Closed Caption Transcript:
Hey, so my name is Marissa Heyl and I am the founder of Symbology and Etico here in Fort Worth, and my topic is How to Make Sustainability Sexy. So I'm going to start off with kind of a dark scene. It was 2005. I was sitting in the Office of Human Rights Watch in D.C. as a college intern and documenting the pretty horrific details of the genocide in Sudan. And I knew I just wasn't cut out for it. But what I did know was that I was super passionate about social justice, women's empowerment and fair labor laws. And so these issues, though, can really kind of seem small or niche with a small following. And I was really interested in how to take these issues and make them more popular. What were the mechanics to grow a social justice movement to the point where they really made an impact? The key to making an impact and systemic change is to democratize it, to really make people care, not just because it's the right thing to do, because it's just freaking cool. So it's not about someone else thousands of miles away, but about something relatable and personal to us. It's that notion of "stickiness" that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in the tipping point, or it's kind of the M.O. of TED. These are ideas worth spreading. So I turn to fashion. No matter how fabulous or frumpy our style is, we all participate in fashion. It's truly one of the most democratizing platforms in the world. Of course, as many of us know, fast fashion is exploitive and pollutive. I had always wanted to be a fashion designer since I was a little girl, but I didn't pursue it in my studies because of those same reasons and well, because it's superficial and kind of snobby. And that's not me. You know, I'm kind of more of a hippie nerdy type with a fashion obsession. I thought back to my high school days when I visited Ten Thousand Villages and I saw this amazing poster of a woman who was able to pay for her kids' education through the sales of a pashmina scarf. And I tell you, the world just opened up. I mean, what an incredible way to make our own fashion habits and that of our greater consumer culture, one that actually empowers others and puts people and planet first. It became the premise of my anthropology thesis and the game-changer in my life. In 2006, as a junior at UNC, I received a grant to research how craftswomen in India are empowered through fair trade. I sat with scores of craftsmen in villages and in slums, and I watched them create beautiful crafts. Some were barely educated, taken out of school at an early age to help with chores at home. Some were child sex workers, others disabled, and some had never been outside of their homes without being accompanied by a man. This is the first time they were able to earn an income, connect with other women and no longer be at the mercy of men. My aha moments came to me when I was in a village and I watched a young woman, Gita, block printing a tablecloth, and I envisioned it as a beautiful dress. And it was amazing because I could see this way of combining my interest in women's empowerment with that of fashion design. I later received a grant to work at Ten Thousand Villages Corporate, and I went to Cambodia and the Philippines and I kept seeing the same opportunities to take a traditional textile and make it fashion-forward. So I really felt like I was onto something. So fast forward to 2012 when I decided to take the plunge and create a fashion label with meaning. I launched Symbology, which is out to make fair trade sexy and I merge Artisan made textiles with fashion-forward designs to create unique products for customers. Every piece tells a story of culture and empowerment, not just for the makers, but for my own customers. Behind every item we wear, there's a story, you know, that expression, you are what you eat. Well, I firmly believe that you are what you wear. Think about how that fabulous dress that fits like a glove or that perfectly tailored suit that you wore to an interview made you feel it's called inclothed cognition, not just how we think with our brains, but with our bodies. And for any of you who love Queer Eye just as much as me, we all know that a good outfit is way more than just clothes. It's about embodying confidence. It's a veritable superhero costume for every day. I take a lot into consideration into my designs, creating pieces that will flatter everybody type sizes two to twenty two. I feel so privileged to be able to design dresses that make a woman, no matter what her size, sexual orientation or skin tone, feel confident and beautiful in her own skin. That is also made sustainably. Is the cherry on top. Time and time again, my customers tell me that they get stopped by strangers to be complimented on their Symbology, dress at a party, getting coffee and oftentimes in a public bathroom. So a dress is a walking advertisement. It is a point to engage with others about the impact of sustainable fashion. And here's the most important thing everybody can get behind a cute dress no matter what your politics are. So next, if you're wanting to make an issue sexy, you've got to apply business principles to your gig. Innovation and adaptation to the market are crucial. *music playing* In a recent interview with Vogue, Alexander McQueen designer Sarah Burton said that "it is our responsibility to protect