What inspired you to create Raven + Lily?
Prior to 2007, I was spending my time working by day as an art director and stylist for film, and by night, I was volunteering with the homeless, as service to others has always been something important to my core. I’d always hoped to be able to combine my work and my passions for helping others, and think I had my ‘aha’ moment that year when I led a group of 10 Los Angeles friends on a volunteer trip to India. While there, we met with three nonprofit organizations focusing on helping at-risk women and children. We had this beautiful opportunity afforded to us to connect with women dealing with challenging circumstances whose stories might render you speechless -- some were HIV positive, some forced into prostitution since very young ages, some from families experiencing extreme poverty. However, each group had created a program to give these women access to earning income through a design related micro-enterprise, and these women were rebuilding their lives with purpose and dignity as they made something beautiful with their hands and talents. I have always believed that the most effective way to alleviate cycles of poverty comes from a combination of educating children and empowering women through skills training and sustainable income opportunities.
I originally founded Raven + Lily as a nonprofit the following year, using the volunteer efforts of several Los Angeles based designers that wanted to give back to women worldwide, women like the ones that I’d met in India. I believed that we could apply modern design to the skills of women from at-risk backgrounds and create a sustainable market for their goods that honored their culture and beauty. From 2008 -2011 Raven + Lily was a nonprofit, and then we moved into the social business model in 2011 as you see us today, with our ethical fashion and lifestyle brand dedicated above all else to empowering women through design.
You have an extensive background in being a lead within the realm of nonprofits. What led you to cross over into the world of fashion?
At its core, any great nonprofit has to have a unique skill set that is poised to help meet the organization’s mission. Our unique skill set at Raven + Lily is our awareness of how the fashion and design industries have worked for so many generations. We have an understanding that so many of the women around the world we see struggling in poverty are actually already employed in the fashion industry (earning less than $3 a day), making mass market clothes for people in ‘developed’ countries to purchase. We are determined to break the cycle of poverty culminating from ineffective and insufficient employment standards in the fashion industry, and became among the first brands to explore how to develop a brand with significant and meaningful impact on women who create our clothes. When women are empowered to earn an income at livable wages (in compliance with fair trade standards), they reinvest 90% of their income back into health, education, food, children, family, and the community. Our partners set the price we pay, ensuring a fair wage that follows World Fair Trade Organization standards. This empowers the more than 1,500 women employed by our work to break the cycle of poverty for generations to come.
With combined experience in both the design world and nonprofit world, I hoped we could be at the forefront of exploring how to develop a brand that could have a significant impact on women without compromising quality or style. After a few years of research and exploration, we realized we could make an even greater impact for good by becoming a for-profit social impact brand with a focus on both creating job opportunities for women through our artisan partnerships, as well as investing back into additional efforts that fund micro-loan programs for women. So every Raven + Lily purchase is impacting women for good on both the front end of employment and the back end of our commitment to give back.
What message are you hoping to spread with this collection?
With our new, highly curated winter collection, we hope to bring the beauty, craftsmanship, and culture of our partner communities around the world into your home. We aim to unite chic minimalism with cozy textures for a line influenced by the natural beauty and inner strength of women. We celebrate women’s empowerment with modern, but feminine designs. The patterns in our textiles and prints for this season's collection are inspired by the boldness of traditional African mud cloth motifs. Fabrics include sustainable luxurious Alpaca, eco-dyed silk, hand-loomed fabrics, up-cycled brass, and vegetable tanned suedes.
The jewel-hued clothes and handbags coupled with the metal-focused jewelry, for example, are the ultimate items for almost any occasion this season, and when wearing them, you’ll also know that because of where these designs come from and who made them, you are wearing a beautiful story to compliment your wardrobe in the most meaningful way.
What are the artisan groups that you employ through this project?
Today, we are working to break the poverty cycle for the at-risk women that our brand employs through fair trade wages, job and income stability, healthcare and education. This movement consists of 19 partner artisan communities in 10 countries like Ethiopia, Peru, India, Kenya, Malaysia and the United States. Many of these women come from backgrounds of poverty, war, homelessness, disease, and slavery. However, their stories are now about rebuilding their lives and investing in their families for a better future. I am passionate about honoring traditional artisan skills, so we focus on utilizing techniques like hand-crafted jewelry, hand-loomed textiles, plant dyed fabrics, hand-embroidery, hand-knitting, and many more skills that honor local culture. In addition, we work to know the story about each design as far back as where the buttons are sourced and the cotton is picked. We know people and the planet are affected at every stage of production, so we care deeply about our commitment to honor both with a positive impact at every stage.
Our artisans actually create many of our signature Raven + Lily styles in Africa’s only carbon neutral, fair trade factory. The factory gives sustainable economic alternatives to poaching and deforestation, while off-setting their carbon footprint. You can even meet some of our incredible artisans on our website