THE BLOG

Empowering Young Women Economically Through Fashion

06/17/2013 02:44 pm ET | Updated Aug 17, 2013

By Carmina Mancenon, 2013 G(irls)20 Summit Delegate representing Japan

At 16, I found myself standing alone in front of a room filled with hundreds of CEOs, top politicians, royalty, and other individuals I admired. I was about to deliver one of the most important presentations of my life and I could only hope that they would take me seriously. What does a 16-year-old know about fashion and entrepreneurship, anyway?

In 2009, through the British Council Global Changemakers Programme, I was selected as one of six youth to present, participate and lead discussions at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. This particular presentation was a pitch of the microfinance initiative I co-founded called Stitch Tomorrow, a microfinance initiative that aims to provide motivated, low-income women in the Philippines with the education and business skills to enter the fashion industry. To my and the Stitch Tomorrow team's delight, I left the room with a stack of business cards sprinkled with advice.

I brought these interests with me to Princeton University where I now study. Together with some friends, I co-founded the Sustainable Fashion Initiative that promotes a socially and environmentally responsible understanding of fashion on campus and investigating practices that will enhance sustainability in the fashion industry as a whole. Projects include creating an on-campus seminar and holding an annual Fashion Week.

To many, fashion might seem like a superficial direction to devote civic engagement energy to. Yet, I believe that in many cases it can be one of the only ways to engage young women economically and socially. To me, one of the most powerful and effective ways to engage youth is to use what they are already passionate about to bring attention to larger economic and social implications. Such is the model that both Stitch Tomorrow and the Sustainable Fashion Initiative adapts.

Fashion goes beyond glossy magazine pages; if used well, it introduces girls to policy issues, entrepreneurship, and science - some key skills for the modern female pioneer. The clothing supply chain is one that is so globally connected from both production and consumption angles, that fashion is the ideal vehicle to introduce girls to these issues. They are introduced to understanding environmental consequences such as the desertification of the Aral Sea in the 1990s and debating labour standards in sweatshops around the world.

The platforms through which girls involved in Stitch Tomorrow and the Sustainable Fashion Initiative have chosen to become civically and economically engaged vary. It's seen the founding of Verte, an environmental and socially conscious clothing magazine and the inception 'Stitch Your Story', a social enterprise that allows consumers to customize fashion products to support causes they care about. At the very least, girls walk away from events with the knowledge that the purchasing power of their dollar in what clothing brands they choose to invest their wardrobe in is a statement of their beliefs and is therefore economic power in itself.

Given the chance, I would tell my 16-year-old self to have courage. Perhaps this model of using passion to drive economic and social engagement can apply to CEOs and young girls alike.

Carmina Mancenon, 2013 G(irls)20 Summit Delegate, representing Japan at the 2013 G(irls)20 Summit taking place June 15 - 19 in Moscow, Russia. Visit www.girls20summit.com to watch the G(irls)20 Summit live.