When Stephanie Benedetto (06L) was young, her grandfather and great-grandfather would tell stories of their 100-year history in the textile business. Her great-grandfather, an immigrant from Austria, would fashion garments out of old, unused materials and sell his creations locally. He generated very little waste, a financial necessity for his business. Now, Benedetto is returning to these roots, continuing her family’s legacy while revolutionizing an outdated and wasteful supply chain in the world of textiles.
Benedetto realized that most modern fashion retailers were tracking their supply chains in the same way her grandfather and great-grandfather had: with pen and paper. This method led to discrepancies in the records and an accumulation of waste.
To solve this problem, Benedetto founded Queen of Raw in 2014 with current Chief Technology Officer Phil Derasmo. By leveraging blockchain technology — the collection of accurate records about a fabric’s movements through the supply chain — the company has partnered with brands including H&M, Louis Vuitton and ThredUP. Data from Queen of Raw shows that the company has saved over one billion gallons of water since — “enough clean water for 1.43 million people to drink for three years.”
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2002 and the Emory University School of Law in 2006, Benedetto began working as a corporate attorney on Wall Street at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP and then at Baker Botts LLP where she specialized in fashion and technology.
However, the 2008 market crash opened her eyes to “the height of greed and waste and excess,” which became more apparent following her leave from Wall Street in 2012. Though Queen of Raw would come two years later, Benedetto’s departure from Wall Street led her to co-found textile manufacturing startup Paper No. 9 with University of Pennsylvania classmate Rebecca Cole Marshall.
Based in Brooklyn, N. Y., Paper No. 9 developed a natural, non-toxic leather alternative made from recycled paper that could be used in clothing and accessories. While building the company, Benedetto found that fashion retailers burned their dead stock, or unused textiles, to the detriment of both their profit and the environment. Benedetto eventually stepped back from Paper No. 9 in 2014 after disagreements about the company’s future. Though Benedetto still owns half of Paper No. 9, she has since redirected her focus toward tackling raw material waste through Queen of Raw.
“I saw firsthand the voluminous amounts of waste that [were] just sitting there in factories and mills … and it just didn’t make sense to me,” Benedetto said. “It didn’t make sense clearly for people and planet, but it also didn’t make sense for a business’ profit.”
Benedetto claims that textile production is the world’s second largest source of water pollution, behind agriculture and oil. It takes around 700 gallons of water to produce one t-shirt.
Queen of Raw’s website allows factories and mills to sell unused textiles to independent designers. Buyers, who range from fashion students to small-scale designers, can purchase anything from organic cotton to faux leather or fur. In addition to this “managed, open marketplace,” larger retail brands can join a private interface to sell excess inventory to one another.
Benedetto said she always wanted to “build a business that would change the world.” She believes that her model, which aims to “identify the waste, monetize the waste and minimize the waste,” translates into businesses like aviation, automotive manufacturing and computer electronics. These industries, like textile production, could all benefit from blockchain technology to track and sell waste.
In 2018, Queen of Raw received an opportunity to convince potential partners to turn pollution into profitable goods. Benedetto’s 60-second pitch to Ashton Kutcher at the WeWork Creator Awards won her the grand prize of $360,000, a “game-changing validation” of her sustainable mission.
A female entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry, Benedetto doesn’t take the responsibility on her shoulders lightly, and she notes that Queen of Raw is a majority woman-run company. She claims that she thrived in the industry by being herself and ignoring limitations.
“While there are challenges for women, there are also a lot of opportunities for women,” she said. “A lot of women-focused venture funds, women-focused competitions and awards. There are opportunities there, of course, because there is still inequality there.”
Benedetto’s best friend and classmate at Emory Law, Stefanie Munsky Toren (06L), said that even in law school she recognized that Benedetto “always wanted to do something more … something that’s trying to better society.”
With a 4-year-old son and another child on the way, Benedetto is personally motivated to improve the future of the planet.
“[Our children] need clean water to drink, a planet to live on, [non-toxic] clothes to wear,” Benedetto said.
She said that her time at Emory Law was instrumental to her success, giving her the ability to negotiate contracts and speak publicly with confidence.
“It was an unbelievable honor to [be one of the recipients of Emory’s 2019 Entrepreneur Awards],” Benedetto said. “To have that kind of feedback, support and community is so important as an entrepreneur. I’m very fortunate to have a number of Emory Law students who I’m still very close to, and we’ve been able to be great mentors and advisors to each other on this exciting journey.”
To students aspiring to become entrepreneurs, Benedetto stressed that there are multiple paths to success, but boldness is key.
“Do not be afraid to get your idea out there,” she said. “Start building something to innovate in a space where no one has innovated before or innovate in a crowded space and learn from the people around you. Be the last player in the market to really dominate.”