Proxy Apparel CEO and Founder Heatherjean MacNeil wants to change the way you think about fashion. Instead of mass-produced items assembled in a sweatshop, Proxy sells only fair-trade, environmentally conscious products to support developing communities. Originally a botany major, MacNeil is now a self-proclaimed “change agent” and publicly touted social entrepreneur who independently launched the prototype for sustainable fashion.
And there’s no stopping her momentum.
An initial love for plants and conservation has since bloomed into a successful and sustainable business model for the Boston resident and the hundreds of women Proxy employs.
An ethical and environmentally conscious social venture, Proxy Apparel aims to take fair-trade one step further by empowering women to develop and produce sustainable clothing, accessories and home goods.
MacNeil’s time in Honduras as a Peace Corps volunteer from 2004 to 2006 catalyzed her desire to create jobs for women in rural and impoverished regions – all she needed was a spark. She says her “light blub moment” occurred while traveling through Peru, and the ball hasn’t stopped rolling since.
“You really see the supply chain right in front of you: you see women raising llamas and sheep, spinning wool, dying wool, knitting,” MacNeil says. “It dawned on me that apparel and fashion was an interesting way to create jobs throughout the value chain, especially for women.”
Upon returning to the states, MacNeil enrolled in Simmons’ School of Management in 2007 and officially launched Proxy Apparel in 2009. “I just had to learn things really fast,” MacNeil says. “I wasn’t really intimidated.”
Proxy specifically challenges women’s marginalized status in South America by working with local cooperatives to employ hundreds of women and financially empower rural and impoverished communities.
“For women to be economically empowered, I see that as the change agent that will then help everything else shift,” she says.
Not only are the cooperatives owned and managed by the women they employ; all Proxy Apparel’s products are ethically produced, with the majority of items made of organic or recycled materials. “I think there’s a lack of awareness and understanding of what it takes to make stuff,” MacNeil says. “Every step of the way there are social and environmental implications. I just want to be disruptive in that space and be successful while doing it. The world needs it.”
While Proxy currently only employs existing co-operatives, MacNeil says she would one day love to launch her own co-op. And with the recent expansion of Proxy’s team, MacNeil is jazzed to see where the added capacity will take the company.
“It’s been a journey; it continues to be a journey,” MacNeil says. “But we are growing and I think that there are big things to come.”
Despite her success to this point, MacNeil continues to push for Proxy’s growth.
“I don’t know if it will ever be enough,” she says of her goals. “I want Proxy to be consumer’s go-to ethical fashion retailer.”
Proxy anticipates retail sales in the near future, but is currently most readily available online at www.proxyapparel.com.