Rebecca Ballard is the Founder & CEO of Maven Women. She worked on human and labor rights issues around the globe. Rebecca quickly learned about the global negative impact of the fashion industry. The collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh was a turning point in global consciousness and the devastation propelled Rebecca to deeply ponder the best way to integrate my love of great style and passion for human rights.
- Tell us about yourself. Why did you decide to start Maven Women? What are your fashion creds?
I had the idea for Maven Women over a decade ago, when I was in law school. I became a lawyer out of my passion for social justice, yet I was unable to find clothing that fit my vocation, values, and aesthetic. I tried to not start Maven Women for some time, as I knew that starting a company would be incredibly emotionally taxing and risky for myself and my family. I also struggled with self-doubt around whether I could actually do this, as many women do.After a decade of practicing law, advocacy including fair trade and poverty alleviation work domestically and abroad, and experiences running a few nonprofits I finally felt ready. The world was ready as well.
Thanks to the hard work of many pioneers and a heightened consumer consciousness some of the puzzle pieces were in place. I saw the ethical fashion industry ramping up with more options for factories and fabric that would mean I wouldn’t have to start from scratch. Many great new ethical brands were popping up, however no one was creating clothing in line with our aesthetic.I have a background in art and figure drawing, and I’ve learned the technical ins and outs of fashion along the way with some great teachers and a lot of hard work. I see clothes not in isolation but with how they fit and flatter a woman’s body and match her lifestyle. They need to account for all of the beautiful diversity that women possess and a woman’s natural shape. Far too many designers design for mannequins, not curves!
- Where are your dresses produced and what materials are being used?
Our first line is created in India by the fair trade and woman-owned factory Mehera Shaw using materials certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard, which includes both environmental and labor components. We upcycle our production scraps and donate them to the Meher Road Foundation, which supports women’s micro-entrepreneurship in the slums of Jaipur.We are also working on a domestic collection that brings in American eco-innovation in collaboration with a woman-owned factory and a fantastic woman-owned upcycling partner. Stay tuned for some really big announcements here and please sign up for our listserv to hear the news first!
- Why is sustainability and ethics so important to you?
I think this can best be summed up by not my own words but that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Letter from Birmingham Jail:
In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. Every choice we make as a consumer affects the lives that are part of the product’s creation. Are we honoring those people? And are we being as gentle as we can towards our planet? This is how I try to live my life and a central part of my faith. I have made far too many choices over my life because they are cheap and easy, and I hope to be more thoughtful in my consumption every year.
- What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned as an entrepreneur in the fashion industry?
It’s a long, arduous journey in an industry built on instant gratification. The first year and a half was incredibly intense, with long hours. I was even working in the hospital the day after an emergency C-section!I’ve had to ramp back that intensity simply to survive, plus after you get through that first year and a half you have put much in motion that will save time later on. Hence the reason why the Lean Startup method and setting up good business practices from the beginning are so important!I work with less time pressure, as I’ve learned that there will be delays out of my control, yet still with attention to detail and great gusto for moving things forward. It is hard when customers and retailers love what we are doing but crave a larger product offering, which I completely understand. I’m getting better at both explaining why we are at our present stage and being OK with the fact that it takes time to do things the right way. The wheels are in motion for us to have an exponential ramp up over the next few years due to all of the agonizingly hard work early on.
- Describe your personal style. Who are your style icons and why?
I like classic, comfortable, and timeless pieces with interesting detailing. I also love to show a bit (or more!) of skin when appropriate. I try and dress in line with my figure, which is petite and pear-shaped, rather than following “trends” or what I see on others with different builds. I try and buy pieces that I will love for ten years or more.I love the gamine flirtatiousness of Audrey Hepburn, classic elegance of Grace Kelly, sleek sexiness of Angelina Jolie, and the practical, smart, and modern glamour of petite actresses Natalie Portman and Anna Kendrick.
- What’s always in your fridge?
Produce and cooking staples from three social enterprises, Hungry Harvest, Glen’s Garden Market, and The Little Farmstand CSA. Check them out-Hungry Harvest is national and the latter two are in the DC area. Sparkling water, which I make myself, and wine. Wine is definitely a weakness. I don’t drink many beverages other than those two and smoothies, however in the winter I’m a sucker for hot, fresh apple cider.At present there is also always homemade “baby food” that I make for my son. We do lots of veggie fritters with herbs and spices so he can self-feed with a high protein, high nutrient diet as well as a wide array of other options that are primary vegetables and vegan protein (e.g., tofu, nut butters, legumes). His food education is incredibly important to me and I love teaching him about a wide range of healthy, flavorful cuisines. I stayed up until one am last night making food for him for the upcoming week!Cheese is my favorite food so a year ago you would have heard about my cheese drawer. For health and animal welfare reasons I’m reducing my dairy intake. As a breastfeeding mother I’ve been thinking more about the dairy industry and I’m in the middle of a learning and discernment process around next steps there.
- Which three things can’t you live without?
My family, friends, and faith. I couldn’t have a more amazing community and life here in DC and I am grateful for all of the love and support I receive every day. I hope I can give back as much as I receive in both my personal and professional life, which are becoming increasingly intertwined.