Women in the Pipeline: Sustainable Fashion with Meg Partridge


Women in the Pipeline explores the young, up-and-coming future leaders of today’s fields. Be it politics, physics, or photography, women are growing as the next big innovators. Here comes the next generation for sustainable fashion and social entrepreneurship!

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Meg Partridge attends Princeton University, Class of 2014, majoring in Civil & Environmental Engineering. She is the Co-Founder & Co-CEO of Stitch Your Story, Co-Founder & Executive Director of The Sustainable Fashion Initiative, and Former Co-President of The Princeton Social Entrepreneurship Initiative.

 

 

 

Tell us a little about of yourself (what you’re doing, where you’re from)

Hailing from Tewksbury Township, New Jersey, I am currently a senior at Princeton University studying Civil & Environmental Engineering. At Princeton, I am pursuing an interdisciplinary course of study that merges technical background in water resources and public health with studies in the social sciences and domestic and foreign policy.

Throughout middle and high school, under the banner of Education for Empowerment, I passionately championed the idea that every child should have access to a quality education, dreaming big in my ambitions to improve access to education in poor areas of the northeastern United States and sub-Saharan Africa.

Beyond my academic studies, I interned on Capitol Hill for my Congressman and representing the U.S. at the United Nations Youth Assembly. I learned that to deal with complex global challenges like climate change and poverty, viewing business to be a part of the solution, rather than as a part of the problem, is necessary. I felt that an encouraging performance-focused policy environment, rather than a mosaic of prescriptive policies and regulations, was needed to incentivize the development of innovative solutions.

Throughout my experiences at Princeton, I developed a deep interest in exploring new policy and business frameworks that would cultivate an environment of entrepreneurial innovation, establish truly inclusive stakeholder-focused decision-making processes, and catalyze a paradigm shift towards a culture of “shared value” creation across business value chains.

And that’s where I am now. In following my passion for sustainable fashion, I am currently working to launch an early-stage social venture called Stitch Your Story, an e-commerce company that harnesses the power of fashion design to empower women around the world, building a global community around inspiring fashion stories. To explore the concept of social entrepreneurship at scale in more depth, I am involved in the two-year Harry J. Ott Fellowship with The Coca-Cola Company, through which I am conducting research on water accounting and cross-sector partnerships for shared value creation with the Director of Global Water Stewardship and the Global Water Resource Sustainability Manager.

While fascinated by the entire field of social entrepreneurship, I am particularly interested in the impact potential of the consumer goods sector to design systems and deliver products that will radically improve the quality of life for people around the world, to provide sustainable livelihood opportunities to marginalized populations across company value chains, and to spark movements around sustainable design that will transform the global landscape for the better.

What are you doing right now in India? 

This summer, I am lucky enough to find myself in India, working with Ashoka: Innovators for the Public to identify and support social entrepreneurs, who catalyze framework change in areas ranging from healthcare to solid waste management. I’m also developing supplier relationships with artisan groups and conducting market research for Stitch Your Story, and spending time supporting Coca-Cola’s efforts to empower female entrepreneurs through the 5by20 initiative.

How did you become involved with the Princeton’s Social Enterprise Initiative? 

My goal in university is to equip myself with the foundational knowledge, personal networks, and critical thinking processes necessary to create new and better paradigms for ensuring environmental sustainability and social wellbeing around the world.

Upon entering my senior year in high school, I got in touch with a Princeton professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering named Wole Soboyejo, whom I had heard was doing interesting work in sub-Saharan Africa with regards to potable water. My involvement in his group peaked my interest in social entrepreneurship as a promising way of harnessing the power of market-based approaches to address issues related to poverty. I decided to study Civil & Environmental Engineering at Princeton and continue exploring my interests in social entrepreneurship, poverty alleviation, and environmental sustainability.

The summer after my freshman year at Princeton, I received a fellowship to travel to central Kenya, where I developed innovative delivery models for potable water – building supply chains, running social marketing campaigns, training local entrepreneurs, and introducing models for financial inclusion to ensure equitable access. While in Kenya, I was enraptured by the incredible skill of artisans in the communities in which I was working; the beadwork, the wood carvings, and the metalwork were stunning.

Mpala Filter Sales

Filter sales in Kenya

At the invitation of Danny Growald ‘11 and Faaez Ul-Haq ‘12, I joined The Princeton Social Entrepreneurship Initiative, a group of passionate and idealistic Princetonians seeking to advance the academic discourses surrounding social entrepreneurship and create a campus community in which every student would be encouraged to channel his or her skills into being an agent of positive change in the world. At the end of my freshman year, I became Co-President of PSEI along with Amira Polack ’12, a role I would hold until the end of my junior year

I also became increasingly interested in consumer goods and the role of international markets in supporting the livelihoods of artisans around the world. At the same time, my academic interest in environmental issues sparked my interest in the environmental impacts across corporate value chains, like the fashion industry. I co-founded The Sustainable Fashion Initiative in my sophomore year at Princeton with Jenna Rodrigues ’14 and Carmina Mancenon ’14.

The SFI Cofounders

The SFI Cofounders

Seeking to leverage our networks on university campuses, we aimed to cultivate a culture of sustainability in the fashion industry grounded in the convictions of young consumers to live, shop, and create purposefully. Since the summer of 2011, SFI has grown into a vibrant community of conscious consumers, serving as an educational platform for people seeking to learn more about sustainable fashion and providing discovery platforms for sustainable designers via Princeton Fashion Week and Verte magazine. Our work enhances exposure to alternative models of fashion that actually work to empower the communities touched by the design process while having no unnecessary impact on the environment.

