Blue Cast by Tencel will partner to launch Solutionist, a five-part podcast series that will be released weekly throughout the month highlighting the innovative solutions in fashion and denim led by women social entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, the award winners for this opening set are building their visions.

Kenyan-born fashion designer Anyango Mpinga is one of those award winners. She runs her eponymous label (which is expecting new collections at Shopbop and Vivobarefoot) and the Free as a Human Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to ending human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

Mpinga said she founded her label “out of a need to bring my own definition of sexuality and size inclusion sustainability‘ but I never imagined how a seemingly mundane task – shopping for underwear – could inspire a broader return in the lives of women and girls elsewhere.

“I started Free as a Human at a time when I had a personal service project providing new underwear to female trafficking survivors,” she said. “Back then I had seen how many donations of used clothes that were taken to shelters for underprivileged girls had always neglected underwear. From buying underwear for shelters supporting human trafficking survivors in Kenya to talking to them [specialists] who work with survivors every day and discuss their needs and how we can make our work more meaningful, I never knew how big that small step I took one day when I bought underwear for shelters and then founded Free as a Human could be impact on a global scale. I am forever grateful and honored for this opportunity.”

Alongside her frontline activism, mindfulness meditation and gratitude are also significant parts of Mpinga’s daily practice, which makes sense given the calming visualizations of the island of Lamu (off the coast of Kenya) and the influences of Swahili architecture that inspire her work.

“We don’t often see the word ‘mindfulness’ in conversations about sustainable fashion,” Mpinga said. “The reality is that we are residents of this planet and it is the only home we will ever have. If we are aware of where we are and what we are doing, we can direct our actions towards positive changes.”

For her, this means: “We care about how we treat the people who make our clothes; we are committed to circularity and resource reuse; we put economic equality at the forefront of our supply chain; We remain accountable for our role in promoting racial justice, not tokenism, in the fashion industry. We offer equal opportunities to members of all genders, regardless of sexual orientation, and we are committed to taking actions that breathe life into our environment and leave our planet better than we found it.”

The Conscious Fashion Campaign took over New York City, and women entrepreneurs are still having their moment.  - Credit: Courtesy Conscious Fashion Campaign

The Conscious Fashion Campaign took over New York City, and women entrepreneurs are still having their moment. – Credit: Courtesy Conscious Fashion Campaign

Courtesy of Conscious Fashion Campaign

Abhilasha Bahuguna, co-founder of Looms of Ladakh – a proprietary luxury label rooted in the trained eye and business acumen of female artisans – is helping to create a new kind of sustainable future in the homeland of pashmina and yak wool in India’s Ladakh region .

For Looms of Ladakh, this means that all rural members are owners (women like Tsering Youdol, a product officer, or Sonam Chondol, showroom and inventory manager) and wins are celebrated together.

“It was extremely motivating to see the vision and mission recognized,” said Bahuguna. “The years of incubating a fashion company with semi-skilled shepherd artisans in a resource economy were rewarding but challenging. Building an institution with all rural members as owners, guiding them in best management practices while striving for international production standards at market levels requires a team of believers, advisors, supporters and cheerleaders. So the Conscious Fashion Campaign boosted the morale of the team and my motivation to make the dream come true.”

Looms of Ladakh is in its fifth year and has secured funding for the next two years to implement production scale capacity, infrastructure development and primary group empowerment. The organization is also looking for advisory board members and trading partners.

Bahuguna compares her work to gardening and a meticulous patchwork of handcrafted sarees from artisan groups over the years. “I’m most grounded and focused when I’m creating with a team of believers,” she said. “It is deeply gratifying to see a vision take shape after years of believing and caring for it.”

The Conscious Fashion Campaign took over New York City, and women entrepreneurs are still having their moment.  - Credit: Courtesy Conscious Fashion Campaign

The Conscious Fashion Campaign took over New York City, and women entrepreneurs are still having their moment. – Credit: Courtesy Conscious Fashion Campaign

Courtesy of Conscious Fashion Campaign

Mariama Camara, founder and managing director of Mariama Fashion Production, agrees.

“Seeing my name and Mariama Fashion Production on one of the largest billboards in Times Square is also a testament to all young girls, immigrants and dreamers who know that anything in life is possible if you work hard, are consistent and take risks comes in.” She said. “Twenty years ago I moved to New York with $100 and started my first company for $18. It’s my mom’s favorite place in New York City and she always wanted her mom to see Times Square. Unfortunately my grandmother didn’t make it so it was also an honor for my mother and the memory of my grandmother, my home country Republic of Guinea and Africa to be up there.”

Mariama Fashion Production places African textile craftsmanship in the luxury fashion market to create a “truthful narrative” of what Made in Africa means today, according to Camara. It also aims to preserve textile crafts while implementing sustainable practices and creating sustainable jobs for local artisans in Africa.

“For me, sustainable fashion is also capable of empowering people, creating sustainable jobs, economic development, knowing where our products come from, being aware of cultural appropriation, being more inclusive, promoting diversity and making changes in fashion products and to promote greater ecological integrity in the fashion system,” she said. “Fashion is the one industry that almost everyone on this planet uses, just like food, everyone [needs] Wear clothing; Therefore, it is the responsibility of all of us to act consciously and continue to create space for conversation, to educate our population, our consumers and government on the importance of sustainability in the supply chain and in our daily lives.”

That gives her hope in the midst a deepening climate crisis.

“While I still have hope in humanity to eradicate the climate crisis, I simply have no more time to waste. I have hope because of the work Mariama Fashion Production is doing and working to eradicate the use of synthetic dyes on the continent,” she said.

Camara is focused on the positive and anticipates working with Toast London. Hermès, Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga are on her list of brands she should “convince” to use their products.

Until then, Camara said: “We are also working to launch our own textile and yarn lines and have big dreams of creating an arts education center in Africa to bring more opportunities, job creation and knowledge transfer to local artisans, artists and to provide emerging designers across the continent through skills training, capacity-building workshops, and responsible and ethical manufacturing.”

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