Article by Allie Dalola, US State Department Intern, currently studying Business Administration and Economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill.
|AWE Alumna Grace Achieng founded her sustainable fashion brand Gracelandic in 2020.|
[Reykjavik, January 2023] Grace Achieng, a student at the Academy for Entrepreneurship, is helping to transform the fashion industry’s impact on the environment through her company Gracelandic.
“When fashion is done right,” says Achieng, “it can be transformative for the people who wear the clothes and the environment.”
As a “slow fashion” brand, Gracelandic is in stark contrast to the large “fast fashion” manufacturers whose main goal is mass, fast production. The slow fashion movement promotes greater sustainability by producing higher quality, eco-friendly clothing that will last longer. As such, Gracelandic uses a more holistic, socially conscious production model that prioritizes the triple bottom line: people, profit and the planet.
|Achieng’s business prioritizes the triple bottom line: people, profit and the planet.|
For example, Achieng has partnered with an ethical manufacturer to supply all Gracelandic fabrics. By intentionally producing ethically produced clothing, her company limits overstocking and recycles all of its fabric scraps for processing into accessories.
Achieng also uses her business to promote the philosophy of slow fashion to the public, posting regularly on the company’s blog and Instagram account to educate customers about the influences of the fast fashion industry. Even the clothes she sells are designed to reduce waste among consumers.
“Our clothes are of high quality and will last a long time,” says Achieng. “The styles are timeless, versatile and easy to style.”
Achieng says many people don’t realize how quickly fashion has a devastating impact on climate change and water wastage – something she’s passionate about as she saw it first hand as a child. She explains how the fast fashion industry disproportionately affects developing countries like Kenya, where she grew up.
|Achieng is passionate about empowering women with her designs.|
“The products and materials we have in the West are sent to Africa,” she explains. “This kills independent businesses, and ninety percent of these clothes end up in African landfills.”
Her childhood in Kenya began with what she describes as “humble beginnings” and drove Achieng to design clothes that promote sustainability and empower the wearer.
In fact, Achieng experienced the power of fashion from an early age and it marked her journey as an entrepreneur. She remembers how she felt as a child in Kenya when she put on a new dress she received as a gift from her aunt.
“When I wore this dress, I felt so empowered,” Achieng describes. “This is the kind of feeling I want to sell.”
In 2010, Achieng moved to Iceland, where she pursued her dream of a career in the world of fashion. After much difficulty finding fashion work, Achieng decided to take matters into her own hands. In 2020, she bought a sewing machine and went into business for herself with the hope of designing beautiful garments that would give voice to the women who wear them.
|AWE’s extensive network helped set Gracelandic up for success.|
“I feel my mission in life is to help women feel seen and invincible through fashion,” says Achieng.
Two years after Gracelandic opened, Achieng participated in the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) through the US Embassy in Reykjavik where she was equipped with the tools needed to succeed. For example, Achieng learned the financial skills needed to run her business and raise finance.
“When I started my business, I just went blindly into my dream,” says Achieng. “AWE helped me understand my business better.”
In addition to practical business skills, Achieng was able to use AWE’s extensive network to connect with other women entrepreneurs, learn from talented mentors and share her story on a wider platform.
“I felt so much support,” Achieng says. “I never knew women could be so supportive of each other.”
Since its launch, Gracelandic has grown enormously, as Achieng recently spoke at the 2022 Woman Impact Summit, a global conference for emerging women entrepreneurs. And her designs have been featured three times in British Vogue 2022.
|Iceland’s foreign minister, Thordis Kolbrun (pictured center), wears Gracelandic couture as he meets with President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden at the 2022 UN General Assembly.|
Achieng’s personal mission to empower women through what they wear also seems to be gaining ground on the global political stage. When Icelandic Foreign Minister Thordis Kolbrun Reykfjörd Gylfadóttir met with US President Joe Biden during the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2022, she wore none other than a Gracelandic design.
Iceland’s foreign minister, Thordis Kolbrun (pictured center), wears Gracelandic couture as he meets with President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden at the 2022 UN General Assembly.
The Academy for Women Entrepreneurs is a women’s empowerment initiative launched by the US Department of State in 2019. Using the DreamBuilder learning platform developed by the University of Arizona’s Thunderbird School of Global Management, AWE has empowered more than 25,000 women in 100 countries with knowledge, networks , and the access they need to start and scale successful businesses, including 60 women entrepreneurs in Iceland.
For more information about AWE, visit: https://eca.state.gov/awe.