Interview with Stephanie Benedetto the Queen of Raw

Before co-founding Queen of Raw, you worked as a corporate lawyer. Why did you leave corporate law and what lead you to co-founding Queen of Raw? My family has been in the textiles business for over 100 years.  In 1896 my great grandfather arrived in New York by ship from Austria and landed at Ellis Island.  After settling in the Lower East Side, he became a master furrier, crafting custom fur coats, bolero jackets, and stoles. Textiles and fashion are in my blood.

So after six years as a corporate attorney on Wall Street representing technology, fashion, and startup clients, I started an innovative textile manufacturing facility.  It's here that I saw first hand the disconnect between supply and demand.

Brands across industries (fashion, automotive, technology, interior design, crafting), all struggle to find raw materials.  And factories around the world struggle to sell the millions of ton of excess stock that currently sit in a warehouse, eventually making their way to a landfill. Queen of Raw provides the bridge.  

You didn’t start your education and subsequent career in fashion. How does this different perspective allow you to challenge the status quo of the fashion industry? I did not have formal fashion training, so I do not follow the traditional model.  I decided from the very beginning that I would do things my way!  This has helped us stand out from the crowd and bring a fresh, new perspective to the industry that we are disrupting.

Queen of Raw’s mission is to break down traditional barriers within the US $1.5 trillion global fashion market by giving students and emerging designers ready access to materials.  We are changing the status quo of a traditionally complex, exclusive, offline, and uninspiring sourcing process by shifting power to the community of independent designers, connecting them directly with suppliers online, and creating a platform that integrates with the way designers design, share, connect, and shop.

Describe what the Queen of Raw platform offers. We created a platform to help independent designers skip intermediaries and connect directly with suppliers instead.  It’s an innovative platform that offers innovative products.

Bypassing traditionally long lead times, large minimum orders, and shipping costs that often exceed the value of the raw materials, Queen of Raw features materials with short lead times, local inventory, and low minimums.  Why is this important?  It reduces the need for further manufacturing and reduces waste.  Suppliers to the industry are able to offer unsold inventory and dead stock to a previously unreached audience of designers big and small.

What kinds of products do you promote on Queen of Raw? How do you curate the product selection? There are some great textile manufacturers doing innovative things: smart fabrics with connected threads and micro-LEDs, fabrics derived from recycled plastic bottles, milk-based, coffee-based, fruit-based, and bacteria-based textiles, and fabrics printed by 3D printers.  But there’s no easy way for designers to source these materials directly from suppliers.  That’s where we come in.

What does sustainability mean to you? We take a very broad approach to sustainability. For us it includes materials that are made locally, recycled/reused/repurposed in some way, made with organic materials that meet certain certifications or in a factory that embodies Fair Trade principles, or use some innovative manufacturing process that saves water, toxins, or energy.  

We estimate that by 2025, Queen of Raw can save over 4 billion gallons of water and 2 million pounds of chemicals.  Together we can change the world!

When we met you spoke about your desire to tell stories through the Queen of Raw platform. The story of your suppliers, the story of the designers, even the story of individual fabrics. Why is narrative important to you? We are so excited to see what our community of designers are doing with our new materials.  For example, designer Carley Rose used sustainable fibers and dyes and our LED ribbons to create a couture beaded gown that has been showcased around the world, including at New York Fashion Week.  She stitched the beads and LED ribbons onto the bodice by hand using a loom and needle. And with a kilo of raspberries she was able to dye the natural silk fiber a gorgeous rose pink hue.  It’s a standout piece by itself, but when you share the full story behind the piece from the perspectives of the designer, the supplier, and the individual materials, you can really understand what it stands for.

You also spoke about the importance of building a community. In your view how does this community building relate to transparency in the industry and sharing of information? We want to empower designers to use innovative and sustainable materials in their collections and to share this with the world in a transparent way.  Our focus is not just on getting them the materials, but on providing them with ongoing support as well.  We connect designers with local partners trained in best practices and advice, promote products made with our materials, and even assist with manufacturing.  This gives designers more time to focus on doing what they do best–designing! 

The benefits to the customer are clear. What about the supplier? What is it like for a supplier to work with Queen of Raw? Queen of Raw is a win-win for both designers and suppliers.  Through Queen of Raw, suppliers are able to keep better track of their inventory and sell their excess stock that would otherwise remain in a warehouse or landfill to a previously unreached customer base.  We offer these traditionally brick-and-mortar suppliers the opportunity to compete in online retail, offload their overstock, and reach, for the first time, millennial designers.  

Tell us about the Queen of Raw team. We have an experienced team in place committed to our vision who have been working together for years.  Our CTO, Phil Derasmo, spent over 15 years leading and driving technology projects for startups and large companies on Wall Street processing millions of dollars a day.  And our Creative Director, Corbin Chase, worked for global brands and magazines.

As a startup what are some of the challenges that you face? The hardest obstacle in creating Queen of Raw has also been my favorite part: getting the technology right to create something new, innovative, and fashion-forward. Anyone can write code. But delivering something that customers appreciate and that answers their specific needs is key.

Queen of Raw’s platform relies upon technology tools we created specifically to streamline the sourcing process and inspire the independent designer community. Members can easily compare items and add items to their mood board, wishlist, and social media, as well as download digital swatches, and even add reviews and tags. Features like these allow us to glean insights on customer preferences and build a completely customizable shopping experience.

What are your long-term goals for Queen of Raw? The future of fashion is a world with no clothes…at least not clothes in the traditional sense. Imagine people being able to design custom clothes to their exact specification and style on their computer, tablet, or phone, send the designs to a hotel halfway around the world, and then fly to that destination with no suitcase. After arriving there, they find all the clothes are 3D printed in their closet. When their travels are over, they leave everything behind to be broken down into raw materials and then redistributed to the next person. That is the future of fashion and Queen of Raw wants to get you there.

Why is now an exciting time to be involved in the fashion industry? Fashion is changing.  It’s changing every day.  This is just the beginning.

I’m Stephanie Benedetto.  And I’m the Queen of Raw.

You can connect with Queen of Raw on Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

To learn more about Queen of Raw, check out their website and video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XReCQ7skN2Y.