Nina Farran (pictured below) is the founder of Fashionkind, a luxury commerce platform that curates a highly edited mix of ethically produced and sustainable luxury products. We met Nina in NYC, and quickly fell in love with this kindred spirit – a woman with a true heart and capacity to change the world.
NINA, TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND IN FASHION. WHEN AND HOW DID YOUR DESIRE TO SEE POSITIVE CHANGE IN THE INDUSTRY BEGIN?
I knew when I was very young that whatever I pursued had to create positive impact. I have always been most fulfilled when providing and creating opportunities for others – it really is part of my core being. I’ve also always loved fashion – as a language, as an art form, and as a form of self-expression. I believe it can transcend boundaries. It wasn’t until 2008 that I saw these two passions of mine – impact and fashion – come together.
The summer after my first year at the University of Pennsylvania. I was on vacation with my family in the Outer Banks, North Carolina, and we were waiting for a dinner reservation. Like any true fashion lover, instead of waiting at the restaurant for our table to be ready, I went off to explore some of the nearby boutiques. In one of them, I saw something that forever changed me.
Inside, there was a t-shirt with the outline of a hand with two fingers up forming a peace sign, and the palm was in the shape of Africa. I have always felt a very deep connection to the continent of Africa – to this day I don’t know why – and I knew I had to learn more. I had to know what this symbol was, and what it meant. When I found out that it was the logo of a humanitarian fashion brand that built schools in sub-Saharan Africa, something clicked. If we were going to continue to create and consume, why shouldn’t both be done with a greater purpose beyond the piece of fashion itself? And so, my journey to creating Fashionkind began.
TODAY YOU’VE TRULY COMBINED YOUR LOVE FOR FASHION WITH A DESIRE FOR SOCIAL CHANGE. BUT YOUR CAREER ALSO HAD ITS ROOTS IN FINANCE. TELL US ABOUT THE IMPACT INVESTING PROGRAM YOU BUILT.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that no journey is truly ever linear, and mine is no exception. At the point that I realized I wanted to start [what I thought would be] my own humanitarian fashion brand, I was an English major with a concentration in Cinema Studies (French and Italian film, in particular, if you ever need any recommendations!). To better prepare myself to have my own fashion company, my initial thought was to get industry exposure. However, after interning at LVMH with Donna Karan, I realized what I really needed to learn was the business side of things.
I knew I wanted to leverage the power of for-profit business, because I believed in order set precedence for others in the industry, I had to be on the same playing field as the very companies – and people – in which I wanted to influence change. I needed to better understand what made a company worthy of investment and identify patterns between both successful companies and unsuccessful companies, so I could best prepare myself for success. So, I pursued a career in finance and started as an Equity Research Analyst covering consumer discretionary and industrial stocks.
A couple years into my time in finance, I transitioned into Manager Research, and it was during this time that I saw something that I couldn’t forget, much like the t-shirt I saw in the boutique in North Carolina; however, this time it was a phrase instead of a symbol: “impact investing.” The idea of aligning one’s values with his/her investment portfolio seemed natural to me, and after learning about the fuel the Millennial generation was putting behind this fire, I knew that, as with anything I am passionate about, I wouldn’t be able to let it go. Ultimately, I ended up initiating, building and launching the impact investing platform at my firm, which meant that for the first time, clients were able to construct portfolios that were completely aligned with their values, without sacrificing financial returns.
“I have always felt a very deep connection to the continent of Africa – to this day I don’t know why – and I knew I had to learn more. I had to know what this symbol was, and what it meant. When I found out that it was the logo of a humanitarian fashion brand that built schools in sub-Saharan Africa, something clicked. If we were going to continue to create and consume, why shouldn’t both be done with a greater purpose beyond the piece of fashion itself?”
FASHIONKIND IS THE TANGIBLE MANIFESTATION OF THESE PASSIONS COMBINING. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SPECIFIC WAYS THAT FASHION KIND IS SUPPORTING HUMANITARIAN EFFORTS IN THE WORLD?
I love this question. Fashionkind marries a top-of-the-line consumer shopping experience with a one-of-a-kind storytelling platform that authentically champions each designer’s story and the people, places, materials, processes and initiatives that make them unique. Storytelling has always been an integral part of the Fashionkind brand, and it is one of my favorite parts of what we do.
