Brand of Sisters interview

Written by
Emily Rose Mawson
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Brand of Sisters is no ordinary fashion label. Launched in 2015 by friends Martina Vondruska and Barbara Portulari, the Swiss brand-cum-social enterprise donates a hefty 50 per cent of its earnings to help empower women in developing countries. But it’s about more than charity. Martina, who has worked for NGOs, and Barbara, who has 20 years’ experience in fashion, partner with international designers to create beautiful seasonal collections – meaning women gain while giving. As the label prepares for its first pop-up shops in Zurich and Geneva, Time Out talks fashion, giving back and sisterhood with co-founder Martina.

What inspired you to launch Brand of Sisters?

After 10 years working for charitable organisations, I realised that the most difficult thing is fundraising. I also took a lot of inspiration from the book ‘Start Something That Matters’ by the founder of TOMS Shoes, who launched the ‘One for One’ project (for every one pair of shoes purchased, another is given to a person in need). There are a lot of non-premium brands doing this kind of thing, and I thought it should be brought to the premium market. Competitors for our current collection of scarves are labels like Faliero Sarti and Louis Vuitton.

Where can people buy Brand of Sisters?

Our pop-up shops this September will be a good opportunity. The first takes place at Kaufleuten in Zurich from 8th to 10th September. Then we are hosting one at Arcadem in Geneva from 15th to 16th September. The events will give visitors chance to learn more about the brand, as well as to meet me and Barbara. We also have an online shop and, starting next season, we will be in selected stores across Switzerland and Europe. Our first point of sale will be Vestibule in Zurich (from 8th September).

Why did you decide to donate as much as 50 per cent of your earnings?

No fashion brand has ever offered up 50 per cent, because it is a lot. It is almost as much as we can give. But the DNA of Brand of Sisters is to give back as much as we can.

Why did you choose girls and women in developing countries as your cause?

Studies show that if you support girls and women in underprivileged societies, the cycle of poverty changes within a generation. When I was working for the Heart for India foundation, I helped on programmes for young women. I noticed that girls in orphanages who were trained to use a typewriter or deliver babies went on to get a job. I returned after five years, and one of the girls was employed in a slum hospital.

Why did you choose to donate to the Girl Rising organisation?

We chose Girl Rising, because it produced a documentary showing the challenges girls face when they go to school – or rather, don’t go. It is full of facts. For example, there are 66 million girls not at school. In India, many parents choose not to send their girls to school because they could get raped on the way there. These girls are losing the opportunity to live their lives properly. 

Switzerland has a high standard of living. Do you think people here can appreciate such problems given the difference in lifestyle?

The Swiss are actually the number one nationality in Europe for donating. However, we tried to create a brand that would also attract people who aren’t concerned with charity. Our current collection of beautiful scarves, with luxurious packaging, is so lovely that even if you are not aware of the giving back, you will still enjoy buying the product.

Why was fashion the ideal vehicle for your message?

We believe that every woman loves fashion. We started with scarves because you can wrap one around yourself and feel warm – literally, but also because you have supported other women by buying it. I think it’s a brilliant union: women supporting women by buying something beautiful.

Your current collection is designed by Italian Gabriele Colangelo, and you have London-based Edeline Lee lined up for autumn/winter. Do you also plan to work with Swiss designers?

It is important for us that the designers we work with understand the Brand of Sisters concept, because we ask them to design a capsule collection for free. I would love to work with a Swiss designer at some point.

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