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We love female entrepreneurs (if you haven’t noticed!). What do we love even more? Female entrepreneurs who are doing good in some way. Introducing Kirsten Dickenson, the Founder and CEO of Raven + Lily, a socially conscious apparel and accessories brand. The goal of Raven + Lily? Alleviate poverty from women throughout the world. It’s absolutely amazing. By employing women in countries throughout the world who are in difficult circumstances, they give them the power to have control over their lives and provide for their families. Here’s the inside look into Kirsten and her journey of starting R+L!
1. Where did the idea of creating Raven + Lily come from? Did you always envision creating your own fashion brand?I founded Raven + Lily in an effort to combine my love of fashion and design with my deep passion to alleviate poverty among women. Raven + Lily currently helps employ women with design skills in India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Cambodia, Pakistan, as well as the USA, and we are developing new partnerships in Malaysia and Guatemala. These women come from at-risk backgrounds such as being HIV+, formerly enslaved, refugees, homeless, and poverty. We come alongside women in these situations who have learned a design skill and we collaborate with them to create our high-end, exclusive collections that are marketed under the Raven + Lily brand. Our designs (such as apparel, jewelry, and accessories) follow fair trade, eco friendly standards and reflect the beauty and culture of the women who made them. Raven + Lily is focused on becoming one of those sustainable solutions to ending poverty by coming alongside women who have suffered so that they might experience the dignity and joy of providing for themselves and their families through our design partnerships.
While my first intention in starting Raven + Lily was to empower at-risk women, I have increasingly become passionate about also empowering women consumers to make a positive impact on people and the planet through their purchasing power. As consumers we are often feeding an industry (fashion) that is a leading contributor to pollution and unethical labor around the world. Instead, I want to offer designs that empower the female consumer to tell a story of beauty through her purchases. When consumers in the West wear Raven+ Lily, they feel beautiful knowing they are buying something that is both fashion forward and ethically made.
2. What was the biggest obstacle you encountered trying to start R+L?My background is in design and non profit work. I'm now a CEO. That transition has been a crazy challenge and learning curve. I've made a lot of mistakes, but I haven't given up! I decided to learn from those mistakes and I've built an incredible team of mentors who have helped me grown into this current CEO position. My heart is still with the women and in the design process, but much of my time and energy is spent in also running the company and casting vision for where we are going next. There is a constant "palms up" attitude I have to take in order to balance being a mom as well as CEO, but thankfully I have an incredibly supportive husband who has helped make it all possible. 3. You are committed to creating collections that tell a story about the products and the women behind them. Is there a particular collection that has touched you the most?That is such a hard question to answer because each one of our partnerships is so unique and I truly love all the women and their unique skills and stories. I just returned from our Kenyan partnerships last month, so those women are fresh on my mind. In particular, I'm just blown away by our Maasai partnership that makes our hand-beaded jewelry. Because of the income earned through jewelry sales, these women have gained the respect of the elders and have been able to advocate for sending the first generation of girls to school as well as to eradicate FGM from their community. I'm just so proud of them and it was just a joy to visit and know that we've had a small part in seeing what an impact empowering women can have on whole families and communities.
4. Raven + Lily was awarded an EFF award recognizing the brand as the sustainable leader in jewelry. How big of a milestone was that moment for you?I love the mission of the Ethical Fashion Forum, and I was truly grateful that they recognized the efforts of Raven + Lily with such a meaningful award. EFF has done an incredible job of helping to connect sustainable brands to the global market place. They've been extremely supportive of Raven + Lily, and I can only accept such an honor on behalf of all the women who work so hard to make our designs in order to improve their livelihood and provide for their families.
5. Where do you see Raven + Lily going in the next few years?
I hope to see Raven + Lily become known more as a fashion brand. We've spent the past few years developing several new partnerships, namely for apparel. Those new partnerships start to launch next week with our Fall '14 Collection. A few more will launch with our Spring '15 Collection. I can hardly wait to see the response to all the beautiful designs that represent the hard work of so many amazing women. 6. Switching over to you personally, how would you classify your own personal style? Any items you cannot live without?I consider my style to be a modern bohemian minimalist. I also decorate that way too. I love combining mid century pieces with artisan finds in home decor. For fashion, I love a modern silhouette that uses natural materials and artisan details. I also love story driven design...for fashion and the home. All the art and objects in my home have a meaningful story connected to them, and now my closet is also starting to tell a nice story because of Raven + Lily and other like-minded fashion brands. Items I can't live without? Probably lipstick...usually red. If I had to pick one item to wear everyday it would be an embroidered tunic over jeans. And I tend to always wear bangles and a necklace, whether casual or dressy. And I have to have a hardy bag to carry my stuff...currently the Yami leather tote from the R+L collection. Kirsten has done an amazing thing here. We love it and constantly wish that there were more women out there doing what she is. She’s definitely a kick-ass woman, and we know that there are going to be some HUGE things coming from this lady in the future!
For more on Kirsten and Raven + Lily, check them out on Facebook!
You go girl, Kirsten! You are definitely kick-ass!!!
Love wearing my Raven and Lily pieces…wore my R+L black and brown trimmed dress from Cambodia just today with the R+ L earrings Kathie gave me for my birthday! Not only does it LOOK good, it makes me FEEL good! Rock on!!!!
Wishing you continued growth and success,
On August 06, 2014
The Nikita and Vesper blog is about celebrating our love of socially conscious fashion. We are sisters, the founders of Nikita and Vesper. We believe that we are all in this together, and the choices we make, from what we create to what we buy, can change the world.