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Stephanie Wagner: “Don’t focus on competing with anyone but yourself”

The clothing we buy and wear plays a huge role in our current climate crisis, and the U.S. government has yet to acknowledge, place restrictions, or impose regulations on the fashion supply chain. As a consumer myself, I realize that industries have no choice but to respond to our actions and demands. So I have […]

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The clothing we buy and wear plays a huge role in our current climate crisis, and the U.S. government has yet to acknowledge, place restrictions, or impose regulations on the fashion supply chain. As a consumer myself, I realize that industries have no choice but to respond to our actions and demands. So I have made it my personal and professional mission to educate, empower, and inspire individuals to shop for apparel in line with their values and view each dollar they spend as a vote for the world they want to live in. As a business, we aim to lead by example from day one, proving it can (and should) be done in a better way, a more ethical and compassionate way, even if there are no-legal mandates in place at this time. Our voices are loud, and we only plan on getting louder. Ultimately, we hope to create enough noise to give us the opportunity to propose legislation to put the proper oversight in place in order to make significant social, economic, & environmental strides for generations to come. I encourage people to curate a wardrobe that builds a better foundation & future. One that feels good.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Wagner, CEO and Founder of ForTheFeel. After years of working in the fashion capital of the world, her concern about the industry’s effect on the environment and humanity led her to create this unique platform. With the goal of offering consumers a way to shop apparel that values people and the planet. She has made it her mission to change the landscape of the fashion industry, encouraging feel-good fashion to flourish.

Stephanie’s passion for business and fashion has always been at the forefront of her personal and professional endeavors. After receiving her bachelor’s in apparel design, she’s held a myriad of roles including designing for world-renowned Zac Posen. She also styled editorial campaigns for Estee Lauder, Vogue, L’oreal, Maybelline, and Numero France. In 2016, she helped launch a personal styling app as the lead stylist and content creator.

Her sales career in fashion began at a young age and has been unwavering since — earning high achievement awards while working with big-name retailers including BCBG Max Azria, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Loro Piana. Additionally, she was recognized by LVMH for 1.8 million dollars in retail sales in under 8-months, with a 0.2% return rate — ranking her the second leading sales professional of the 132 locations worldwide.

Stephanie’s success in designing, selling, and styling has been highlighted by her ability to connect with the consumer. She plans to reimagine the online shopping experience — helping people make the right purchase, not only for themselves but also for the planet we live on.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

One of my first words was “shoes.” That’s when my parents really knew they had a problem on their hands. My first ever high school job was in retail fashion. I went on to get my Bachelor’s Degree in fashion design. Throughout college, I applied for every internship or program that I possibly could, and spent weekends working at fashion events and trade shows. Immediately following my college graduation, I packed up my bags and bought a one-way ticket to New York City. I ended up landing a job with my dream designer who was my main source of inspiration during my studies in fashion design.

However, once I got there, I learned that my dream design job was actually a nightmare. You know the movie The Devil Wears Prada? That is a fluff piece. After some time, I left my once dream job — and carried on by immersing myself in all other aspects of the fashion industry, including sales, visual merchandising, and celebrity and editorial styling. Name an area… I probably worked in it. But as I continued progressing in the industry, I grew more and more disheartened. Once I pulled back the curtain and became a part of the cast, I grew incredibly disappointed in the horror show I was helping put on. The industry that once ignited my passion was the same industry that stole it away from me.

I then decided to take a step back from the industry for a couple of years. During this time I worked hard to reflect on my experiences, read every book, and watch every documentary about the industry I could find. I wanted to make sense of it all. How did fashion become the soulless industry that it is today — bedazzled with rhinestones?

It was during this period of reflection that my concern for the fashion industry’s destructive effects on people’s lives was heightened to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL. I began to vividly see flashing danger signs from all sides. The scariest part is that the rhinestones have been strategically placed on the outside, and they are too mesmerizing for most people to see the industry’s true form. Perception isn’t reality.

