Spotlight on Stephanie Benedetto

16Dec
Blog

Spotlight on Stephanie Benedetto

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Leading with Intentionality

Stephanie Benedetto had goals of being an entrepreneur with impact from an early age. With a background in textiles thanks to her great grandfather’s business, she saw firsthand the waste produced by the industry and was determined to offer a more sustainable solution. In 2018, she founded Queen of Raw to bring the modern technology of blockchain to the textile industry. The company is a marketplace to buy and sell unused textiles, keeping them out of landfills and turning pollution into profit.

We know that your business was inspired by your own personal experience with entrepreneurship and by seeing the negative impacts of the textile industry first hand. How do you think this background and exposure enabled you to act with intention when creating your business, Queen of Raw?

Stephanie: My story starts 2 years before I was born. My brother, Stephen Jeremy (SJ for short) was at his best friend’s house. They were playing cops and robbers and his best friend found his father’s gun in a drawer. He pointed it at my brother. He didn’t know it was loaded and he accidentally shot and killed him. It was a dark time for my family, especially for my mom. The only thing that brought them out of it was that I was born two years later. I was named after him (I’m Stephanie Joy, or SJ). I look just like him. So, I was the family’s leader and savior and that’s a message that I have carried with me ever since. An incredible desire to help people and make the world a better place, recognizing that life is short and precious and we should make each day count.

That’s a message that I have carried with me ever since. An incredible desire to help people and make the world a better place, recognizing that life is short and precious and we should make each day count.

You’ve mentioned previously the importance of building business that makes sense for people, for planet and for profit. What does intentionality mean to you? How have you embedded impact principles into your business model?

Stephanie: I grew up living and breathing fabric. In 1896, my great-grandfather came over on a ship from Austria and landed at Ellis Island.  After settling into the Lower East Side, he had to make a living for his family as an immigrant chasing the American Dream.  He started working with his hands. He would find materials and supplies nearby (old fabrics and materials other immigrants had brought with them on the ships but weren't using anymore).  He’d create beautiful fashion garments with minimal waste and minimal toxins because his bottom dollar depended on it.  He sold finished goods to local customers, creating a very successful, profitable, and sustainable business. Many of his fur coats I still wear today.

Of course, today's supply chains are much more complicated. Hundreds of steps involving millions of people across the globe and metric tons of water, chemicals, crops, and oil are used in the process.  Given where we are today, with trade wars and pandemic disruption, it’s important that we ask ourselves: how can we use technology to get back to what my great-grandfather did?  He didn’t talk about it in terms of sustainability, but his business model absolutely made sense for people, for planet, and for profit!

How do you make sure that your goals as a for-profit business are not mutually exclusive with your ambition to build something based in purpose and intention?

Stephanie: Being a for-profit business is important because bringing about meaningful change requires the participation of C-suite executives. We need the CMOs who are worried about storytelling around good work, the CIOs and COOs who are responsible for technology, procurement, and managing the supply chain day-to-day, the CFOs who manage the liabilities and bottom- and top-line growth, and the CEOs responsible for setting the corporate agenda.

That’s the beauty of how we built our business. We have the economic piece so our customers are not just doing well for some altruistic end, but because it makes good business sense. They can save money and make money while doing good. That’s a win-win-win...and how do you say "no" to that?

That’s the beauty of how we built our business. We have the economic piece so our customers are not just doing well for some altruistic end, but because it makes good business sense. They can save money and make money while doing good. That’s a win-win-win...and how do you say 'no' to that?

We know that good intention does not always equate to positive impact. How do you ensure that the impact you have with your business is not only intentional but creates a positive ripple effect? 

Stephanie: Brands across industries and around the globe have all signed commitments to reduce their waste by 2030, and they face exposure to significant liability with all the recent changes in the laws (including recycling laws and EPR policies) if they don’t.  We help businesses offset that legal liability.

For example, we just launched the New York Circular City Initiative with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Goldman Sachs, H&M, IDEO, Cisco, Closed Loop Partners, NYCEDC, TerraCycle, and Unilever.  Together we can create a world where no waste is sent to landfill, environmental pollution is minimized, and thousands of good jobs are created through the intelligent use of products and raw materials!

Sustainability is a key component of your business and you remain committed to the SDGs. Why does this matter for business? How does it impact the way that your business in particular functions?

Stephanie: Working with our partners like the United Nations, SAP, MIT, and our non-for-profit, Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network, we calculate in real time things like the amount of water, toxins, energy, and dollars saved by leveraging Queen of Raw. We’ve already saved over 1 billion gallons of water!. That’s enough clean water for 1.43 million people to drink around the world for 3 years.  At the same time, we’ve focused on building a community of over 235,000 users.

Do you think the challenges you’ve faced are universal to women impact entrepreneurs? What do you think the biggest challenges facing women impact entrepreneurs are today? What do you see as the biggest opportunities?

Stephanie: Women’s choices impact up to 85% of purchasing decisions. By some analyses, they account for $4.3 trillion of total U.S. consumer spending of $5.9 trillion, making women the largest single economic force not just in the United States, but in the world! That is power. Having women not just on staff, but in positions of leadership in the tech industry is therefore a huge advantage to businesses.

Leading with intention means focusing on the impact for your beneficiaries. Are you able to see the direct effect your business is having on your community? How do you map your value chains to identify and measure this impact?

Stephanie: Queen of Raw’s vision is a world without waste. Our mission is to help businesses minimize waste in their supply chains, supporting their bottom line and the environment, while changing the way businesses think about waste. By 2022, we can save over 4 billion gallons of water (SDG 6), keep over 2 million tons of textiles out of landfills (SDG 12), and improve our customers’ bottom line by 15% (SDG 17).    

By integrating into a business' inventory management system, we can identify when the deadstock was produced and why it was produced. We also capture the data and analytics with respect to a business' waste over time and can see if it is increasing or decreasing.  In addition to our marketplace, our proprietary software provides tools that help businesses intelligently minimize their waste streams going forward.

Do you see an increasing need for businesses like yours in addressing today’s pressing challenges? How does intentionality play a role in combating crises like climate change, COVID-19, etc?

Stephanie: Women need to become key decision makers in their organizations in order to bring about change. We know many women leave work for a variety of reasons, including having children. I launched my business at the same time as I had my first child. This has only made my personal and professional life stronger. I am doing what I am doing to make a difference in the world not just for myself anymore but for my children and my children’s children.

I want my 5-year-old son and my newborn to have clean water to drink, clothes that aren’t toxic to wear, and a planet to live on. Together we will change the world!

If you could meet yourself a few years ago, prior to starting Queen of Raw, what advice would you give yourself?

Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid to take risks, put your ideas out there, and test your solution in the market — these are important steps to being able to improve your offering and iterate your product effectively.

Another thing no one tells you: Don’t be afraid to move into a crowded market space with many competitors. You can learn from the mistakes of those who came before you, do it better than them, command their market share, and be the last player in the market who really dominates!

Do you have any last words of advice to women seeking to drive change through entrepreneurship?

Stephanie: It’s interesting to look back at 2008, and talk about what we’re going through right now. I was on Wall Street as a corporate attorney and in 2008, of course, the market crashed. It got very dark – talk about seeing the height of waste,greed and excess. I took it as my opportunity to reevaluate what I was doing and how I could best serve society and the future. Now, again, we’re in this period of downturn and uncertainty and in some ways, darkness. How can we find the light, and build opportunity and new business models and new visions of the future? The time is now!

How can we find the light, and build opportunity and new business models and new visions of the future? The time is now!