the things that we love from the past, but is also our job to innovate." I believe that innovation is key to making fair trade, fashion, not just the exception, but the norm. Through design, we breathe life into a dying arts like block printing, hand embroidery. I constantly analyze trends, market forecasts and customer feedback in order to inform my designs. So the end result is fashion forward and flattering. I'm constantly revising my fits colors and silhouettes based on market data. I listen to my customers every chance I get modifying and adding to my collection to address their needs. The design also needs to be unique to really make a statement. There are so many brands out there trying to copy each other or reproduce something that has been successful before. I was advised early on to water down my designs that they were too specific or not sellable to a wider market. But it was those bold prints and unique cuts that really differentiated my brand in the market and gave me a competitive advantage. My last insight is that the world is not a pie, as delicious as that might be. There is plenty of goodness to go around for all of us. There's a Cuban proverb that says that "when the sun rises, it rises for everyone. We all benefit when others succeed." I see it when collaborating with other women all the time. We genuinely help each other, sharing resources and encouraging each other to thrive. I'm part of an amazing women in business group in Fort Worth called SheDares, and I cannot tell you how many cheers and hugs and awesome partnerships have blossomed from that group. Last year I opened a sustainable women owned collective on Magnolia Avenue called Etico. It's a collaborative business model that centers on the shared success for local women makers and founders. I had dreamed for years of opening my own store and reached out to other amazing makers I met at pop ups here who also had the same shared dream. It's a risky and expensive venture to open a store alone, but the secret sauce is that when we do it together, we take on that shared risk and reward. Plus our customers get to shop a wider range of items. So it's a total win-win. Etico provides an interactive shopping experience that connects women creators with customers. iPads at the shop showcase the creative process behind each of the pieces while we host special events in the store centered on living sustainably and on issues like mental health. And just like Symbology, Etico is about way more than just fashion and gifts. It's a platform to foster community and educate customers. There are now 16 brands at Etico with half-owned by women of color. That is not by chance, but a conscious effort to have more representation in an otherwise very white woman space. It is essential that I recognize my privilege and extend the table to invite more women to the party because it's just a better party that way anyway. This summer, in the midst of feeling disconnected by COVID, I wanted to plan a shoot that really celebrated diversity and brought a sense of connection to our community. We featured trans curvy and non-binary models and all skin tones rocking whimsical dresses with a punk meets cowboy flair. Models talked about the importance of being represented as a minority in fashion. That being black, curvy or trans is really beautiful. Inclusivity in the fashion industry is extremely important to me. Being a trans woman growing up, I didn't really see anyone like me, so I didn't feel like this was something I could do. But as I'm getting older, I feel like it's becoming more common and it's more accepted. Growing up as a trans woman. There was not obvious representations of myself or other people that I looked up to. And I feel like we see it a lot on television and TV. And I think they found a way to capitalize on our community. But I feel like there's not a lot of designers or individuals in fashion that actually feature trans people or anybody in the LGBTQIA. So that end of the spectrum gets ignored a lot. And that's why I love Symbology. I've worked with them for four years now and I've always felt included as a trans woman. And I think the strongest thing is she does see women's empowerment, including trans women. Inclusivity is very important in the fashion industry to me because it provides so many diversities, so many backgrounds, and you're able to connect with so many people in so many different ways, just being in a room full of Different cultures, different backgrounds, and you're talking and really embracing and seeing what everything is about and learning. It means a lot in the fashion industry because it's not only creativity, it's art. *music playing* *music playing* *music playing* *music playing* *music playing* *music playing* *music playing* *music playing* *music playing* *music playing* In summation, in order to make a niche issue more mainstream, you need to, one, make it relatable and personal, tell the story to connect with customers. Two, innovate and adapt, use business principles to maximize your outreach. And three, be inclusive and collaborative. It's a more fun party that way anyway. I've done this with fashion, but you can easily apply the same principles to other platforms. Find whatever it is that you're passionate about and use it for good, good for the world and good for you. Just make sure it's sexy.