I learned that the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry — right behind the oil industry. I learned that it is the second most polluting industry to our clean waterways — right behind agriculture. I learned how complex the fashion supply chain is and that most all of our clothing, made both internationally and domestically, is being produced in sweatshops with absolutely horrible working conditions. I learned that 98% of these workers don’t make enough to meet their basic needs and that 75% of them are women. I learned that child labor is actively being utilized by the majority of these companies, and children are being exploited every day. I learned that the fashion industry produces more carbon emissions than international flying and maritime shipping combined. I learned that 60% of our clothing is being made out of synthetic fabrics that release microplastics into our air, soil, water, and BODIES with every wash and wear. I learned that a polyester shirt takes over 200 years to decompose and that once it finally does, the toxic chemicals that are used seep into our environment. And if that is not upsetting enough — I learned that the average American is throwing away 82 pounds of clothing PER YEAR. I learned that over 8,000 synthetic chemicals are being used in the production of our clothing, many of which are known to be extremely hazardous to human health and our environment, and there are no U.S. federal agencies or laws regulating this.

Most of all, I learned that if we don’t figure out a way to look past the sparkly rhinestones, this industry is going to continue robbing the lives of so many and cause vast devastation to our beautiful planet we live on. I believe there are two things we can all do in life. We can use our voices to speak out and we can use our choices to encourage positive change to occur. In launching ForTheFeel, I decided to do just that.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

ForTheFeel’s plan was always to connect conscious consumers with compassionate apparel. But when the pandemic hit… our entire launch plan changed. Once it became clear that fabric face masks, largely produced by the fashion industry, were going to become a vital part of our everyday wardrobe, I knew we needed to do something. Most people are unaware that there are a myriad of unregulated carcinogenic chemicals used in the dyeing and finishing process of our clothing, with many of these toxic chemicals having been strongly linked to various diseases and health issues, and now that fabric is going directly on our face.

So, we partnered with the only 100% GOTS certified organic manufacturer in the U.S. to produce safe and effective reusable face masks, made without any toxic chemicals, that FEELS good not only to people but also to our planet. In partnership with our manufacturer, our mask’s quality and design has been approved by one of the largest healthcare systems in the U.S. and is being worn by over 60,000 doctors and nurses.

If you would have told me one year ago that the first piece of apparel that ForTheFeel would be putting out into the world would be a face mask… I would have looked at you like you were crazy. To this day it still blows my mind — but nothing has ever felt so rewarding.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

The clothing we buy and wear plays a huge role in our current climate crisis, and the U.S. government has yet to acknowledge, place restrictions, or impose regulations on the fashion supply chain. As a consumer myself, I realize that industries have no choice but to respond to our actions and demands. So I have made it my personal and professional mission to educate, empower, and inspire individuals to shop for apparel in line with their values and view each dollar they spend as a vote for the world they want to live in. As a business, we aim to lead by example from day one, proving it can (and should) be done in a better way, a more ethical and compassionate way, even if there are no-legal mandates in place at this time. Our voices are loud, and we only plan on getting louder. Ultimately, we hope to create enough noise to give us the opportunity to propose legislation to put the proper oversight in place in order to make significant social, economic, & environmental strides for generations to come. I encourage people to curate a wardrobe that builds a better foundation & future. One that feels good.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Doctors and nurses have gone from wearing masks for a few hours a day to 9–16 hours at a time. The disposable surgical masks are doused with formaldehyde and other irritants. As a result, a lot of them are struggling with their skin right now. One doctor reached out to me and said that she had been wearing her surgical mask and had developed uncomfortable acne on her cheeks where the mask edges were. She then told us that she switched to wearing her FTF mask in the clinic (9 hours a day) and her skin issues cleared up soon thereafter.

Considering healthcare workers on our frontlines are being so selfless right now — it feels good knowing we are able to do a small part to help them stay protected while feeling good during this difficult time. So many have told us how much they appreciate that our masks are made with organic dyes, zero toxic chemicals, are biodegradable, and are extremely breathable and comfortable.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Just as there is for the food industry, there should be a single U.S. Federal Agency that oversees the use of chemicals in the production of our textiles, and the 33 chemicals that have been banned in the EU should also be banned in the U.S.
  2. Legislation should be enacted requiring companies to disclose the ingredients (yes, there are ingredients) used to manufacture the clothing we are placing on our skin.
  3. Consumers must start asking questions and holding companies accountable. The two questions everyone should begin asking are “What is in my clothes” and “Who made my clothes.” Again, by shopping our values and voting with our dollars, consumers CAN force the industry to shift in the right direction.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example.

