While the fashion industry is broad and diverse, many outside of the industry tend to view it through the lens of popular stereotype. The Devil Wears Prada instantly comes to mind when New York Fashion Week is mentioned. The general perception has been that those working in fashion are materialistic, vain and self-serving. However, many, including a lot of twentysomethings, are revolutionizing the fashion industry to serve a greater purpose.
Sydney, 22, always knew she would work in fashion, however, the avenue in which she approached her career path greatly changed during her college years. As a freshmen, her goal was to pursue a profession in fashion journalism, preferably ending up at Vogue. She dove into her college courses and became involved with student organizations, and she began to develop interest in businesses that add a “social punch” to what they do.
Joining the SOUP, a student-led nonprofit, in its beginning stages introduced Sydney to the world of social entrepreneurship. By becoming heavily invested in the nonprofit, she saw how fundraising, though a necessary tool, was not a sustainable revenue source for growth. While exploring how to further expand the SOUP’s reach in Africa, she and SOUP founder, Brin, noticed a gap in the market. They realized that many companies circulating Eastern African products were focused on connecting to female consumers (jewelry, scarves, etc.), while male consumers were very little engaged. This inspired Sydney and Brin to come up with an idea to utilize a product geared toward men — the classic bow tie. The bow ties is unique, timeless, can be sold to a higher end market, and can be easily brought through customs. Lion’s Thread was born. The organization is an artisan bow tie social enterprise, made of the finest African textiles, employing local Ugandan artisans, bringing classic cuts back to the forefront of fashion, and giving men a reason and an opportunity to participate in social good.
Sydney is the Creative Director, while Brin is the CEO, but due to current circumstances, their roles have somewhat flipped. Brin is currently working on SOUP and Lion’s Thread projects in rural Uganda, and has taken on a hands-on role out of necessity, delivering product, revising patterns, working with the seamstresses, and performing quality control on a daily basis. Sydney, finishing up her degree stateside, has had many more opportunities to promote and present Lion’s Thread to investors and future partners, and has ended up handling most of the finances, marketing, PR, and the business plan.
“I never pictured myself in a role like this. Business has always been Brin’s comfort zone and design is mine, but it’s been an interesting and fun opportunity to grow,” Sydney said.
By presenting at Confluence, Clinton Global Initiative University, and other entrepreneurial events, Lion’s Thread is currently raising funding and awareness. A Kickstarter campaign was also launched and has 6 days left. The team hopes to raise $8,000 of initial funds to plug back into the business to increase production, hire more artisans, find more textiles to use, and expand their markets stateside. Right now, they are giving bow ties as rewards on the Kickstarter, their online store will launch a few weeks after the campaign ends, and they hope to be in more online marketplaces with a fashion and social impact (like TOMS) within the next few months. Eventually, they will expand to brick and mortar store, but for now quality of product and worker is everything.
“We exist to provide meaningful employment for these women,” Sydney explained. “We have to make sure we grow at a gradual rate, otherwise the strain we put on our employees is more hurtful than helpful.”
Sydney is all in. She has even jumped into advanced sewing classes this year to get a better understanding of the task at hand. Having always been a lover of fashion and design, and being a former intern with Billy Reid, she had gotten by with a just few basic sewing classes. However, knowing both fashion and social entrepreneurship to be very hands-on, Sydney continues to seek development in every area necessary to make Lion’s Thread a success.
Graduating next month with a communications degree from Berry College, Sydney will be spending the next year as a fellow at the Woodruff Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia. Although she eventually sees herself going full-time with Lion’s Thread, right now her and the team’s focus is getting off the ground and plugging the first profits back into company to spur on production, hire more local artisans, and hopefully grow to encompass other regions in Africa. Any job Sydney will take on in the next few years will be for the purpose of developing skills necessary to grow Lion’s Thread – whether that is business or design.
Today, Sydney cannot imagine working for an organization without a greater social good involved. She says it’s a norm our generation is demanding in greater quantities – to be change makers. Her advise to her twentysomething peers is to take risks when it comes to doing things you’re passionate about, “It is never going to be the right time,” she said. “If this is something you want to do, just do it, and work out the kinks along the way.”
Sydney | Kickstarter
Creative Director, Lion’s Thread • 22 • Rome, GA