Fashion Women Who Lead

Queen of Raw CEO Stephanie Benedetto Is Combatting The World’s Water Crisis One Textile At A Time

Queen of Raw CEO Stephanie Benedetto, is on a mission to end the fashion industry’s pollution problem by giving new life to deadstock fabrics.

For over a decade fast fashion has been cited as one of the largest polluters in the world. From harmful chemicals and dyes to the copious amounts of water used in production, the trillion dollar industry impacts every facet of our environmental health. For Stephanie Benedetto, CEO and Co-Founder of Queen Of Raw, combatting the industry’s impact has been somewhat of a birthright. 

With an 100 year familial history in the fabrics and textile industry, Benedetto has always been well acquainted with the realities of fashion. Behind the glam, Benedetto found that the shortcomings and inefficiencies outweighed the benefits.  

“Today, the fashion industry is the second greatest polluter of freshwater in the world and a lot of the raw material produced by this industry goes to waste,” says Benedetto, “$120 billion a year of unused material is thrown into landfills, burned up or just laid to rest in warehouses. This is higher than the GDP of most countries.”

After a career on Wall Street as a corporate attorney, where Benedetto specialized in fashion and technology, she manufactured a solution oriented business model that gives a new life to scrap materials, keeping them out of landfills. By reintroducing deadstock into the front end of production, Queen of Raw has created an online marketplace used to buy and sell scrap and unused textiles, turning pollution into profit.

Queen of Raw’s vision is a world without waste.  Our mission is to help businesses minimize waste in their supply chains, supporting their bottom line and the environment, while changing the way businesses think about waste.

This year, Benedetto was honoured in Cartier’s annual Women’s Initiative. Since 2006, the initiative has been driving change by empowering women entrepreneurs who are making an impact in their respective fields. Saving over one billion gallons of water to date, Benedetto says Queen of Raw is on a mission to save four billion gallons by 2025 and end the world’s water crisis for good.

“I am doing what I am doing to make a difference in the world not just for myself anymore, but for my children and my children’s children. I want them to have clean water to drink, clothes that aren’t toxic to wear, and a planet to live on,” says Benedetto.  

Cartier Women’s Initiative

In this week’s Women Who Lead Spotlight, we spoke with Stephanie Benedetto about the future of sustainable fashion and how Queen of Raw is helping the industry get there. 

Q & A

For many brands and designers sustainability is an afterthought. In putting environmentally friendly options at the front end of production, how are you innovating within the industry?

With the investment from Cartier, the quicker we match a buyer with a seller, the quicker we can keep this waste out of landfill. We implement artificial intelligence like product recommendations, chatbots, and custom search results to enhance the matchmaking process in our marketplace. And we verify data records and workflow using blockchain.

What do you believe is the biggest shortcoming for brands in trying to achieve truly sustainable fashion? What is the system that we have created that makes it seemingly so difficult to do so? 

Fast fashion has driven a drastic increase in textile production.  Global per capita textile production has increased from 5.9 kg to 13 kg per year over the period 1975 – 2018 and is projected to continue growing.  Up to 15% of that fabric is wasted. 

This waste is occurring now more than ever and it is polluting our drinking water, especially in developing countries.  One tee shirt takes 700 gallons of water to produce.  If we continue at the current pace of textile production, by 2025, two-thirds of the entire world’s population will face shortages of freshwater and be exposed to hazardous chemicals from textile production alone.  So we are not talking about 100 years from now, or even 50 years from now.  We are talking about today and on our shores.

Queen of Raw is a marketplace, how much monetary value can companies expect to see returned to them by utilizing your system? 

One of the unique and innovative features of our business is how it aligns the interests of various stakeholders (including the companies selling excess product, the creatives that purchase it, our business, and society as a whole). We have created incentives for one of the highest polluting industries to reduce their waste and environmental impact. This has resulted in our enterprise customers (from fast fashion to luxury) saving up to 15% of their bottom line in just one year. 

How much of an impact does your company have on water waste and pollution reduction? What metrics do you use to measure how much waste you are preventing? 

Queen of Raw’s marketplace uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to match companies that have excess fabric with the creators close by who need it throughout the world. So far, Queen of Raw has helped buyers and sellers of fabric save over one billion gallons of water. That’s enough clean water for 1.43 million people to drink around the world for 3 years. 

As a woman in business navigating a male dominated industry, how do you ensure your voice is heard? What advice would you give other women in similar situations?

Women’s choices impact up to 85% of purchasing decisions. By some analyses, they account for $4.3 trillion of total U.S. consumer spending of $5.9 trillion, making women the largest single economic force not just in the United States, but in the world! That is power. Having women not just on staff, but in positions of leadership in the tech industry is therefore a huge advantage to businesses. Being active in organizations that promote female entrepreneurs and women in tech is important. But it takes money to make money. We need more women to receive venture capital funding. 

What is your dream for sustainable fashion and how do you hope Queen of Raw will act as a way to get there? 

Queen of Raw’s vision is a world without waste.  Our mission is to help businesses minimize waste in their supply chains, supporting their bottom line and the environment, while changing the way businesses think about waste.  By 2025, we can save over 4 billion gallons of water (SDG 6), keep over 2 million tons of textiles out of landfills (SDG 12), and improve our customers’ bottom line by 15% (SDG 17).    

The coronavirus pandemic has had an overwhelming impact on the fashion industry. What do you think is next? 

Fashion executives now prioritize sustainability, transparency, and digitizing the process of buying and selling textiles over everything else.  This period of quarantine could even accelerate some of these shifts, including customers’ growing antipathy toward waste-producing business models and heightened expectations for purpose-driven, sustainable action.