Without question, ethics have become an increasingly important concern for consumers when interacting with companies and brands. They expect bold action to address moral blind spots. And they want to know that the brands they are buying from have a net positive impact on human beings and the natural world. This holds especially true for the fashion industry, one of the poster childs for unethical behavior. “Despite the glamour, most of the apparel industry is a world of misery and exploitation, cramped floor conditions and low wages. Manufacturers farm out work to hundreds of competing sub-contractors who hunt around the globe for ever cheaper labour, often finding it in places with dubious labour law enforcement. In addition to these unethical labor practices, many fast-fashion companies display little remorse in copying designers, cheating them out of their livelihood,” laments Umaimah. Thankfully, some brands have the right idea and are paying close attention to both ethics and technology in order to solve these issues. “For me, ethics and technology are intertwined. Some people say that technology is unbiased, clinical and fair to everyone. That is a flawed assumption. Technology is like any other power, without heart it can destroy us all. That was one of the fundamental reasons why I started VIDA. To change how we approach fashion not just from the point of view of manufacturing and distribution but also in how we interact with creators and designers. Technology plays a big role in that. The VIDA Design Studio platform ensures that designers retain complete creative control and ownership of their work every step of the way. This has allowed us to become a hub for creative individuals to design the unexpected, one of a kind pieces that are brought into the world sustainably and ethically. We take care of the manufacturing, shipping and fulfillment, so that creatives can focus on what they do best, creating groundbreaking pieces of art and self expression.” says Umaimah.
Starting with a Dream
Dreams are the fuel that drives the success of every entrepreneur. Some of us will think about the fast cars that we get to enjoy. Some of us dream about the house with the white picket fence and the 2 children. And some of us will dream of being in business. Dreams of creating that company that we’ve always wanted to run. Dreams of making waves in a certain industry. Dreams of building a legacy. To those of us, becoming an entrepreneur is the ultimate dream. And most often these dreams are a result of our lived experiences.
For Umaimah, it was her childhood growing up in rural Pakistan that drove her to become an entrepreneur. “I grew up in a part of Pakistan where access to formal schooling was minimal. What was not minimal, however, was access to incredible local craftsmanship which inspired me to sew, paint, print, sculpt and create. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to build a company that makes a meaningful impact in the world. I moved to the United States to earn my BSC from Cornell University in Human Development and, later, an MBA from Harvard University. When I finished my studies, I joined Microsoft as Director of Product in Microsoft's Startup Business Group and later worked as a Director at West where I led product strategy for some of the most promising pre-IPO tech startups. After years working in Silicon Valley, I decided to start a company to connect customers to creatives through an on-demand manufacturing supply chain. I wanted to bridge the gap between supply and demand and utilize my experience in technology and passion for art and design. Consumers today don’t have access to really creative and sustainable products that tell a story from all parts of the world. That was what I thought was the crucial ingredient that was missing from the fashion industry and what I wanted to address with VIDA,” reminisces Umaimah.
Telling stories with Technology
We are always inspired and astounded at the constant development of technology moving the fashion industry into a more efficient and creative future. Refining and developing manufacturing processes allows designers limitless possibilities. The ever-growing digital world opens up new opportunities, both in the creative process and the way we interact with and discover fashion. Incredible products are growing out of interdisciplinary collaborations, using the skills of scientists, computer engineers, manufacturers and designers.
“People today are paying close attention to the businesses they shop with in an effort to minimize the impact their purchases have on the planet. Fashion industry technology trends are beginning to reflect this, with the development of new, emerging technologies in the fashion industry focused on tackling the causes behind fashion’s sustainability struggles. Evolving technology affecting materials, products, and consumer experience promise to have an enormous impact on reducing waste over the next decade. For example, by using advanced 3D rendering technology at VIDA our designers and consumers can see how a product is going to look. When combined with changes to materials that add longevity and require fewer resources to produce, we have been able to drastically reduce waste and consequently our impact on the environment,” says Umaimah.
Without communities and individuals, businesses would not exist. Whether in the role of employees, consumers or investors, businesses need people if they are to grow and thrive. Despite this, many companies limit their focus to revenue generation, and as such, do not fully account for the dependency and impact that their operation has on society.
The fashion industry is particularly guilty of this. However, society is increasingly beginning to demand that companies start to look at their wider impact; from socially minded entrepreneurs, to surveys clearly highlighting that many of today’s young people do not believe that growth and having a positive social impact need to be mutually exclusive, there are clear trends forcing all industries towards more socially-responsible business models. As Umaimah explains, businesses can no longer brush away the effects their practices have on the wider world. “Businesses cannot afford to ignore the social impact of their business or the interests of their wider stakeholders. More than ever, people seek personal fulfillment from their work and make buying decisions that create a lasting impact on the world. The positive impact of diversity, inclusion and environmental sensitivity is no longer debatable.”