She has a brand-new collection, she presented envy-worthy styles during Fashion Week, and she received rave reviews from the fashion world—but Marianne Angeli Rodriguez isn’t your average fashion designer. What’s different? Her newest collection, STAY, isn’t just designed to make women look fabulous—it was created to empower and support female entrepreneurs in one of the poorest regions of the world.
We had an inspiring chat with Rodriguez during Nolcha Fashion Week in New York, where STAY premiered. In an era where fashion houses often employ unfair and unethical labor practices, here’s how one designer is using her work to change the world.
Rodriguez, who’s had a self described “semi-nomadic” lifestyle, started out studying Anthropology, working in fashion PR, and training at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Though her experience was varied, it had a common thread: her passion of creating fashion that “had a cause behind it.”
After extensive research, Rodriguez found the perfect partners: Care for Kenya, an NY-based non-profit organization that uses micro-financing initiatives to bolster the livelihood of women and children in Kenya, and the Women’s Center of Kibera, a program that provides economically sustainable opportunities to female entrepreneurs. Kibera is one of the largest slums on the African continent, a place where most residents lack access to basics like electicity, toilets, and running water, are deeply affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and have limited ability to work.
And Rodriguez decided to go there. “To be able to meld together my passion for design with my deep desire to reach others in such a meaningful way was so important,” Rodriguez explains. “After realizing how involved I wanted to be in Kibera, I quickly decided I wanted to be there, live there, know these women.”
A Global Influence
To create her line, Rodriguez spent two months in Kenya, becoming immersed in the culture, teaching workshops and classes to local women, and working with aspiring designers. “It was incredible to see the resilience and dedication of these women,” she tells us. “They aren’t always guaranteed pay for a week’s work—it all depends on how much work comes in. And yet they would come in every day, ready to learn and create and work hard. That was really inspiring.”
Designed with an artisanal touch “for the worldly individual who exhibits creativity and a global sensibility,” STAY draws inspiration from the Kenyan people and their richly colored garments and connection to the earth. The lightweight pieces—tank tops, kaftans, cosmetic bags, and more, have a simple sophistication, with fabrics that are beautifully fluid in texture and refined in palette. Among Rodriguez’s favorite pieces is her version of a kitenge—a sarong-like piece commonly worn by Kenyan women.
And because the clothing is produced in Kenya, STAY offers a source of income to a group of aspiring female entrepreneurs, and also boosts sales in local Kenyan textile markets. What’s more, a portion of the proceeds from the line will go back into Care for Kenya and the women Rodriguez worked with.
Paying it Forward
STAY premiered this year at Nolcha Fashion Week, an event featuring independent and up-and-coming designers. Nolcha, who sponsored the event, shares Rodriguez’s mission of empowering entrepreneurs by planning worldwide campaigns and events geared toward giving a voice to independent brands and designers. “When you’re a one-person entrepreneur or a new designer, it’s very hard to get everything together—financiers, funding—in order to present your collection,” explains Nolcha CEO Kerry Bannigan.
When asked what advice they had for young women professionals, both Bannigan and Rodriquez offered messages that were crystal clear: don’t write off anyone you meet—the connections you make along the way can prove to be instrumental in your career growth.
And more importantly, whether in your hometown or abroad, give back. “As a designer, you have so much influence,” Rodriguez said, “I want to be sure I am doing all I can to be a positive role model and example for other designers and young women.”
If Bannigan and Rodriquez’s success is testament to their advice, we’ll take it—and hope to garner even a glimmer of their influence in other young women along the way.