Promoting a Fashion Industry that is for People, Planet, and Profit
An interview with Jessica Kelly, founder and CEO of THR3EFOLD
As a fashion lover, fair trade advocate, and proud international relations nerd, I am interested in exploring the ways the fashion industry can contribute to social and economic advancement across the globe. Yet, this international supply chain system is still plagued with a multitude of human rights abuses and environmental degradation.
As such, I was excited to speak with Jessica Kelly, founder and CEO of THR3EFOLD, who is actively working to change this by connecting fashion brands with ethical factories.
Below are some highlights from our conversation:
What drew you into the world of fashion?
I wanted to work in fashion since I was 8 years old. I always loved it. I would pour over the pages of Vogue. I loved that it was a wearable art, a way to express who you were without saying anything, that you could stand out, you could blend in, that it gave so much beauty to people. I loved the escapism of it.
What inspired the idea of THR3EFOLD? How did you realize that changes needed to be made in the industry?
I started in PR, and from there I worked in sales and marketing, and I had gotten to the point where I was craving more meaning in my career. At about that same time I went on a trip to Zimbabwe, and was able to spend time with the most amazing, generous, joyful people that had absolutely nothing, and was face to face with true social injustice and it changed my life. I knew I had to do something. I eventually launched THR3EFOLD as a marketing agency and the concept was giving 10% back but it wasn’t nearly on the scale of the impact that I wanted to have to start a company.
This lead me on a research & development trip to India, where I ended up meeting with these incredible factories, like a small scale factory that employs women rescued out of sex trafficking and a large scale factory, that makes for H&M and Target and Kohl’s, which has daycare for their employees’ kids and a machine that dyes denim with one glass of water.
All of my assumptions on that trip were checked left and right. It was really clear that there was good work happening, it’s just too hard to find it. So I came back and deleted everything off the website, totally pivoted, and it’s been resonating ever since.
Let’s say I’m a designer starting a new brand. What are the different steps you would take me through as a brand to get me set up?
On our website is a brand application, so you fill that out and you put in your designs, your tech pack, the category you’re making, the quantity that you’re making in, any extra services you need. Our team will review and send you a contract that outlines our pricing and what we offer, and then do research finding a factory that’s a good fit for you. We connect you via email so you can immediately take the driver seat and stay in communication should any questions arise.
In terms of the standards, have you been focusing on factories that already have a certification or following your own standards?
Currently we will only work with factories that are ethically certified [this includes Fair Trade, GOTS, WRAP, Better Work, BSCI, SA8000, BSCI, and B Corp] .
I see the company taking three different phases. Phase 1 is where we’re at now, which is connecting brands with already certified factories. Phase 2 is going to be a two-pronged approach, first, how to certify factories operating at these standards but haven’t yet taken the financial leap to getting certified, and then getting factories with subpar standards up to par. Lastly, Stage 3, which is where my heart really lies, is going after tier 2, 3, and 4 of the supply chain, where the human trafficking really runs rampant, and eradicating those injustices from our industry.
Do you think the fashion industry is starting to pivot to a more sustainable and ethical future or do you think that’s going to continue to be an uphill battle?
I do think that it’s a really big mountain we’re climbing, and we have to remember that, but the conversation is more prevalent now than it ever has been. I think it’s going to continue to only get better based on the conversations that I constantly have. From newly graduated to about a mid-management level, which are pretty much all millennials, are very passionate about finding solutions. We have to bridge this passion with the upper executives who have to answer to profit. But that’s what THR3EFOLD stands for, is people, planet, profit. I don’t think they’re opposed. It just means we need to be better at creating products and services that allow them to coincide together, and develop a threefold return as a result.
This interview has been edited and condensed for this blog.