Success, as commonly defined, is not simply about what we do with our lives, but about how we positively impact other lives as well. This could be illuminating a path for someone who can't find the right career or investor, or providing a necessary perspective that helps move an issue from "point good" to "point awesome". This is the type of success that is also a narrative for the work, and life, of entrepreneur Nina Farran.
If you answer the question "What Makes Great Style?," then you will see why she is a rising star. VOGUE interviewed her this year, and the article blew me away! The color. The expression. The culture. And, a willingness to try new approaches and not be hemmed in, so to speak, by any conventional thinking. Her curated collections occupy a bold, dynamic universe where style jumps out at you, design after design.
While it is easy to say impressive when you speak about Nina, the word that comes to mind is impact. This is what her life's work is about: impacting the fashion industry - consumers and designers alike - and impacting the planet and its citizens. This Ivy League graduate sat down with us to discuss her expansive vision, and to elaborate on what inspires her style of philanthropy.
Image Courtesy of Nina Farran
Explain to us what exactly Fashionkind is.
Fashionkind is an initiative to change the world, using luxury fashion as the vehicle. We want to change the way you - and the industry at large - think about fashion. We are doing this through two core channels: "shifting consciousness" by educating consumers about the negative impacts the mainstream fashion industry has in society and the environment; and "shifting buying patterns" for high-end consumers with Fashionkind discerningly curated ethical and sustainable designs from around the world. So Fashionkind is not just another e-commerce platform or an aggregated site of ethical and sustainable designers. It is in very real terms an initiative. We have distinct activities that support this initiative and its dual focus: investments in each designer and artisan we work with; speaking engagements in front of organizations and within individual companies around the globe; the Fashionkind Dinner Series which launches this Fall; and more in the planning stage.
When did you realize you wanted to go into fashion?
Fashion has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. That sounds so clichéd, but it hasn't always been pretty! Like many young children, I wore my mom's high heels around the house, resulting in a number of tumbles. Sorry Mom! (Laughs). One of the earliest fashion memories I have is refusing to go to kindergarten in anything but my gymnastics gear. In every single photo of me from kindergarten I'm wearing my leotards and tights - usually mismatched! Oh, and did I mention they were multi-colored neon brights? Maybe they weren't the most stylish outfits, but I thought they were awesome - and they were mine. Fast forward to the summer after my freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania when I saw a t-shirt that had a distinct symbol on it: a hand forming a peace sign, with the continent of Africa as the palm in the colors red, yellow and green. I researched the brand that made the t-shirt - OmniPeace - and learned that it built schools in sub-Saharan Africa from the profits generated from the sale of its branded apparel and accessories. I drafted a business plan to bring the brand to Penn's campus and presented it to Mary Fanaro, the OmniPeace CEO. Two months later, I successfully brought OmniPeace to Penn's campus and soon exceeded the marketing performance of all other college campuses in the U.S. I've always known that I am happiest when making a positive difference in people's lives, so when I learned that I could combine this passion with my love of fashion, I knew I had found my calling.
The designs you carry are all ethical and sustainable. Why is this important to you?
Ethical and sustainable designs are at the core of the Fashionkind initiative. In my past life - am I too young to say that? (Laughs). In my past life, I was an Impact Investment Specialist at a Philadelphia-based investment and wealth management firm. I initiated the impact investment program at the firm, authored several publications on impact investing and had a number of speaking engagements discussing how individuals and foundations or endowments could align their values and mission with their investment portfolios while maintaining market-competitive returns. My work focusing on ethical and sustainable investments opened my eyes to the severe need for investors, and consumers, to be educated about this opportunity. I noticed a pattern in my research: so many of the statistics I found were about the mainstream fashion industry and its negative impact on society and environment. Did you know fashion has been quoted as both the second largest polluting industry in the world and the second biggest user of the world's water? I could go on. This was my a-ha moment: just as investors need to be educated, consumers in the fashion industry do too. But I don't want to merely educate, I want to influence top-down change in the industry, which is why Fashionkind's curated collections are centered on luxury design. Consumers need to see that they can invest in ethical and sustainable fashion without sacrificing their personal high-end style, and we want designers to realize that they can use their designs to have positive impact on society and the environment. I dubbed it, "impact fashion."
Each designer on Fashionkind's platform has to meet two criteria: high impact and high style. Impact can be achieved in various ways, including: the materials used, the processes implemented, the under-served populations that are employed, and the initiatives with which a brand is aligned. We work with brands that create garments hand-knit by women in Nepal, jewelry made from recycled bombs from the Vietnam War, revived vintage pieces that support art therapy programs in children's hospitals in NYC and LA, and so many more. We've even partnered with a designer we met while on our Fashionkind trip to Turkey who wanted to use her designs to support LGBT rights; we each committed to giving 10% of the profits from the sale of a specific scarf to Outright Action International. There are so many unique ways to make a difference while maintaining high-end fashion. The global fashion industry generates 1.2 trillion dollars of revenue each year - that's 1.2 trillion dollars to change more than your outfit! All it takes is some research, thinking outside of the box and of course, some Fashionkind.
You also believe in using your considerable online influence to promote philanthropy. What are some of the projects you're working on?
