New BF+DA Associate Managing Director Richa Agarwal on Positive Change in Fashion

We are so happy to welcome our new Associate Managing Director Richa Agarwal!

As a committed social entrepreneur, Richa has worked at the intersection of the global apparel industry, education and human development and has led global teams for various organizations including fashion companies, international NGOs and foundations. At the BF+DA, she aims to fuse her design and engineering background to catalyze cultural change so business value is measured by a triple-bottom line benefiting all stakeholders.

As CEO & Founder of Global Shokunin, a Visiting Associate Professor at Pratt Institute as well as a Pratt Net Impact Adviser, Richa has had leadership roles that range from her work at Polo Ralph Lauren and Eileen Fisher to the Gates Foundation, NYC Braintrust and World Economic Forum.

We caught up with Richa to learn more about her views of the fashion industry, sustainable business models that work and how tech is factoring into the apparel equation. Here’s what she had to say:

Image: Global Shokunin, Richa at a pop up with the Karma Network explaining the process of dyeing cashmere shawls using discarded flower petals from temple offerings across India

You’ve spent years at the intersection of the global apparel industry and international development, in terms of entrepreneurship, how would you rate the current international climate?

We are living in a world of fantastic dichotomy at a time of hyper change and technological advances. While the international political climate is turning nationalistic and inwards, there are many opportunities arising from the environmental and social issues around the world. Entrepreneurs and businesses are uniquely poised to solving problems and I see tremendous hope in entrepreneurs that are launching businesses to solve some of world’s toughest challenges. I am seeing both innovative products and business models emerging that are creating a paradigm shift in the traditional one dimensional value-creation approach.

Where do you see opportunities for sustainable businesses?

Globally, business success is pegged to creation of financial-value and executive compensation is tied to stock market indices aka a company’s financial performance. If compensation could be tied to the triple bottom line (people, planet and profit) metrics, we can really move the dial on sustainability. Effective employee engagement is necessary by aligning individual performance metrics to a company’s sustainability goals at a very fundamental level. If companies empower employees to make decisions that incorporate a holistic definition of long-term value creation, they can capitalize on untapped potential and innovation that can emerge from every team and business unit.

Image: Bertha is a refugee fleeing domestic violence from South America who Global Shokunin partnered with last year to create handmade coasters using kantha or shashiko

Your current venture, Global Shokunin connects marginalized artisans directly to global consumers. How are you using tech to make that relationship stronger?

At Global Shokunin, our long-term goals are the democratization of market access. Artisans in the global south have limited opportunities to connect with customers in the global north. In addition, there are a host of issues such as market trends, quality and logistics that are great business opportunities for entrepreneurs. There are multiple intermediaries in the artisan value chain, some that play crucial roles in getting products to markets. While each of these intermediaries may provide vital services, they also impact the profit margins of the artisan. We are using technology to automate services provided by intermediaries and use story-telling to enable market access for artisan communities. We are working towards creating a platform where customers can interact directly with artisans to co-design custom products.

What is the thing you are most excited about right now and how do you see the BF+DA supporting or participating in it?

At the BF+DA, we have an incredible suite of services that enable sustainable business and avant-garde research using multi-disciplinary approaches. We are uniquely positioned in a thriving Brooklyn and NYC business eco-system that provides opportunities and networks not available anywhere else in the world. We have Venture Fellows, Research Fellows and companies-in-residence whose collective value chain spans the globe. We are doing cutting-edge research on sustainable wearable technologies and have an exceptionally talented crew. We have a textile production eco-system where we are experimenting to build the supply chain of the future, by combining a suite of technology solutions that can drastically shorten the product-development cycle, all the while being mindful of the environmental and social impact. We invite you to collaborate with us in re-shaping the world to encompass the dreams, hopes and aspirations of our shared future.