For young brand leaders who care about their impact on the environment, gaining access to the resources that make eco-friendly business possible is tricky. Ethical sourcing can be costly, expertise hard to come by and financial resources lacking to implement the latest sustainable innovations.
It's this gap that the nine-month CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative hopes to fill by providing emerging designers with mentorship, funding and education. On Thursday night, the initiative announced its five finalists for the 2018 program: Cienne, M.Patmos, St. Roche, Studio One Eighty Nine and Whit.
"There aren't a ton of resources like this that really have the fashion stamp of approval but are doing the sustainability thing," said Cienne co-founder Nicole Heim at the initiative's launch event on Thursday night.
Heim, like many of the other brand leaders participating in the initiative, hopes that it will help her and Cienne co-founder Chelsea Healy deepen their understanding of sustainable business practices. While each brand had to prove a pre-existing commitment to sustainability-focused strategies in order to become finalists, many of the designers and founders mentioned a desire to dig even deeper.
"Sustainability is a constantly changing arena," St. Roche designer and co-founder Sue Stemp noted. "I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to learn from experts."
Those experts will be lending their help to the designers through workshops, one-on-one mentoring and problem-solving sessions with the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business. For brands like Studio One Eighty Nine, the chance to learn about the newest sustainable technologies is especially exciting.
"A lot of the work that's done in Ghana is sustainable but in a different way," noted Abrima Erwiah, who co-founded Studio One Eighty Nine, which works extensively with African artisans. "It tends to be low-tech — very handmade. But there's also so much development that's happening right now [in sustainability], which is what's so exciting to me. You can take sustainability to another level."
Beyond the mentoring and expert network, $20,000 in funding will be awarded to each brand to help put their learnings into action. At the end of the initiative, all the participants will present a roadmap outlining their ongoing strategy for sustainable development. One brand will win an additional $80,000 based on this final roadmap.
"Sustainability is something that matters, because it matters to these business owners and because there's a demand from the consumers for it," said CFDA president and CEO Steven Kolb at the launch event. "We as an organization accept that responsibility and understand that we have a powerful role in helping brands navigate that transition."