A post by Brianna Kilcullen, Social Responsibility and Traceability Manager at prAna Living
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Meade
I share this quote with you because it is my own inspiration; I read it every morning when I wake up. I wrote it on a poster board that I carried during the Women’s March earlier this year. I have inserted it in my email message, quote it as much as possible to family/friends, and physically look at my poster every time I walk by it in my house. Sound a bit overkill? I’m going to tell you why it’s not.
I work to promote sustainability and human rights in the apparel industry, a $3.5 trillion behemoth. A bit about my background: During college, I studied human rights and race relations in South Africa and also worked for the United States Secret Service based in Washington, D.C. I grabbed an International Business degree along the way, lived in Uganda and advocated for northern Ugandans with a non-profit before returning and having the universe place me as a Sourcing Coordinator at a hip new sports apparel company that goes by the name of Under Armour. I can still remember the day I found out I was moving to Baltimore and how bummed I was to leave my D.C. friends and lifestyle. Little did I know that the universe was opening my eyes to a whole world around the origins of my wardrobe and the people behind it.
Most apparel companies’ product teams are set up by either gender or product category. In this case, I was responsible for all men’s product that used knit fabric (fabric can either be knit or woven) and expanded across multiple product categories. I would print out cost sheets a.k.a. how companies decide how much it will cost to make a product so they know how much to sell you, the end customer.
I learned about the components of the cost sheet, the cost of raw materials (fabric and trims) and the labor and overhead, which would all come together to compute a $x.xx cost at the bottom of the page. I would print new cost sheets for the same style in different colorways that might cost more (prints usually cost more than solids) and diligently file them in my massive binder marked “F13 Men’s Knit Bottom Cost Sheets.”
I was overwhelmed and amazed how much work and cross-cultural dynamics came into play to make one pair of shorts! Fabric from Taiwan, trims from China, hangtags from the U.S., cut and sewn in Central America, shipped to the U.S. and distributed around the world. Oy! How could one pair of $22.99 shorts have traveled to more places than most Americans and never be able to tell its tale to its new owner other than a “Made in Nicaragua” content and claim label?
“THIS INDUSTRY IS CRAZY!” I would tell my family and friends on the phone after I would get off of work. “I never knew that this much work went into making clothes. They are so internationally savvy.”
“Huh,” they said. “Interesting.” These would be the tepid responses I heard.
“Well you just make sure there aren’t any young kids sewing your clothes.” I heard this all the time.
Disgruntled and frustrated by the disinterested responses and conversations I was having, I would try to find resources to share with my family and friends to better help explain my case and educate them. After all, we are all buying clothes that travel this path. Let’s just say it was a struggle.
How could I find stimulating talking points to share what I was witnessing? None of this is taught in schools or universities or by apparel brands. I was motivated by a desire to inform my family and friends but also to give a voice to the workers and Mother Earth that came together to outfit us.
Which brings me to the point where I am now – working and living my passion to educate consumers about the products we buy and use every day.
In the climate we live in today, we are completely overwhelmed and overstimulated by the sheer amount of access that we have to media, consumption, and others’ opinions. It is so easy to get caught up in the craze and forget we each have a purpose on this planet that is wonderfully and beautifully unique to each and every one of us.
At this point, you may have already taken the first step in being vulnerable and fearless by sharing your best ideas for change in this world with others. Bravo! That is huge! But now what? The challenge is keeping that momentum going, keeping the fire lit, and putting the wind in your sails to charge on when the fans leave the stadium and you are left practicing on your own.
Here are some tips I’d like to share with you that have kept me going in my quest for social change in business.
Surround yourself with a strong support system. Doesn’t matter how many people. It only matters the depth of those friendships. You cannot do this all alone! I have friends that have seen me through the good and the bad. When I started expressing some of my ideas for change, they were the first to start nominating me and connecting me to share my ideas and helped me pen my thoughts and set a foundation that has only grown since. These are the friends who will challenge you even if they aren’t experts in your field – they’re experts in friendship!
Don’t be afraid to say NO. Depending on your personality (mine is a YES girl), it might be cool to say “yes” to every opportunity to share your business ideas or get some momentum going… don’t be fooled. Spreading yourself thin in a lot of different areas might feel like you are touching all of your bases but it can prevent you from concentrating on where you can have the most impact. Lesson here – hold your ground and pick what is the right strategy for you. Don’t be afraid to say NO to things that don’t advance your goals!
Never forget your purpose. The state of corporations and businesses is volatile right now. The previous notion that a business’ sole purpose is to create profit is becoming obsolete. The businesses that are able to maintain and thrive even when markets change and growth varies are those that realize their purpose in the ecosystem and are consistent in what they stand for. The future is not just meeting the needs of the present but preserving the needs for future generations. I recommend reading this book, Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey and checking out the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to understand more about sculpting the purpose of a business.
I am happy to admit that I don’t know it all, and I am learning as I go in this process. You will get plenty of advice (some contradictory!) along the way as you form your ideas, but there is one thing I know for sure: The world needs you and more young women like YOU. We need to challenge the status quo in innovative and inspiring ways. We can check all of the boxes of traditional expectations but we also must go above and beyond and push people out of their comfort zones, challenging them to do more and be more!
Finally, I leave you with the below quote that I have printed and posted on my computer. It gives me great inspiration every day.
“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”
Brianna Kilcullen is a former east coaster who moved to the west coast to pursue all things peace, love and granola. She currently manages the sustainability program at prAna and is passionate about innovation disruptors, sustainable business models, conscious capitalism and human rights. She has worked in the apparel industry for most of her career and was a part of spearheading Under Armour’s first ever sustainability program. She graduated from The George Washington University International Business program and is an avid traveler that welcomes conversations around social change, Africa and her favorite Chance the Rapper song (it’s ever evolving).