This High-Fashion Business Leader Used Her Vacation to Help Create Jobs for Women in South America #ExperteerSpotlight

Alexandra Nemeth

Senior Manager, Content Marketing & Storytelling at MovingWorlds

What do renowned Fashion Houses like Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Alexander McQueen have in common? They’re all managed by Kering, a Global Luxury Group with empowering imagination is at the heart of its strategy. In terms of luxury goods, that means providing back-end services that empower its Houses to focus on innovation. In terms of corporate citizenship, it means raising the bar for sustainable business practices and taking action to support women’s rights around the world.

Through the Kering Foundation Solidarity Leave Program, and its partnership with MovingWorlds, employees like Paola have the opportunity to contribute directly to fulfilling this mission by volunteering with NGOs and social enterprises fighting sexual violence, harmful traditional practices, and domestic violence. Through MovingWorlds, Paola partnered with an ethical fashion B-corporation to spend her Solidarity Leave working to protect the livelihoods, well-being, and cultural values of rural indigenous women globally. Read her full interview to learn how!

“What is your role at Kering?”

I am responsible for Strategic Projects and Business Development at Alexander McQueen, a Kering Group brand, in London. I have a background in investment banking, but I decided a few years ago to look for new professional challenges and found myself drawn to fashion. A passion for creativity and innovation combined with a desire to develop a more sustainable industry were key motivating factors to join Kering.

“What inspired you to apply to Kering Foundation’s Solidarity Leave program?”

I learned about the Solidarity Leave program in my first year at Alexander McQueen, and was intrigued right away. I feel truly privileged by all the opportunities I have received throughout my life in terms of education and work experiences. Reflecting on this, I felt a growing urge to give back and share my knowledge and skills with others. At the same time, I saw in the Solidarity Leave program an unparalleled learning opportunity in being exposed to other cultures and a different reality. I also hoped that such an experience could be instrumental for me in finding more purpose in my work and life.

Because the Solidarity Leave missions are short-term in duration, I decided to wait a couple of years into my role at Alexander McQueen before applying to ensure I could truly contribute to the project and optimize my impact for the organization I matched with. Throughout the whole process, the CEO of my company and our Head of HR proved to be extremely supportive, and they encouraged me to apply. After an initial consultation with the liaison person at the Kering Foundation, we agreed that MovingWorlds would likely be the most suitable partner for me to find the right project because of its range and scope of skills-based projects – especially considering my business management profile.

What was the planning and matching process like?

I had an initial call with MovingWorlds, which helped better define the types of projects that would be most suitable for my skills and background. Following the call, MovingWorlds proposed a few interesting projects, including an organization in Peru working with Andean female artisans as well as a Bolivian organization supporting child victims of sexual violence.

My profile on MovingWorlds, however, also got the attention of an ethical fashion company working with Mapuche weavers in Chile. Whilst their project had not yet been fully approved by the Kering Foundation, I felt very strongly about it. The organization was looking for someone who could support them in reviewing their local business model for fair trade production, and my hybrid finance/fashion experience aligned really well.

I then worked with MovingWorlds and the Kering Foundation to approve my request. Thankfully, the Kering Foundation considered my request and agreed to sign off on both the project and budget. While this resulted in a shorter-than-ideal planning process, I was still able to prepare with the hosting organization, and the MovingWorlds online training proved really useful.

What organization did you work with, and what project did you work on?

I worked with VOZ, an artisanal luxury fashion brand collaborating with Mapuche female weavers in Chile. “Voz” means “Voice” in Spanish, and the key mission of the company is indeed to empower women to have a voice through collaborative fashion design. Fair wages are paid, a traditional art form (hand-loomed textile weaving) is preserved, and a sustainable supply chain is guaranteed.

VOZ artisan using hand-loom to weave
VOZ artisan weaving textiles using a hand-loom

The goal of my project was to work closely with VOZ Chilean team to help audit and create a strategic plan for the future development of the business. At a critical point in its development, management felt they needed external expertise to address some key challenges they were facing – notably the financial sustainability of their business model.

Jasmine, the founder of VOZ, and I knew that two weeks was a tight timeline to fully accomplish our set goals. It was, however, enough time for me to get to know the local team, meet the weavers, and gain great knowledge of the business’s strengths, weaknesses, areas of focus, and unique supply chain. As a result, after the 2 weeks in Chile with Voz, I was in a better place to subsequently advise and mentor VOZ (on a virtual basis) after my return back to London.

Paola (right) on the ground with VOZ in Chile
Paola (right) on the ground with VOZ artisans in Chile

I am currently still in touch with VOZ founder and continue to offer my mentoring support to the business, particularly in terms of applying my strategic analysis, consulting, business planning, and forecasting skills.

What was the highlight of your solidarity leave trip?

Human Contact. The warmth and generosity of the VOZ team and of the weavers was really powerful. I have learned key life lessons from the interaction and contact with the VOZ women.

Paola with VOZ Chile artisans
Paola connecting with the VOZ team in Chile

One of the potential barriers we had identified before my departure was my limited knowledge of the Spanish language. Only one person on the team spoke a bit of English, and the weavers did not. However, interaction was fluid and came easily from day one. The team, Jorge (Director of Operations in Chile) and Veronica (Director of Artisanship and Quality Control) were very welcoming towards me and open to dialogue, sharing information and brainstorming ideas with me. Language is not always a barrier, and an open heart is clearly the best bridge: this is a key lesson I learned!

I also truly appreciated the opportunity to meet and spend time with the weavers. I could not have understood what VOZ stands for without meeting them and seeing the operation in action. These wonderful women opened the doors of their homes and shared with me maté and food, opening up and discussing ideas, wishes, and dreams. They showed me how they weave at their looms. Throughout my life, I have hardly come across people as passionate as these women are about what they do. This passion overcomes all the obstacles and challenges of their everyday lives, and it’s inspiring. I am so full of gratitude for these incredible encounters.

Chilean meal with mate
A delicious meal can cross language barriers!

What advice do you have for people considering taking Solidarity Leave?

I cannot recommend it enough! It is a truly enriching experience. I think it’s worth waiting a few years into your Kering career before applying in order to ensure one can truly contribute to the mission, as the duration of the programs is quite limited.

Another bit of advice is to remain humble and aware that two-three weeks might be a limited period – yet enough to make a positive impact and start a nice collaboration that makes a real difference. [Editor’s note: This is a great point, Paola! Indeed, if proper planning and training is completed, short-term volunteers can make a real impact].

We’re proud to partner with companies like Kering who are leading the industry in sustainable business practices and corporate citizenship. If you’re a business leader considering implementing a sabbatical program like Kering’s for your company, you can learn more about corporate partnerships with MovingWorlds here.