Giving and making a difference has always been and always will be what makes me happiest. I realized this at a very young age, which I credit to my family and my education. I truly believe that each and every person has the ability to positively impact the world we live in, leaving it a better place than it was before. I use my own as well as Fashionkind's social media platforms to educate, spread awareness and emphasize the importance and ease of giving. One of the projects I have been involved with for the last few years is Power Up Gambia, a 501(c)3 organization that is transforming healthcare services in The Gambia through solar energy. I have served on the Board of that organization for over three years and have been Board Secretary for the last year and a half. I am also proud to be an Ambassador for Kara Ross' Diamonds Unleashed, a movement to transform the way we think about and interact with diamonds - from something a partner would give a woman to something a woman would give herself. Diamonds used in Diamond Unleashed's collections are ethically sourced from Canada and processed in manufacturing facilities that exceed minimum standards for health, the environment and human right. The brand donates one hundred percent of its net profits to organizations that support female adolescent development, including She's The First and Girls Who Code.
Instagram has produced a creative renaissance that the fashion industry has greatly benefited from. How do you see it evolving further in the coming years?
I love Instagram for so many reasons. I can't tell you how many people I have met through the app that are now dear friends, Fashionkind designers, collaborators and more. It certainly has changed the way many industries communicate with and interact with their customers, and fashion is no exception. Instagram in particular has transformed the role consumers play in a brand's story. Bloggers have become integral parts of brands' advertising strategies, and user-posted content has begun generating sales, thanks to image-recognition technology--think Curalate. I expect that having streamlined click, like-to-shop capabilities built into the app is just around the corner, so a user can easily make a purchase by clicking directly on an Instagram image, instead of having to click a link or wait for an email. I do have some ideas for how to integrate the Fashionkind mission into Instagram's technology, but my lips are sealed! Maybe that will be my next project.
What are some of the favorite places you've traveled to for Fashionkind?
I have been extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to travel a great deal with my family, which is what opened my eyes to the amazing talent, style and fashion that is just waiting to be discovered all over the world. It only made sense for travel to become an integral part of the Fashionkind journey. So far, Fashionkind has traveled to Morocco, Haiti, Turkey, South Africa and Swaziland, all of which were truly incredible in their own ways. Our most recent trip was to South Africa and Swaziland and was particularly special for me. I had the opportunity to speak about ethical and sustainable fashion, social media strategy and business planning to the group of artisans that makes up Swaziland Fair Trade (SWIFT): a country-wide organization comprised of individuals and companies that create high quality, high design handcrafts in the country. I have always felt an intense connection with the continent of Africa - yes, I know it is 54 very different countries - and, I felt completely at home as soon as I set foot in both Swaziland and South Africa. I have never met so many incredible, welcoming, warm-hearted people so quickly and in one place, not to mention the talent I saw there, from home to ready-to-wear. It was truly a magical experience. Now, only 51 more countries to go.
When you look at your industry, what are some of things you would like to see more of?
I very strongly believe in the possibility of and potential for a fashion industry that uses its position, growth and reach to positively impact society and the environment. Perhaps it's unrealistic to think every single designer will eventually be tied to a greater cause, but at the very least I want to see a meaningful change in the percentage of designers who are - and that would make a large difference. I believe this change has to come from the top, which is why Fashionkind focuses on higher-end designs when we curate brands from around the world. Kering is making strides in this area. Just think: what if your pair of designer shoes paid for cataract surgeries for five children in Malawi to relieve them of blindness? For your information, this 15-minute surgery only costs around $42! What if the outfits you wore every day planted trees in deforested areas like Haiti, which is 98% deforested? Can you imagine the possibilities?!
Image Courtesy of Nina Farran
What's next for Fashionkind?
We have a number of exciting things in the works. I mentioned earlier that we are launching the Fashionkind Dinner Series. That will take place in major cities across the country, and internationally longer-term. The series will consist of intimate dinners that bring together individuals who wouldn't normally be at the same table - a cross- industry group -- to foster collaboration and community and to promote ethics and sustainability in high-end markets. For each dinner we are partnering with key influencers in the respective cities. Our goal is to further develop Fashionkind as an initiative and to establish an industry-agnostic setting for individuals to meet, share and enjoy a great meal--a time of true community.
I am always brainstorming ways to make Fashionkind even more impactful. The Journal section of the newly re-launched Fashionkind.com will include designer interviews, artisan spotlights, travel documentation and guest posts. It is extremely important to us that we not only champion the brands we work with, but also champion the individuals behind each brand - the master makers and creators and their stories.
On the fashion side of things, get ready for Fashionkind-branded and collaborative products, designer items exclusive to Fashionkind and new designers from around the world. One of my longer-term visions is to work with the leading mainstream luxury brands to create Fashionkind products, which would demonstrate their support for the Fashionkind initiative and value. Hey, a girl can dream, right? Of course, we are always open to new ideas, partners and opportunities, so who knows exactly what the future will hold. What I do know is that I am grateful for each and every step of this journey. I am fortunate to have found and to be able to do what I truly love and to make a positive impact while doing it. For that I am forever thankful. Now, let's change the world.