Conversations spanned leadership opportunities and women’s empowerment in fashion.
One afternoon discussion centered on how women are leading the charge for sustainable fashion. Titled “’Women-Led Innovations Advancing Equitable Workforce Development: The Role of Fashion,” the in-person and livestreamed panel discussion delved into the playbook for women’s advancement in the fashion industry.
Speakers included Tamburai Chirume, cofounder, The African Academy of Fashion; Ngozi Okaro, executive director, Custom Collaborative; and Kerry Bannigan, executive director, Fashion Impact Fund and cofounder of the U.N. Conscious Fashion and Lifestyle Network (which is a joint initiative of the U.N. Office for Partnerships and the Fashion Impact Fund). The event was moderated by Business Insider’s senior entrepreneurship reporter Jennifer Ortakales Dawkins.
The panel explored the digital needs, workplace practices, partnerships and pathways in which the leaders are advancing workforce development in fashion. These, of course, mean financial equity (both The African Academy of Fashion and Custom Collaborative are grant-funding winners from the Fashion Impact Fund) and leadership opportunities.
Chirume called for a “sisterhood built through fashion” that empowers women from craft to consumption. “The question is always, what happens after that program?,” she probed. “The Fashion Impact Fund has allowed us to do what we do best. Eighty percent of our women are currently employed in jobs, whether in the retail sector, or in our studio, in the [designs] we make.”
The African Academy of Fashion saw a 100 percent complete rate for its students, funding the “holistic” education of 20 previously unemployed women in Cape Town, South Africa.
“You all in the industry are saying you have staffing needs or business needs. Well, here’s the solution,” said Okaro, who spoke of the talent development happening in New York at Custom Collaborative.
Bannigan spoke of the digital divide that persists, including lack of access to electricity, iPads, computers or other tools that underpin supply chains.
“What we need to look at in the fashion space — the reality is people don’t have the ability to plug in,” said Bannigan. Be it sample-making, production or even the use of Slack, Okaro chimed in, can further women’s inclusion in the fashion workforce.
A sort of “technology lending library” was one solution that Custom Collaborative found in New York. Partnerships for online coursework via the University of Fashion and the Fashion Institute of Technology also aided the organization’s efforts.
“It’s about opening the doors, and creating the entryway and opportunity. There’s nothing wrong or different about the women that come into these programs… It’s that they haven’t had the opportunity,” summarized Okaro.
To that point, Bannigan added, “If women could have access to money, media and marketing, then they would be unstoppable.”
The 67th edition of the Commission on the Status of Women runs March 6 to 17.