The company has launched a multiyear international initiative titled, “She’s Next in Fashion,” which is an offshoot of its “She’s Next Grant Program.” To date, Visa has invested more than $1.6 million in the overall program and has provided 150 grants, according to Mary Ann Reilly, senior vice president and head of North America marketing.
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Thirty-nine of the 50 “She’s Next in Fashion” recipients are women of color. “The fact that we’re focusing on BIPOC women in fashion is due to the fact that we see there is so much opportunity within fashion,” Reilly said.
Noting how small businesses fuel the economy and many have been hurt during the pandemic over the past two years, Reilly said those run by women and people of color have been hurt more significantly. This fashion-focused effort is meant to “uplift female entrepreneurs, who are BIPOC whether they be fashion designers or beauty professional behind-the-scenes,” she said.
Apart from being female-owned businesses and having strong metrics, grant recipients needed to have stories of entrepreneurship, a digital presence and a problem they were trying to solve — all of which needed to be compelling, according to Reilly.
Designed to provide funding and strengthen the businesses, the program is meant to guide the entrepreneurs in avoiding social obstacles that could hamper business growth, access to financing and networking.
In 2020, VC dollars invested in female-founded companies fell by 3 percent and the deal count fell by 2 percent year-over-year, according to PitchBook’s “All In: Women in the VC Ecosystem Report.” Concurrently, the the U.S. start-up ecosystem increased its deal value by 16 percent, meaning that female founders received a smaller portion of the larger pie.
The 50 female fashion and beauty professionals have each been awarded $10,000 grants, a one-year IFundWomen coaching membership, as well as other resources. Visa will also play up the 50 recipients through paid media efforts and social media partnerships with fashion and beauty influencers, as well as Team Visa athletes. Reilly said research has shown that $10,000 can really help move a business forward.
Since launching in 2019, Visa’s She’s Next Grant Program has hosted thousands of women entrepreneurs at in-person and virtual workshops internationally.
One of the recipients of the fashion-focused grant is Grant Blvd founder Kimberly McGlonn, who plans to use the funding to leverage the sustainable-focused company to bolster its capacity. By July, the Philadelphia-based Grant Blvd aims to open a 5,000-square-foot lab to teach formerly incarcerated women how to sew. Six women will be trained initially and the goal is to retain at least five of the six as full-time employees. McGlonn started the company in 2017, began selling product in 2018 and received one of Beyoncé’s Beygood grants in 2020.
Asked about the greatest challenge in business, McGlonn cited the intersection of being able to persist while the market demands nimbleness. It takes a lot of endurance to recognize where there’s need for a shift. “The wave is just always being prepared for the next shift and getting excited and getting your team prepared for the next experiment,” she said.
For Grant Blvd, that involves thinking about sustainable design and environmentally friendly materials and being creative about getting around sourcing challenges. The brand wants to take up some white space in sustainable fashion in terms of a lack of sexuality, sensuality, power and color in self-possession. The company has partnered with Fabscrap, which has opened a Philadelphia location to explore using deadstock fabrics.
The new lab will also have a b-to-b revenue stream to help the hotel and hospitality industry improve their sustainability. Grant Blvd teamed up with the W hotel in Philadelphia to help outfit its bar staff. There are plans to create aprons for a local bakery that has made birthday cakes for Beyoncé. “We love sustainable fashion. It’s at our heart but we feel there is another opportunity to do textile manufacturing in other spaces as well,” McGlonn said.
This year, Grant Blvd’s projected volume is $150,000 compared to about $98,000 last year, she said. That expected upswing is based on the hospitality’s endeavor, and opening more pop-up stores, including one at the Roots Picnic in Philadelphia on June 4 and 5.
“We’ll be taking sustainable fashion to the streets. Now that the world is opening up a bit more we’ll be doing more of that,” McGlonn said. “That will be a great boost to our business as well.”