Some descriptions of “women in the workplace” sound more like National Geographic specials than serious business profiles. “How did she get there?” the narrator asks dramatically. “Can she adapt to this strange and hostile environment?” And, silly as it seems, women in some business sectors still are anomalies, facing challenges inasserting their credibility, in earning leadership opportunities, and in receiving capital investment. This is a particularly sad prospect, given that women make up more than 50% of the population. Still, there are always outlying sectors that reflect more equanimity, and fashion has long been one industry with plenty of female-fueled success.
Women have commanded a presence in the space for ages. And considering apparel sales alone are estimated to bring in $1 trillion annually, it’s quite a commanding space. But, like any field, retail has had major ups and downs, including deserved criticism of its lack of sustainable practices and poor labor conditions that have devastating human and environmental costs. There’s a growing sensibility — especially among female entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, artisans, and consumers — that ethical fashion is good common sense both in terms of the world and in business, and they are finding new and varied ways to fundamentally change the way we produce, sell, and buy our goods. The goal? Aligning the merchandise in our closets with the values in our hearts. And it’s no surprise that women are leading that charge.
Once relegated to the back of country stores, handmade goods are cool again, and the industry is actually booming, thanks to platforms like Etsy and ArtFire. The mother-daughter team crafting glitter clothespins on their kitchen counter (an honest-to-god recent purchase of mine) can sell online without the overhead of a physical store or even an e-commerce site. Each marketplace allows small-batch makers a forum in which to showcase their products virtually. This kind of artisan industry has mobilised fleets of women — who otherwise may have had to balance a professional career with family life — to have their own businesses, on their own terms and time.
It’s not just happening in the United States.
“The artisan sector is worth £21 billion a year,” says Cathy Russell, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues. “It’s one of the largest employers in developing countries, second only to agriculture in many places. And the large majority of artisans are women, who we know are more likely to invest money back into their families’ health and education, and also more likely to hire other women.”
These artisans continue to expand their reach, utilizing easy-to-use e-commerce stores to reach the global consumer with nothing more than a smart phone.
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