Meet Stephanie Benedetto, the Woman on a Mission to Save Fabric From Landfills
Stephanie is one of seven recipients of the Cartier Women's Initiative for 2020.
Today, Cartier has unveiled the seven winners of the Cartier Women’s Initiative 2020. Chosen from 1,200 applicants from 159 countries, the seven winners will receive a $100,000 investment from Cartier into their business – with sectors ranging from healthcare to education, manufacturing and fashion innovation.
To date, the Cartier Women’s Initiative (CWI) has “supported more than 240 social impact-driven businesses led and owned by women entrepreneurs, hailing from 56 countries, creating more than 7,000 jobs,” according to a release. It has also granted over $3 million in funding “making it one of the largest and most generous female-focused entrepreneurial competitions in the world.”
One of this year’s laureates is Stephanie Benedetto, a New York-based former lawyer who now runs Queen of Raw, an online marketplace for businesses to buy and sell deadstock fabrics and textiles. Through this marketplace, Benedetto is providing businesses with a sustainable alternative to destroying fabrics. We caught up with Benedetto to find out more about her career transition and the business – and why she hopes to one day work herself out of a job.
Tell us a little about how you made the jump from a legal career to starting Queen of Raw.
My family has been in the fabric business for over 100 years, but over that time frame, many financial and environmental inefficiencies have emerged. Today, the fashion industry is the second greatest polluter of freshwater in the world and a lot of the raw material produced by this industry goes to waste. $120 billion a year of unused material is thrown into landfills, burned up or just laid to rest in warehouses. This is higher than the GDP of most countries.
I began my career on Wall Street as a corporate attorney, specializing in fashion and technology. Then I started an innovative textile manufacturing company. While working on this business, I experienced firsthand the issues around fabric waste. I decided to go from producing fabric to creating a global, online, blockchain-enabled marketplace that helps sell the fabric that would otherwise contribute to the industry’s waste and pollution.
Queen of Raw’s marketplace uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to match companies that have excess fabric with creators close by who need it throughout the world. So far, Queen of Raw has helped buyers and sellers of fabric save over one billion gallons of water. That’s enough clean water for 1.43 million people to drink around the world for three years.
Why did you start the business?
I launched my business at the same time as I had my first child. This has only made me stronger. I am doing what I am doing to make a difference in the world not just for myself anymore, but for my children and my children’s children. I want them to have clean water to drink, clothes that aren’t toxic to wear, and a planet to live on. Because of this mission, I find the strength to meet any challenge. Together we can solve the world’s water crisis.
What has the response been to the business from the fashion industry since you began?
One of the unique and innovative features of our business is how it aligns the interests of various stakeholders (including the companies selling excess product, the creatives that purchase it, our business, and society as a whole). We have created incentives for one of the highest polluting industries to reduce their waste and environmental impact. This has resulted in our enterprise customers (from fast fashion to luxury) saving up to 15 per cent of their bottom line in just one year.
You mention in the below video that you hope to essentially work yourself out of business – why is this cause so important to you?
Fast fashion has driven a drastic increase in textile production. Global per capita textile production has increased from 5.9 kg to 13 kg per year over the period 1975-2018 and is projected to continue growing. Up to 15 per cent of that fabric is wasted.
This waste is occurring now more than ever and it is polluting our drinking water, especially in developing countries. One T-shirt takes 700 gallons of water to produce. If we continue at the current pace of textile production, by 2025, two-thirds of the entire world’s population will face shortages of freshwater and be exposed to hazardous chemicals from textile production alone. So we are not talking about 100 years from now, or even 50 years from now – we are talking about today and on our shores.
Queen of Raw’s vision is a world without waste. Our mission is to help businesses minimize waste in their supply chains, supporting their bottom line and the environment, while changing the way businesses think about waste. By 2025, we can save over four billion gallons of water, keep over 2 million tons of textiles out of landfills, and improve our customers’ bottom line by 15 per cent [in line with various Sustainable Development Goals].
What role do consumers have to play in this fight?
Fashion executives now prioritize sustainability, transparency, and digitizing the process of buying and selling textiles over everything else [according to a recent study by McKinsey & Company]. This period of quarantine could even accelerate some of these shifts, including customers’ growing antipathy toward waste-producing business models and heightened expectations for purpose-driven, sustainable action.
How will the investment from Cartier as part of the CWI help Queen of Raw?
With the investment, the quicker we match a buyer with a seller, the quicker we can keep this waste out of landfill. We implement artificial intelligence like product recommendations, chatbots, and custom search results to enhance the matchmaking process in our marketplace. And we verify data records and workflow using blockchain.
To learn more about Queen of Raw, click here.