Q&A with Female Entrepreneur Ayesha Barenblat
Ayesha (@abarenblat) is a social entrepreneur with a passion for building sustainable supply chains. Remake is the world’s first platform that leverages technology and visual storytelling to build human connections between shoppers, brands and makers around the world. Remake unlocks the hearts and minds of shoppers to advocate for a better life for the people who make our clothes.
Ayesha is passionate about where things come from, who made them, and what their lives are like. She has spent the last decade working with brands, governments, and nonprofits to improve the lives of makers in global supply chains.
She led brand engagement at Better Work, a World Bank and United Nations partnership to ensure safe and decent working conditions around the world. She was head of consumer products at BSR, providing strategic advice to brands including H&M, Levi Strauss & Co., Marks and Spencer, Nike, The Walt Disney Company and Pou Chen on the design and integration of sustainability into business. She holds a master’s in public policy from the University of California, Berkeley.
“Today there is a long unhappy story of how our fashion is made and where it ends up. I want us to reimagine this story. I founded Remake because I truly believe in the good that comes from human connections. The modern shopper wants to know more, and the maker is better off when we use our voice and shopping dollars to advocate for her wellbeing.”
Can you tell our readers about your background?
I have spent over a decade drawing attention to and addressing the well-being of the women who make our clothes. I've provided sustainability advice to retailers ranging from Levi Strauss and Company, Nike, Gap to Target and Walmart and driven dialogue and engagement across unions, brands and local governments to improve working conditions in the fashion industry.
What inspired you to start your business?
When Rana Plaza fell down it was the biggest industrial disaster of our time and over 1100 makers lost their lives, in our quest for cheap clothes. I realized as the death toll climbed, that in all my years of working on the inside of the fashion industry to improve working conditions, we were not moving fast enough and that there was a seat absent at the table. The seat being all of us as consumers. And that to prevent more tragedies like Rana Plaza we needed a groundswell of consumers saying no more. This was my inspiration for starting Remake.
Where is your business based?
We are based in San Francisco, California but our movement is global. From Paris, to London, NYC to San Francisco an increasing number of fashionistas are embracing our message of breaking up with fast fashion and buying fewer better things. It's been powerful to see the drumbeat of feminists across the US and Europe wanting to wear their values and for their clothes to support our sisters at the other end of the supply chain.
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
After Rana Plaza fell down, I had a lot of conversations with my extensive and incredible network of mentors and colleagues, #girlbosses who had been fighting side by side for social justice in the fashion industry. Their advice and faith in me is was empowered me to take the plunge to start my own business. One of the first steps I took was to assemble a really good board and advisory board. My board was instrumental in helping me find pro-bono legal help to set-up my non-profit status, to get going on fundraising and setting our initial strategy.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
Live events such as our Wear Your Values event, film screenings, and workshops has been one of the best ways to raise awareness. I realized quickly that social media was a powerful tool to amplify our message but that the real converts and super users come from our live events.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
Addressing the human rights abuses within the fashion industry is dark and complex whereas shopping is fun. I found that people tune out depressing news during flash sales. It become imperative that our message moved away from naming and shaming and instead comes from a place of hope and inspiration. Our Humans of Fashion series gets people to think about what we wear to be an extension of our values and this is both powerful and uplifting. Our Meet the Maker series rather than painting the women who make our clothes as victims, instead traces the similarities of her life to ours. She too is a feminist and a #girlboss.
How do you stay focused?
It's hard! I only check email at the end of my day. I've found that the constant back and forth on email is not optimal especially during the morning which is my best thinking time.
As a team, we use Slack, which is faster and more efficient to getting through to-dos. I revisit our strategy at least monthly to keep focused on our goals of engaging and acquiring more users.
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
Unlike other labor activist groups we come from a place of hope and inspiration. Rather than telling you which brands to boycott, we provide you with beautiful, fashionable slow fashion alternatives. Rather than a focus on the pain-centered narrative of sweatshop victims, we bring you the human stories of the hard working women behind our clothes. Our stories are about her hopes and dreams, her messages to you. Fundamentally our movement is about building empathy and human connection between the women who make and buy fashion.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
At every live event, we have super users, Remake Ambassadors, who become engaged and excited to spread the message to their friends and community. Our Ambassadors have been our best and most powerful marketing strategy.
Instagram as a way to put the human face and have the conversation across the fashion supply chain from celebrities, to designers, consumers on the streets to makers in factories, has also been our fastest growing and most engaging platform.
What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
Stay focused and believe in yourself. You will get lots of wanted and unwanted advice, so be sure to filter it. Really listen to your customers and iterate early and constantly. Stay closely connected to your customers needs.
What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
A recent book that I really love is a fiction piece called " A Harvest of Thorns" that reimagines the Tazreen factory fire and what would have happened if the victims had had their day in a US court. Its written by a human rights lawyer and is a great way to understand the complexity of the issues as well as connect in a human way.
What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
I am a big fan of Slack because it cuts our email traffic way down, kept us on task and is an easy way to share tools and resources and chat across our globally diverse team. I also really like MailChimp for managing our user lists and newsletters. Its easy to use and the software is intuitive.
Who is your business role model? Why?
Daniel Lee, the executive Director of the Levi Strauss Foundation is my role model and mentor. The foundation focuses on some of the biggest issues of our times: HIV/AIDS, worker rights at home and globally. I adore Daniel because he is both pragmatic and practical, inspiring and a big picture thinker yet solid in the execution of his ideas. As a corporate foundation, he's always pioneered in taking on issues of the most marginalized and stigmatized communities and despite all of his success he remains humble and approachable.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
We are back from taking some fashion design students to Sri Lanka to get to know the women behind the label. Over the next few months we will be editing and screening the film up and down the US and having conversations with millennials on how to join our movement. In addition, we will be adding more slow fashion to our platform to make the discovery of ethically made clothes easy. Stay tuned.
How can our readers connect with you?
You can follow or write me on twitter @abarenblat and join our movement across social media by following #remakeourworld.