What led you into the direction of ethical fashion/social entrepreneurship?

We are living in a time in which heightened global interconnection has increased the complexity of social interactions, redefined existing notions of community, and brought to the forefront new types of challenges at a broader scale that cannot be addressed in conventional manners. I believe that we need to adapt accordingly if we hope to ensure a brighter future for all. And that’s where social entrepreneurs come in – to be the bold and daring visionaries and architects of a more sustainable and equitable world.

Sustainable fashion has particularly peaked my interest. My involvement with the Sustainable Fashion Initiative inspired me to travel to Peru for several months during the summer of 2012, where I received the Dale Fellowship to live amongst three indigenous Quechua communities in the Andes, exploring the rich cultural tradition of Andean backstrap weaving and the role of social enterprise in connecting artisanal cooperatives with international fashion markets.

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First weaving lesson in Patacancha

This was a pivotal moment in which it became clear to me that the mission of supporting artisan livelihoods and finding alternative models to the exploitative fashion industry was something that really touched me to the core. Upon my return to the United States, I couldn’t stop thinking about the issue and heard a voice inside of me telling me that this space – sustainable fashion – is where I need to be right now. After that summer, I felt an urgent sense of purpose to do something to make a change in this space. And it stuck.

I think that fashion is an especially important medium for communication, because it is the tactile and visual expression of who we are and who we project ourselves to be. The scale and scope of the fashion industry is enormous, and we should seize the opportunity to use it for good! Our fashion choices come with a whole host of social and environmental significance. I think that there is a big change-making opportunity awaiting those who tap into the fundamental nature of fashion to encourage consumers to wear clothing and accessories that speak to their personal values as well as to their aesthetic sensibilities.

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

Hopefully, I’ll be running and growing Stitch Your Story, the e-commerce fashion venture that I am currently building! Stitch Your Story is a newly conceived social venture in the ethical fashion space that I am co-founding with three other individuals interested in harnessing the power of technology and the creative arts to make a difference in the world. The idea for Stitch Your Story arose from our deep dissatisfaction with the currently exploitative practices of the fashion industry and our determination to put forth an alternative model that creates shared value across the fashion value chain.

Stitch Your Story will be a direct-to-consumer social shopping experience and “affordable luxury” accessories brand that puts the supply chain at the forefront of the retail experience. The path to a better future for all requires cultivating a collective understanding that behind geographic and surface differences is a fundamental bond of humanity that ties us together more deeply than ever before. As such, our broader goal is to put all of the fashion stakeholders on an equal playing field and use the creative process to bring people together around fashion pieces that are beautiful inside and out.

In five years, I would love to see Stitch Your Story succeeding in our mission of empowering women around the world through the shaping and sharing of inspiring fashion stories. The focus on sustainable livelihoods in our mission extends beyond improvements in income and gets to the heart of what it means to be an empowered individual, and having pride for one’s heritage and unique, special qualities.

At some point, I would love to go back to school, most likely to pursue a joint MBA/MPP program that will equip me with the practical skills I need to succeed in catalyzing positive impact through both business and policy vehicles. At the moment, I believe that the work that I will seek to do will be focused on cultivating and connecting the work of high-impact social entrepreneurs, taking social entrepreneurship to scale through the constructive and collaborative engagement of business, government, and the citizen sector. I think that starting my journey in a consumer-facing industry like fashion is a great place to begin, because consumer-facing industries have a set of qualities that uniquely position them to generate tangible. But for me, it is only the beginning! I’m so excited to see where this journey will take me.

Any tips you would give to budding women entrepreneurs?

After visiting Princeton a couple of years ago, one of my personal inspirations, Bill Drayton of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, gave me a book called How to Change the World by David Bornstein. In this book, Bornstein describes social entrepreneurs as “monomaniac[s] with a mission.” While it’s not the most flattering description, it summarizes what I have seen in the most successful entrepreneurs with great precision – an unstoppable inner drive and passion to reshape a part of the world for the better. So I think the first thing that makes for a successful entrepreneur is to really hone in on the thing(s) that she is passionate about, and to align that passion with an urgent sense of purpose. In my experience, the alignment of passion and purpose usually stems from identifying a problem that really resonates with you, something that you obsessively think about and need to solve. So rather than looking for the “next big idea,” start from a place of self-reflection, and explore how your passions and skills can be channeled into addressing a problem that you deeply care about.

I believe that, beyond the alignment of passion and purpose, the best entrepreneurs also exhibit a special set of skills that set them up for success. These include: the willingness to listen to others and to themselves; the ability to understand human behavior and effectively communicate a message accordingly; the ability to strategically make risks in bringing their vision to life; a realistic understanding of the way that the world works to effectively navigate their way to success; and a high sense of inner resiliency to view failures as learning opportunities. I think that actively cultivating these skills and having them in your toolkit will drastically increase the chances of you succeeding at whatever you try to do!

For me, my time at Princeton has been crucial in shaping my emotional and intellectual intelligence; on campus, both inside and outside of the classroom, I’ve tried to shape my experiences so as to equip myself with the skills I think I’ll need in the future. To sum it up, while there is a certain degree of success that can be chalked up to chance, I do believe that you can tip the odds in your favor!

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