We’ve recently begun working with a company called PatBO, which was founded by Brazilian influencer Patricia Bonaldi to employ and teach women in her hometown of Uberlandia, Brazil. Instead of outsourcing production for her fashion line, she founded a school in Uberlandia to teach local women how to bead and embroider by hand, enabling them to provide for their families while creating unique, meticulously-crafted womenswear. Today, PatBO employs 400+ women. It is these women whose hands have touched each PatBO piece our customers purchase.
G.Viteri is one of the first companies we brought onto our platform. They use handmade toquilla straw hats and bags to tackle Ecuador’s overwhelming rate of poverty for its indigenous population. They’re currently producing a custom order for us for one of our customers, and because of the relationship we’ve built with them, we’ve been able to send our customer images of her special piece being made. In response, she mentioned how rare it is to feel the kimochi (the heartfelt spirit or the heart) in fashion these days, but that it was apparent in Fashionkind and our work. It really touched me.
I greatly admire how companies like Reformation address their impact. As a retailer, quantifying our impact is a bit more complicated than it is for individual labels. It is an area in which I am looking forward to finding solutions and improvements. So, please let me know if you have any ideas!
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE BIGGEST GAP BETWEEN FASHION AND IMPACT THAT NEEDS TO BE BRIDGED?
This is such a tough question, because in truth I believe there are many gaps that need to be bridged. I think it’s easy for both consumers and designers to get stuck in how things have always been done, and that can be dangerous. Too often do people take and accept what is presented to them or how most people do them, without asking questions. Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it should be done that way. For progress to happen, we all have to push for better.
One of our responsibilities at Fashionkind is to educate consumers and designers alike, so that they rethink the way they are consuming and creating. First, how can we cause them to start asking questions? Then, how can we make sure they know what questions to ask? Where are things being made and how? Who is making them and in what conditions? What materials are being used? What happens at the end of a product’s lifecycle?
Each of the designers and products that we champion and bring onto our platform is not only making an impact, but is also built on high style and design. By marrying impact and design, we are challenging the stigma associated with ethical and sustainable fashion: that it is “grungy,” “crunchy,” and anything but high end. In fact, we preach quite the opposite; we believe luxury can and should be synonymous with ethics and sustainability. Challenging the status quo is a big part of the bridge that needs to be made. We believe it is what will lead to measurable change.
“Be strategic and mindful; just because something is a good opportunity doesn’t mean it’s the right opportunity for you. Be aware of competition, but don’t get too invested. Trust your gut. You are the only you there is, and that is powerful. And above all else, remember it won’t be easy, but very few things worth doing ever are.”
WHAT IS THE PART OF YOUR JOB THAT GETS YOU EXCITED ABOUT LIFE?
It is abundantly clear to me that Fashionkind is my calling. It is so deeply a part of me. I remind myself each day not only how lucky I am to have found my passion, but also how lucky I am to be able to pursue it. I have been given this tremendous gift, and it is my responsibility to chase it, build it, and never stop striving for more. I have the opportunity to share people’s stories, skills and cultures from one part of the world with another, and to rethink the impact we have on our planet, all while adding a new dimension to fashion and its narrative. I can change the world. There’s nothing more exciting than that.
WHAT IS THE FUTURE FOR FASHIONKIND?
This year is an inflection point for us, and I am deeply excited for what’s coming next. Fashionkind is not just a retailer or brand. It is part of a movement. The future we envision is one marked by change, progress and innovation, all without sacrificing design, style or quality. It is a future that will be heavily focused on partnerships and collaborations – two things that have long been taboo in this industry. While I can’t share our specific plans, I can tell you that our goals are big. There is a real need for a guiding light to spearhead the changes in the industry. We want to be that company, and I want to be that person.
LASTLY, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE TRYING TO MARRY A DREAM WITH BUILDING A FRUITFUL CAREER?
Challenge the “givens;” don’t be afraid to rethink the way things have always been done. Celebrate each accomplishment, no matter how small it may seem at the time. Know that you will make mistakes and that they are only part of the process – they don’t define you. Be strategic and mindful; just because something is a good opportunity doesn’t mean it’s the right opportunity for you. Be aware of competition, but don’t get too invested. Trust your gut. You are the only you there is, and that is powerful. And above all else, remember it won’t be easy, but very few things worth doing ever are.
FOR MORE VISIT: FASHIONKIND
All images courtesy Fashionkind.
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