I once read a humorous quote that a leader without followers is called a wanderer. Therefore, for me leadership is successfully getting others to see and buy into my north star and successfully guiding them on the achievement journey.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Don’t strive for perfection — strive for progress.
  2. Don’t focus on competing with anyone but yourself.
  3. Just focus on the step in front of you, instead of the whole staircase.
  4. Sometimes your greatest hopes are destroyed to prepare you for something better.
  5. Dreams can become a reality, even from your living room. (Hello, 2020!)

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We are trying to disrupt and ultimately change the status quo. We have been living in an Instagram bubble for at least 8 years now. Our curated news feeds have morphed into our perceived reality which reinforces a facade that is not only fake/edited but also unattainable. Influencers are consistently selling a filtered version of beauty — and simultaneously feeding the fast fashion beast — by reinforcing the message that wearing an outfit more than once “on the gram” is an unforgivable crime. This has led to empty self-esteems and full closets, filled with ill-fitting clothing that deteriorates with every wash. The phrases “trend to trash” and “so many clothes, but nothing to wear” ring true now more than ever.

We live in an Instagram era where it’s all about the way we look, instead of being compassionate and talking about the way we feel. We believe it’s time to shift the conversation. Let’s stop buying it #forthegram and start doing it #forthefeel — the way it makes people and our planet feel. We hope everyone will join us.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I was recently having a conversation with my Dad and something he said triggered my emotions, causing me to tear up. When he asked me what was wrong, I explained that I was trying so hard to excel in every role in my life — but no matter how hard I tried, I felt like I was falling short. He then shared a life lesson quote from his professor in his Business Policy class in 1981. At the end of the very last class of his MBA program, she told everybody to please shut their textbooks. She was going to share real-world advice that they should take for the rest of their lives. It obviously stuck with him… and he has since passed it on to me. I now carry this with me every day.

“You will never be the best at everything at all times. You cannot always excel at being the best spouse, parent, child, friend or volunteer. There will always be trade-offs. Wherever you put your time, your focus and your energy is where you’re going to excel and get the best results. And as a result there will be deficits in other parts of your life at times. You will have to make choices throughout your lifetime. Just make those choices very carefully and deliberately and give yourself grace.”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

That’s a tricky question. In today’s atmosphere of women empowerment in the age of scientific advancement, there are two extraordinary women at the top of my coffee list, Cindy Eckert and Melinda Gates. Cindy knows how to spot an unjust industry and take it head-on, successfully. Her ambition and grit inspire me. And Melinda is a problem solver who cares so passionately about our planet and the people that live on it. The opportunity to be in the presence of her research mindset and problem-solving acumen would be honorable. I am confident that if I ever had the opportunity to partner with these women, we would accelerate solving the fashion industry’s detrimental footprint.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@forthefeelfashion on Instagram and Facebook

www.forthefeel.com

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


About The Author: Yitzi Weiner is a journalist, author, and the founder & Editor-In-Chief of Authority Magazine. The guiding principle behind all of Authority Magazine’s content is that good stories should be beautiful to heart, mind, and eyes.

Yitzi is also the CEO of Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator, which has guided dozens of leaders to become trusted authorities in their field after becoming syndicated columnists, authors, and media commentators. Yitzi is also the author of five books.

At Authority Magazine, Yitzi has conducted or coordinated more than 4000 empowering interviews with prominent Authorities like Shaquille O’Neal, Floyd Mayweather, Kelly Rowland, Bobbi Brown, Daymond John, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Lindsay Lohan, Cal Ripken Jr., Jillian Michaels, Derek Hough, and the C-Suite executives of companies like eBay, Kroger, American Express, MasterCard, 3M, L’Oréal, Walgreens, Intuit, Virgin, Campbell, Walmart, CVS, Wells Fargo, AT&T, Oracle, ZOOM, Udemy, Samuel Adams Beer, Zappos, Adobe, Capital One, Lockheed Martin, Gallup, Procter & Gamble , Anheuser-Busch, Chipotle, Starbucks, and thousands others.

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