We first met Marte, CEO and Founder of Sourcebook, at Munich Fabric Start. Overseeing Next Tex, she curated 13 enterprises that explored the latest fashion tech, future fabrics, AR/VR 3D design and advanced materials. On meeting her, I found her to be a bit of a renaissance woman, with fingers in many pies. So taken by her determination to be part of the change, I had to get to know Marte so I can find out how her current role is key in the fashion tech space.
What is your role?
I am the founder and CEO of Sourcebook, the online sourcing platform for the textile and garment industries.
What is your background?
I graduated as a fashion designer and have since been a serial entrepreneur. I’ve run my own clothing lines, and for many years I operated a full-service agency for sustainable clothing, working with both large-scale global brands and small, local manufacturers. Besides my role at Sourcebook, I’m a lecturer in textile technology.
Why did you start SourceBook?
After 15 years in the fashion business, I gained a deep understanding of our industry’s core problems while working alongside a network of fantastic experts, manufacturers and suppliers. Most of them are still working in quite traditional ways and aren’t very tech savvy. They are nearly invisible to the new generation of Fashion Tech designers and brands, yet they play a crucial role in the current transformation and paradigm shift in the fashion business. That’s why I sold my agency shares to launch Sourcebook, which started as an EU-funded R&D project in 2015.
What highlights and challenges have you faced?
We started in the era where trade secrets were kept secret, and few people believed that anybody, brand or supplier, would reveal their sources to foster transparency in textile supply chains. We realised that to succeed with this vision, Sourcebook needed a physical, offline outlet besides the digital platform. That’s why we started organising hackathons, innovation shows, conferences and meetups. It’s highly motivating when we receive feedback from collaborations that may not have happened without Sourcebook: magic can occur when a screen printer from Lithuania who still communicates via fax starts talking with a software developer from the UK and a fashion designer in Spain. But traditional businesses don’t always change their habits so easily; many need time to convince manufacturers and suppliers to go open source and embrace the best of new technologies – without losing their heritage. It’s a sensitive topic, and sometimes it’s hard to balance tradition with digitisation.
What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own company?
Go ahead and start it. Listen and learn from others and don’t forget to be kind to yourself. Don’t try to overcome the paradox; it’s part of the game.
What has been your favourite fashion tech collaboration so far?
That’s hard to say since I love smart products – and by smart I mean you can’t merely add electronic components to textiles without taking care of its post-consumer life. A great example of a smart process comes from Kassim Denim, a family-run denim mill from Pakistan who invented a denim dye that eliminates air pollution. Just imagine the impact this denim would have if it’s used in the 1.2 billion pairs of jeans that are sold every year. These are the cases that inspire me a lot.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
Keep cool and never stop learning.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
My family is my source of strength. I have my best ideas while talking with my son, whether it be about flying or how being invisible is the most active superpower.
“The times when women in tech are invited to join a tech panel only because they are not men needs to end.”
What do you think is the most significant issue for women in the fashion tech/wearables space?
The times when women in tech are invited to join a tech panel only because they are not men needs to end. Innovation grows in heterogeneous biospheres, so it’s important to encourage girls to consider careers in tech so that tech companies in the future have more mixed gender teams. The Jacquard/weaving loom was the first computer in the world – so there is no clear distinction between arts and tech, “male” and “female” occupations. At the same time, we also need more male teachers, stewards and nannies.
Has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Indeed. Some figures in my professional life encouraged me a lot. One of them is Angela McRobbie, the grand dame of British cultural theory, who I had the pleasure to work with, and a real inspiration.
Are there any female leaders that you admire and why?
Countless. A role model in female entrepreneurial spirit and curiosity is, of course, Vivienne Westwood. I still practice her ‘buy less, choose well and make it last’ principle as a form of critical consumerism.
What do you want to see the fashion tech space accomplish in the next 12 months?
I see automation fostering reshoring of production, especially in Germany, France and the UK. The practice of low living wages in third world countries is outdated. I also look very much forward to smart energy harvesting in textiles as a step towards more autonomous energy production and consumption.
What do you think is the most prominent innovation of your life thus far?
The potentials of the circular economy especially in the fashion tech industry, which includes services based on leasing, sharing and the extension of garment lifecycles, plus transparency in product supply chains through blockchain.
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