As one of America's youngest and brightest social entrepreneurs, Beth Doane launched her first fashion company at age 22, created a consulting firm focused on sustainability, and speaks nationally about her journey from fashion designer to humanitarian, including her time spent living with indigenous cultures across Africa, the Amazon and Central America.
What started with a career importing and distributing high-end fashion brands across the U.S. market resulted in Beth's work to make the fashion industry more ethical and sustainable. Her fashion brand, RainTees, is designed in 100 percent organic cotton and was one of the first eco-conscious brands on the market. It launched at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in 2008 and today, RainTees works with nonprofit partners in more than 38 countries and operates a pen-pal program linking fans with at-risk youth in developing nations.
Every RainTee sold results in the planting of a tree, and the line has helped reforest mass areas of land that are being destroyed by logging, oil drilling and ranching. Her work has also helped spread awareness about the largest environmental court case in history, occurring in the Ecuadorian Amazon where more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste were dumped by a multi-national oil company onto indigenous lands.
Hemispheres Magazine nominated her a “hero” for her environmental achievements, and celebrity photographer John Russo featured her in his book, "100 Making a Difference," alongside first lady Michelle Obama and director Steven Spielberg. She has spoken at TedX, at universities across the country, including the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) — also the the West Coast Home of "Project Runway" — and has spoken on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., alongside celebrities, politicians and NASA scientists about sustainability and climate change. She has also written an award-winning children’s book entitled "From the Jungle’" that will launch in June that highlights the lives and journeys of four children living in endangered tropical rain forests.
I had to figure out how this passionate 29-year-old got where she is and what she was up to next.
MNN: How did your early experiences and fashion experience inform your activism?
Beth Doane: I have been in love with nature and wildlife since I was a little girl, and my first attempt to save our rain forests was in second grade. I was pretty persuasive in my cause and managed to collect all my friends' lunch money. I got sent to the principal's office as a result, but my passion never really faded. As a young woman in the fashion industry many years later, I saw firsthand how toxic fashion production is environmentally and for millions of garment workers (mostly females) around the globe.
I was shocked by the human rights violations that occur in manufacturing and also by the rate at which "fast fashion" is destroying our planet. Fast fashion evolved as retailers and brands realized they could greatly increase their profits by producing multiple collections each year and like fast food, fast fashion is made using crappy materials that are cheap to produce, cheap to purchase and come with a dangerously high cost to humans and the Earth. It's a completely unsustainable way of doing business and what I learned changed the direction of not just my career but my life.
Why are you so passionate about environmental issues?
I think what drove me as a child and what still inspires me today is what most of us know instinctively — we are not merely on this Earth, we are of it and so much a part of it that whatever we do to this planet we are in essence doing to ourselves. I think that when we are ready to see this truth with open eyes, we will then see massive change occur because we will no longer behave in ways that ensure the demise of the human race as we are doing today.
We are running out of time to combat the effects of human-induced climate change and we have to take this seriously. The more people that truly understand what is happening the better chance we have at turning around the crisis we are facing.
We have become so disconnected and so separate from nature it is actually killing us and we don't even see it — we even go as far as to deny what we do see.
You have spent more time than most Westerners with indigenous people. How have they influenced you?
I love spending time with indigenous people. They value and understand nature and would never destroy it for the immediate monetary gain that we are taught from a very young age is acceptable in so much of our Western culture.
They respect the delicate balance of our planets intricate ecosystems and I am continually mesmerized, amazed and given so much hope by the ways they live their lives. I love speaking about the benefits and scientifically proven positive effects that being immersed in nature provides our human body and our minds, and I have experienced that myself form my time spent with tribal people.
What is your passion when it comes to the planet? What issue is most important to you?
Reforestation is crucial; we can't continue to destroy the lungs of our planet and expect to survive. This is why I focused on reforestation with my brand RainTees. Trees are so powerful and provide a very viable solution to curbing CO2 and its appalling to me the rate at which we are destroying our world's forests from Canada to Cambodia to Colombia. When we destroy a forest we destroy more than land. We eradicate native species, thousands of which are facing extinction today, we alter weather patterns, we displace indigenous people and cause intense pollution. I speak a lot about "the power of planting" and how a single mature tree can actually absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 pounds or more!
What is your 10-year goal? 20?
My goals are all about creating a world where we value our natural resources, where we value each other and where we actually work together to create what we want and not against each other. Through education I believe that's possible. We can't expect people to change what they don't really understand. It starts with awareness and it's why I spend so much time writing and speaking about what I have learned and my personal experiences.
What kind of advice would you give to a young person regarding how they can get involved in environmental work?
Find your passion first. Amazing things happen when we are aligned with what really inspires us to make a difference. I believe every single one of us has something powerful and profound to share. When we know what that thing is and what we stand for, there are so many incredible organizations doing amazing work for us to contribute to.
I see a lot of people, friends, colleagues, etc., starting new foundations or charities, but this is not always necessary or even the best way to make a difference in my opinion. There is so much that can be done through already existing channels. Explore sites like charitynavigator.org. I am also a massive supporter of microcredit and there are incredible organizations that specialize in this. It really does change lives, and I believe social business and brands that give back are the answer moving forward which is why I designed a social business over a nonprofit.
What's your favorite place to spend time in?
I love the Eastern coast of Africa and so many countries in Latin America. Too difficult to pick just one!