For International Women’s Day, I want to give it up for one of my favourite business women, Valerie Goode, founder of ethical fashion brand, Kitty Ferreira. In an industry not known for championing the wonderful diversity and style of all the women we know and love, it’s always inspiring to spot pioneering brands which are stepping in to shake things up.
I came across Valerie’s work at a Source Ethical Fashion Brand Preview, where her beautiful silhouettes, and fabrics (dyed with onions and pomegranates) really made an impact. Described by Lucy Siegle in the Guardian as the fashion choice for “boardroom activists”, Kitty Ferreira is helping challenge “ethical” as the fashion choice of worthy do-gooders. Her designs stand up on their own terms as timeless looks that will suit women in a variety of shapes and sizes. (I’m happy to see that her range goes from size 6 to 26 and made-to-measure.)
After witnessing high levels of pollution as a senior womenswear designer in China, Valerie decided to do things differently and so Kitty Ferreira was born. The slow fashion brand is named after Valerie’s grandmother, whose Caribbean lifestyle and “make do and mend” attitude inspired its ethos.
As a British black women in an elitist industry, it has been that extra bit challenging for Valerie to make it as a fashion designer running her own label. This is due to the combination of systemic sexism and racism which still permeates the industry from education through to being the “right fit” for financial backers when looking for funding.
With a notable lack of diversity from designers to models and make-up artists. Valerie said:
“Being ethical and sustainable is not a fad but rather a lifestyle choice and indeed a mindset. How models are shown are all reflective of an industry or institution that could do with a shaking up. This is what being sustainable & ethical is really all about – encompassing all aspects of life, not just fashion.”
As a way to help redress the balance, there are catwalk shows specifically for ethnic minorities, but Valerie said there can be resentment around these events and negativity. It can also be tough in such a competitive industry where there is a fear that speaking out could hamper future careers. However, perhaps this is changing. Valerie recently spoke to students who had set up a petition to address the lack of diversity in the industry.
With fifteen years’ experience behind her, Valerie feels a huge responsibility to be a role model to young designers. What worries her is the way that women can start to feel that certain routes are just not for them. She’s testament that it can be done, and advises young women designers to network as much as possible and gain not just creative design experience, but get to grips with the business side of things.
Putting your passion first
Valerie tells me that she is the only black women out of five from her graduating class who is still in the fashion industry or running their own fashion business, which illustrates the need for major change throughout the industry. Ultimately Valerie has got on with it and is making a success of her business; showing her designs globally from Milan to Berlin, and will be hitting Moda 360 in LA in April.
What I love about Valerie’s success is that she has got ahead by doing what she believes in. Kitty Ferreira’s slow fashion ethos has helped Valerie find her position in the market. She says “if you’re doing the right thing, you will attract the right kind of people” and then you can take up the opportunities that arise. Valerie is working in an area which seeks to change the way the fashion industry works from within, and her core principles and passions are helping her succeed.
Do check out our other wonder women: emojinal queen, Meabh Quorin and meerkat brain tamer, Jane Evans.
Which woman is your inspiration this International Women’s Day? Let us know on Twitter via @OggaDoon.