Maxine Bédat and Soraya Darabi are the co-founders of Zady, a sustainable e-commerce fashion site that’s leading the “slow fashion” movement. Garnering praise from Lucky Magazine, Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company, Zady has grown rapidly since it launched in August of last year, encouraging people to leave the fast fashion mentality behind and take pride in the style and integrity of each and every piece of clothing they own. I sat down with Maxine and Soraya to talk more about Zady and get their advice about creating a successful company.
What made you decide to start Zady?
Soraya: We started Zady to become the Whole Foods of fashion. Back in the Summer of 2012, Maxine and I saw a big opportunity to help people find a curated platform of stylish and sustainably produced apparel for men and women. This is something we were looking for, our friends were looking for, and didn’t exist in the market. Businesses of the future, and especially brands of the future, are going to be born online. Maxine and I are digital natives; additionally, we both have a great interest in keeping the tradition of great craft alive — Maxine, especially, given her background with The Bootstrap Project, the non-profit organization she founded in 2010.
How did your past success with The Bootstrap Project and Foodspotting, respectively, help you create Zady?
Maxine: Our skill sets were highly complementary, and I think that is what has allowed us, along with establishing a really fantastic, tight-knit team, to succeed in such a short amount of time. Soraya comes with the digital chops and a native understanding of all things social; then, my kind of geeky excitement and interest in how things get from A to B has been a nice combination. We don’t get in each other’s turf, but we compliment each other. Zady’s team is really motivated, excited, and dedicated, and that has been a powerful combination.
How did you build the Zady brand? What did you do to build your consumer base?
Soraya: It was important, from day one, to build our brand organically at Zady. We know our concept lends itself to a self-selecting audience of people who feel passionate about a more sustainable planet and who already know intimately what they are putting into and onto their bodies. We were also eager to appeal to people who came to Zady simply for style alone. In order to successfully build Zady, we had to put aesthetics first. Yet in telling the story of all the exceptional makers whom we partner with and detailing, down to the raw materials, what goes into the production of each product that we sell, we are also showing people that sustainability can be sexy.
Maxine: What’s so exciting about what we are doing is that we are not just building a brand, we are building a community along with that brand. And it’s been so exciting to see how that community is really responding and growing, becoming a part of who we are. They are really an extension of what Zady is.
What challenges do you think you face, if there are any, as a more social enterprise based startup as opposed to a more traditional, purely for-profit startup?
Maxine: What’s exciting is that to be a social enterprise is actually a huge asset. It’s not that people are having to sacrifice; it’s that you not only get to come to a job that’s going to put food your the table, you get to come to a job that is a reflection of who you are and what your values are. And that’s a tremendous motivating factor for all of us.
Soraya: Well, Zady is in its first year of business, and we could not have anticipated the success we’ve had. Scaling while maintaining a great company culture, building an organization that people believe in, is especially important to us. Right now, everyone that we work with wears multiple hats, and we think that’s a good thing. It keeps us on our toes, it keeps the brand fresh and innovative. As we get bigger as an organization, we want to maintain that same genuine sense of curiosity and same great company culture, which will naturally become a challenge, but a good one — a challenge we look forward to.
What career advice do you have for for anyone else who is an aspiring entrepreneur?
Soraya: It’s not easy to be an entrepreneur, especially in 2014, when just about everyone wants to become one. We often joke that startups have become the new Hollywood. In the 80’s, people would pack their bags for LA, and now they are packing their bags from states like the one we come from, Minnesota, to move to Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley. Inherently, that also poses a challenge: how do you differentiate your idea and your team, how do you come up with a company that is truly needed in the marketplace, and how do you find the greatest talent that will help you succeed along the way?
Those aren’t easy questions to answer succinctly, but one big answer to all three of those questions is network. Finding like-minded people who are excited about the industry in which your excited about is crucial. Luckily, New York City and San Francisco have amazing resources, and smaller cities around the country are growing their resources. My best recommendation is to think through your idea, build a solid pitch that welcomes people to join you on the way, to practice building a business plan (because even if you don’t need it, it will come in handy just to have your ideas on paper come to life) and to find that great network.
Maxine: The only thing I would add is that startups always require a lot of skills and are always trying to get something done with very few resources. That provides a really great opportunity to be able to lend your skills and grow at the same time, really as an entry point into this world. Just get yourself in there, and that will be your entry point.