Women in Innovation

Katrin Ley
Fashion for Good
Published in
7 min readMar 8, 2020

Advice from female founders to other women working in sustainable fashion innovation

Some of the many faces of female leadership from our alumni network of innovators.

In less than three years, Fashion for Good has supported almost 100 innovators working on sustainable solutions across the fashion supply chain — including new materials, traceability solutions, alternative approaches to dyeing, circular business models and much more. Of those companies, we’re proud that 45% have at least one female cofounder and we’re excited to see this number continue to grow to accurately represent that women make up 50% of our population. To work in sustainable innovation is to inherently understand that what success has looked like in the past, does not dictate what future success might look like — a powerful attitude to adopt when it comes to pushing for gender equality.

To celebrate International Women’s Day we asked some of the female founders of the innovators we work with to share their advice for others wanting to make an impact within sustainable innovation.

Here is what they had to say!

Ina Budde

“Build synergies and make sure to join forces with great minds since the problems we want to solve are too massive and complex that single persons or organisations could solve them alone.”

  1. Your passion will drive the change: Identify the problem that you personally can have the biggest impact on and that you are really passionate about to solve. This will give you the greatest energy back from all your efforts you will dedicate to this!
  2. Act on the root causes: Make sure your idea or solution to the challenge is not only symptom solving but really acting on the root causes.
  3. Accept that everything is an evolving journey: The situation and ecosystem of your challenge will further develop over time, so that your solution today might not stay the best solution in 20 years. Try to not fall in love with your solution, fall in love with the amazing process of problem solving: Always question what other new factors on your journey you need to take into account to keep your solution relevant.
  4. Collaborative impact is key: See everyone dedicated to solve the same challenge not as competitor but as potential collaborator. Build synergies and make sure to join forces with great minds since the problems we want to solve are too massive and complex that single persons or organisations could solve them alone.
  5. No challenge no growth: You can enable yourself to reach everything you envision with positivity and optimism!

— Ina Budde; co-founder, circular.fashion

Amber Slooten

“People will call you crazy, especially if you question a system that has been running for a very long time in an unsustainable way. My advice would be to follow whatever you feel is closest to your deepest truth — as these systems have been created for profit and not for humans. As a young female entrepreneur I had no idea that my vision would be so powerful and start so many discussions. We see real change in the industry at the moment, which I never expected but I always remained closest to my truth. And don’t be held back by those who can’t hear the music, dance regardless even if they call you insane!”

— Amber Slooten; co-founder, The Fabricant

Shikha Shah

“Well one would often find situations where one is judged based on gender. But then what is more important is if you should let gender be a parameter of importance to judge your own business acumen, technical understanding or passion for the cause? No. In fact be so focused on being a better entrepreneur each day that you realise that your gender isn’t a parameter to judge your fitness on the matter. It would be best to acknowledge the feminine energy you carry, to know your unique strengths and weakness and put it to the best use.”

— Shikha Shah; founder, AltMat

Natasha Franck

“My advice is to embrace the unknown and spend time at the intersection of disciplines, industries and cultures. It’s at this cross-disciplinary space where new ideas emerge and innovative solutions can be formulated. Our global transition to a sustainable paradigm requires systems-change. By spending time at the space in-between currently siloed thoughts and disciplines, we can begin to weave together these disparate practices and disciplines — connecting them to be in harmony with an interconnected and circular system. I believe that’s the key to designing our sustainable future.”

— Natasha Franck; founder, Eon

Mango Materials co-founders, left to right: Allison, Molly and Anne

“The most important thing I would like to say to other women (or anyone!) who want to work on sustainable innovation is: if you are up for it, go for it! Mother Earth needs your help. New solutions need new leaders who might not physically look or act like the leaders from yesterday — don’t let the images of successes from the past cloud your vision of what future success might look like.”

— Molly Morse; co-founder, Mango Materials

Joanna Chen

“Keep close to your vision, work on your business plan and execute. Take your first step and the rest will follow. Build yourself a startup/sustainable community of like-minded individuals, who you can count on when things get challenging.”

— Joanna Chen; founder, Gibbon

Anna Beltzung with a Dimpora sample jacket

“Dealing with little or big failures now and then is totally normal, don’t believe anyone who says otherwise. Persevere for the sake of your innovation but also for yourself!”

— Anna Beltzung; co-founder, Dimpora

Cyndi Rhoades

“If ever there were a time when female ingenuity and efforts were needed to solve some of today’s biggest global challenges, like resource depletion and climate change, it’s now. Find your sustainability passion or problem you want to solve in the world. Dive in, immerse yourself and make it your vocation. There is no better reward than being part of something much greater and needed. It’s a privilege and an imperative.”

— Cyndi Rhoades; founder, Worn Again

Hasna Kourda

“Building a mission driven business that aims to foster sustainable practices can be hard at times. There are many more challenges than usual and resilience is crucial to be able to deliver a sustainable and innovative product!

Being laser focused and having a clear vision and strategy to execute is crucial. It helps also to have mentors from the industry to get their expertise and from time to time take a break :)”

— Hasna Kourda; co-founder, Save Your Wardrobe

Lona Alia

“Make something that people want! As long as you can make something that people want to buy and it is sustainable then you win. But do not just start from sustainability and push that onto the customer.”

— Lona Alia; founder, StyleLend

Carine Middeldorp

“Be comfortable being uncomfortable. Innovation means you’re creating a new category, which takes time, effort and patience. But it’s worth it! Be bold in having an ambitious and different stance.”

— Carine Middeldorp; Normn Hangers

Lea Esterhuizen

Push on open doors. You feel in your bones when the vision, method, business is resonating and when it isn’t. Don’t waste time when your audience doesn’t get it.

Design the business to run without you. The less your business rides on who you are and the profile you have, the better its chances of having scalable impact.

Recruit a kick-ass team. In the end no founder can deliver even the most beautiful vision without a smart, well balanced, culturally cohesive team. One can never be thorough enough when it comes to recruitment. The ones that hang in there through a longwinded recruitment process, are worth considering.

Don’t let discrimination or flirtation get you down. Onwards and upwards. We need to run our businesses in the real world. Drop it and keep moving!

— Lea Esterhuizen; founder, &Wider

Aniela Hoitink

“For all the women wanting to work on sustainable innovation I would advise them to just take action.

Research, visit relevant events, talk to people, participate in workshops and learn as much as you can, that way you’ll find something that truly fascinates you.”

— Aniela Hoitink; founder, Mycotex

Tahreem Arshad

“Sustainable innovation must be business that is sustainable. Make something people need.”

— Tahreem Arshad; founder, Sozie

Enrica Arena

“The experience with Orange Fiber has taught me the value of collaboration and the importance of networking through events, accelerators and prizes. Sustainability is about purpose, so being supportive and ask for help to those who have different skills but the same purpose is key! The success of an innovative project depends on the team that works every day to make it happen, whether directly or indirectly.”

— Enrica Arena; co-founder, Orange Fiber

In the spirit of International Women’s Day, if you have any advice you would like to share, we’d love to hear it. Leave a comment below!