Carly Burson has two goals: make fashion more compassionate and sustainable and give women safe employment and equal opportunities within the industry.
Burson is on her way to achieving both through her LAUDE the Label fashion brand. The company has allowed Burson to challenge the fast-fashion industry by building a business that pays workers above minimum wages and uses natural materials that are environmentally friendly.
“I know for certain that we’ve deeply impacted the lives of many, many women, and if that’s all we do, then that’s truly enough for me,” she said.
‘An industry that was perpetuating poverty worldwide’
About a decade ago, Burson was in the corporate fashion world, but she didn’t realize that garment workers were making less than $2 a day to produce clothing for some of the largest U.S. brands that profited millions each year.
Workers — most of whom are women — labored many hours yet couldn’t provide for their families.
“I was working in an industry that was perpetuating poverty worldwide,” Burson said.
Burson decided to use her experience in the fashion industry to build a brand focused on righting what she sees as the wrongs of the conventional industry.
The reward of not having fear
After being in business for two months, Burson’s company received an order for 10,000 bracelets, which prompted her to quit her full-time job and move to Honduras with her 2-year-old daughter to oversee the production. The company received an order of 80,000 units three months later.
Today, LAUDE employs women from six countries: Peru, Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, India, and the U.S. Its apparel is carried by stores like J. Crew, Madewell, Neiman Marcus and a host of international stockists, and about 70% of the revenue comes from its online store, Burson said.
Carly Burson’s bio
Birthplace: Born in Phoenix, Arizona, and grew up in central Massachusetts.
Moved to North Texas: By way of New York City in 2012.
Family: Husband of 14 years, two daughters and one granddaughter.
Education: Bachelor of psychology and Spanish, minor in sociology from the University of Massachusetts. Member of the women’s soccer team, 2001-05.
Work experience: Market visual merchandising manager at Banana Republic; visual merchandising senior manager at Ann Inc.; market visual merchandising manager at J.Crew Group; head of social impact and artisan production at Alltrue; board of directors at Maya Traditions; and founder and CEO, LAUDE the Label.
First job: Davidian’s Family Farm in Northboro, Massachusetts, where she scooped ice cream and helped out with produce.
Volunteer Experience: Habitat for Humanity, The Honduras Project, Mi Esperanza, Maya Traditions, Girls Inc., Boys & Girls Club, Catholic Charities, and Refugee Services.
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: “If your motivation to lead is power, do not lead. If your motivation to lead is to influence, inspire, motivate, create change and sacrifice for others, then you may have what it takes to be a great leader. Being a great leader is putting everyone else’s needs before your own until those around you are ready to lead, too. Great leaders understand that.”
Best advice you’ve ever received: “All that you have is your soul, and nothing is worth losing it.”
LAUDE’s success is anchored in its artisans’ narratives, Burson said. Talking to her artisanal contributors — from seamstresses and weavers to jewelry makers — she learned about their challenges, such as enduring crippling natural disasters, overcoming violence against women, struggling against gang occupation and forging a path beyond cultural genocide.
“I face many challenges in the U.S. as a female entrepreneur, and the struggle is tenfold for the women we work with,” she said.
The brand has less than a 2% turnover rate and pays about 60% above the living wage compared to the employee’s country, Burson said. In 2021, 100% of artisans working at LAUDE have their children enrolled in school, according to the brand’s impact report.
Priti Pugalia, head of artisan product development, works from India, where most clients and vendors wouldn’t trust a woman-run business.
“It took LAUDE’s trust upon us that today has set an example for many who, at one point, believed our businesses were not-serious-deal and would live a few years and fade,” Pugalia said.
In 2020, Burson changed the business name from Tribe Alive to LAUDE the Label after recognizing that the word “tribe” may be considered insensitive and harmful to Indigenous people.
How LAUDE is changing the norms
Meredith Noles, head of design at LAUDE, said the throughline between her collections for the brand is to highlight its artisans’ partner’s skills worldwide and create modern pieces to make wearers feel comfortable.
“Each season I pull from centuries of ancient craftsmanship and twist it to create modern, wearable pieces,” Noles said.
The brand commits to using natural materials, which are less harmful to the maker, the consumer and the Earth, and ensures durability by employing high-stitch capacities in its clothing, Burson said.
Fashion accounts for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output and a fifth of the 300 million tons of plastic produced globally each year. In 2018, Americans generated 13 million tons of clothing and footwear waste — around 70% of that ended up in landfills, and only 13% was recycled into new clothing or for other uses, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
LAUDE the Label also works with environmental nonprofits to plant trees to offset carbon emissions, Burson said. In May, the brand introduced Re-LAUDE, an initiative for its customers to sell or shop pre-worn pieces rather than just discard them.
As LAUDE the Label approaches its 10th anniversary next year, Burson is proud of the brand’s impact on environmental justice and labor rights within the fashion industry, she said. But she’s ready to grow the brand by working with organizations that advocate for policy change, textile regulation and the advancement of worker rights.
Despite being in business for a decade and surviving a global pandemic, Burson feels like the brand is just getting started.
Dang Le is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.