At first, Karine Dubner’s expertise might appear to be luxury: the CEO of clothing brand Brochu Walker got her start in fashion working with Max Azria, vaulting through the industry’s ranks to oversee the launches of brands like Current Elliott and Equipment. However, Karine’s main commitment is to sustainability and wellness within the fashion industry and beyond.
At Brochu Walker — which pairs European sophistication with California warmth for clothing collections that redefine luxury — Karine is finding new ways to show how quality, covetable styles can be made sustainably and ethically.
I spoke with Karine to learn about how we as individuals, as well as brands, can embrace our strengths while contributing to a healthier world, and the most important lessons she’s learned as a leader.
Beth Doane: You are a female CEO and founder who has been committed to running a thriving business while promoting a better world. What values are non-negotiable to you?
Karine Dubner: Sustainability, equality and wellness are non-negotiable today. I run a small company of mostly women and we do put a lot of thought into how our company impacts the world — but I think every company should do this. My hope is to always set an example and go above and beyond.
Doane: How do you embody these values with your work?
Dubner: Earlier this year, to make BW more environmentally-conscious, I helped launch ‘Kinder To The Environment,’ an initiative supporting sustainability. Our love of natural fibers has always been at the heart of our business, and Kinder To The Environment is simply an extension of this passion as we strive to reduce our impact on the environment. A cornerstone of our business is cashmere, one of the globe’s most luxurious fibers and, when sourced ethically, a fiber that is as sustainable as it is beautiful. Most people don’t know this but it’s important.
More than any other fiber, cashmere is biodegradable and renewable. This said, there are still challenges in the cashmere industry that impact the environment, which is why we have partnered with an RWS (responsible wool standard) mill that prioritizes its commitment to animal welfare and maintains the highest social standards. Other new initiatives include a dye and chemical-free program, repurposing recycled fibers, and sourcing eco-friendly fabrics and yarns.
While fashion can be seen as the essence of unnecessary consumption, sustainability is a balancing act and one we are truly trying to figure out every day.
Doane: What inspired you to become a CEO in the fashion industry?
Dubner: I was presented with the opportunity to acquire BW in 2013 and the challenge of breathing new life into a brand excited me. I saw a unique opportunity to turn around a company and to apply my vision and interest in sustainability to the evolution of its product, but, most importantly, it gave me the freedom to commute between Arizona (where my three boys were) and California. It was the financial security I needed for my children.
Doane: What was the biggest challenge you encountered, and what did it teach you?
Dubner: “The only constant in life is change itself.” I am a Taurus, so change is never easy, but it has taught me that I need to be continuously attentive, ready to adjust and to never rest on my laurels! Today, I embrace change. While it can be uncomfortable, it is the only way to grow.
Doane: What sets your philosophy apart?
Dubner: The concept of “conscious luxury” is the cornerstone of what I have worked to build, and others can, too. Having a successful brand and life is about valuing quality over quantity, a thoughtful attention to detail, a less-is-always-more mindset, and pride in one’s character.
Doane: What have you learned as a female CEO, both in becoming a leader in your field and cultivating a positive, healthy company environment?
Dubner: I always saw being a woman as a plus, not a negative. After all, we give life and nurture and support our society in so many ways. As an executive, I feel the same. You have to nurture your company and your team, to dedicate yourself to it, to constantly provide intellectual, moral and social direction, while always keeping an eye on the bottom line. Just like motherhood, if you put your heart into it, it all comes naturally.
Doane: What advice do you have for young women who want to start their own company or take their life in a new direction, both of which take a great deal of courage?
Dubner: I want to tell women everywhere they can achieve anything they put their mind to. It really is resilience and courage that show us the path to our dreams.