The Grounded Disruptorread article
By: Synne Linden
Chloe Songer grew up in Silicon Valley during the rise of the internet, tech start-ups and the digital revolution. When she was 14 years old, An Inconvenient Truth also came out. Global warming, rising sea levels and environmental impact became day-to-day topics of discussion in the socially liberal, progressive community she found herself in. For Chloe, it also manifested as a personal mission, which meant that for a long time, she spent her time working towards the greater good.
A big part of my life in school and in high school was advocacy and activism around environmental policy and environmental behavior change. I became deeply involved in policy and advocacy work at a young age, both nationally and internationally (...) I think when you’re advocating for something else you put a lot of yourself in it and I didn’t know necessarily if I’d taken the time to figure out what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be.
Chloe’s family is filled with engineers, and her strongest subject in school has always been math. There was something in her that spoke against this career choice, however. Perhaps it was a deep and subconscious need for carving out a path for herself; one that would be uniquely hers, and that would combine the scales of creativity and analytics in a different way.
My father is an engineer, so, you know, hyper-analytical. My mother is an artist, just a beyond-creative web-thinker. And I’m caught somewhere in the middle. So I was also always in advanced art classes, and considered art a larger part of my identity. And before my time at liberal arts school, I was actually convinced I was going to go to art school - and become a fashion designer.
"Carving out a path for herself; one that would be uniquely hers"
Everything Chloe has ever chosen to do in her life has bounced between these two polar points. As she began exploring career opportunities in college, having taken a step back from her deep involvement in environmental policy and environmental behavior change, she thought she could find her balance in economics, and a career in finance and investment banking.
She had the opportunity to study abroad in Shanghai in 2012, where the majority of her fellow students were older than her. Most of them had recently shifted their trajectories from consulting and finance, and were pursuing something that would be more fulfilling. This environment pushed Chloe to think about her own path.
Eventually, she pulled her applications from the big banks and ended up interning the next year at Vogue and Vogue China in New York City - her first professional meeting with the fashion industry. After college, Chloe moved back to China and ended up working for Alexander Wang’s mother, who was launching “Made in China - Designed in China” luxury brand Arete Studio.
It was fantastic. It was the first time I felt like I was kind of using all my strengths. I was creative and decision-making, but also hyper-analytical, working on the business. I loved it.
In 2018, after spending another couple of years working for Gap Inc. while researching the waste and impact caused by the fashion industry, Chloe founded Thousand Fell, where everything came together. Her analytical side; her creative side - and those environmental roots that were still very much a part of both her personal and professional ethos.
Her goal with the business is as sharply concrete as it is beautifully imaginative: How do we end the textile waste by designing products that, from inception, can be recycled or taken out of the environment?
When I think about why we’re doing this and when I’m talking about our consumer, I come back to the fact that one of the number one causes of anxiety in younger Americans right now is eco-grief. 80% of people under 18 are stressed or concerned about the environment and the state of the planet for their future (...) When you begin to learn more about the current changes that are happening, you see that we’re not a building a planet that’s safe and healthy for all, across borders, across countries, and I think when you know that - and you see some of the impact that this is having on other populations - it’s hard to not do anything about it.
When you ask Chloe which aspect of her personality she’s most proud of, she doesn’t talk about her business, however. Instead, she goes back to the three years she decided to spend in China, as a debate and spoken English teacher at the Wuhan University of Technology. Chloe became immersed in her new environment. She made local friends, attended local activities, and underwent a vast learning journey of culture, personal growth and reflection. The pride in this experience is rooted in a personal struggle Chloe has worked on her entire life.
I suffer from some level of social anxiety. It’s gotten a lot better as I’ve grown up and become more comfortable with myself and started to think through insecurities and where they come from. But I am most proud of myself when I am in social situations and I am comfortable and I am therefore able to lead and bring the best out of others.
She loves when she’s able to be loud. To let her guard down. To bring people together - which is also when she feels most confident. It becomes an expression of brave leadership, both personally and professionally; the joy of being surrounded by people and that joy being greater than any anxiety she could feel herself. It’s an ongoing process for Chloe, and one she works on daily.
"To let her guard down. To bring people together - which is also when she feels most confident."
The anxiety can manifest in so many different ways. It can be everything from body image or stress, which in turn could lead to anger. But mainly for me it manifests in self doubt, and that’s such a tough behavior trait to have when you’re an entrepreneur. When you’re responsible for your own paycheck and others’ paychecks and you have this vision of what you want to accomplish and yet you’re struggling to push aside self-doubt. It is what motivates me to get up and get things done and be productive, but it is a double-edged sword.
Chloe refers to a picture of herself and one of her good friends when reflecting around #OwnYourGlow and what it means to her. In it, she’s smiling so hard that her cheeks are literally a bright, glowing red. It’s not the glistening, bronze, beach glow often referred to in picture-perfect campaigns. It’s a glow of happiness and a snapshot that instantly makes her laugh out loud. The emotional glow; true joy manifested and encapsulated in a single moment. The confidence it means is a reminder to Chloe of what she strives for, as she continues down her self-carved path.
I look at that picture and I’m glowing - mostly because I’m sweating and laughing - but I’m glowing. And I think ‘This is beautiful.’ It’s beautiful in a different way, because there’s happiness and joy and connection.