Two millennial women offer their perspective and insight after starting their own business.
By Soraya Darabi and Maxine Bédat (Founders, Zady)
No matter how many rings you may have around the tree, starting a business is not easy. If you are a veteran entrepreneur—Mark Cuban, say—tasks like finding funding and hiring a top-notch team might not seem daunting. But, as millennial women and newly-minted entrepreneurs who aren’t, alas, billionaires, we knew it would take a lot of hard work to launch our company, Zady.
First, a word on Zady. We are a brand born online dedicated to our mission: No more fashion in landfills, no more production with questionable roots. Our company aims to return to an era of honesty and quality. We search the world for expertly crafted apparel and home goods, timeless in style and made from the highest-quality raw materials. By nature of our set of criteria, each piece we select is a gem, and has a beautiful story to tell. We tell that story on Zady, the story of the makers, and help to fuel a global narrative on the future of sustainability in production as result.
Why We’re Against Fast-Fashion
Ambitious? Yes, we are. And in part we are ambitious because we are millennials, and were raised with an unmitigated sense of optimism and want to make a positive impact on this green globe of ours. As such, we want what our peers want, including 100 percent transparency when it comes to the things we buy. We grew up in an era where buying organic food and Whole Foods were becoming mainstream. Today, we expect to know where our food comes from and to be able to communicate with the people bringing it to market.
At Zady, we share that ethos, and want to bring that same narrative of the origins of our clothing to the Whole Foods generation. In fact, part of our mission at Zady is to inspire people to rethink fast-fashion entirely, which is apparel produced inexpensively to keep up with fast-changing runway trends at low cost. This manufacturing is harmful for the environment, for workers who are paid in pennies overseas to produce these garments, and for the American economy which has lost the vast majority of its manufacturing industry to lower-cost marketplaces.
When we learned the numbers – that an article of fast-fashion clothing isn’t meant to last more than three washes and, as a result, 2.5 billion pounds of clothing end up in landfills each year – we knew we wanted to devote our passion for style to shifting the conversation.
We truly believe in living better with less. Today, our closets contain a handful of well-constructed go-tos and – we’re proud to say – a whole lot of clicking, empty hangers.
The Pros and Cons to Being Female Entrepreneurs
It’s a great time to be a female entrepreneur; we’re surrounded by support. Our first female role models were our mothers: a doctor (Maxine) and a professor (Soraya). Both had a fierce can-do attitude about the challenges they tackled. Our mothers were our first role models, though over the years we’ve learned how important it is to have professional mentors too.
There have, of course, been challenges. As millennial female entrepreneurs, we’ve encountered bias, so we work doubly hard to demonstrate how deeply we understand the landscape we work in. When we’re presenting before investors, we adhere to our career counselor’s tips that help us feel strong: to sit up straight, keep both feet planted, speak slowly and without upward intonation and make steady eye-contact. These are behaviors any woman can benefit from practicing.
Last August, Zady launched to critical acclaim. Over the past six months, we’ve built a community of enthusiasts who are championing our idea and our brand and because of this ample support many young women reach out to us asking for best practices or tips for starting a mission-driven business of their own. Below are our top five tips:
1. Pick a Cause You’re Truly Committed To
We were taught early on to take care of our planet, so working in sustainability was important to us. Added to that, our commitment to global human rights issues — another lesson handed down by our “Baby-Boomer” parents–informed our desire to elevate products crafted by people who are treated well, and who work in safe conditions.
2. Do Your Homework
Seriously, do as much research as you can. It took us a long time to hone the idea for Zady. We researched the sustainable fashion landscape for ages to learn what’s working, what’s not, and to find out where the needs are. Take your time, talk to authorities in your field, and figure out how you can create something fresh and original before drawing up a formal business plan.
3. Choose Your Co-founder Wisely
Yes, we were friends in high school. However, we don’t advocate starting company with a best friend, nor do we recommend starting one with a stranger. When you’re going into business with someone, it’s nice to share a common background, but trusting and respecting your partner is also vital. Before founding Zady, we hadn’t spoken in ten years, but we followed one another’s careers on social media and were impressed with each other’s accomplishments. Does it help that, after a bad day, we can open up a bottle of wine and laugh over goofy high school photos? Sure. But what makes our partnership work are our complementary skills, real-world experience, and shared vision for Zady.
5. Pick Your Core Team Just as Wisely as Your Co-founder
Investors, advisors, early team members: It’s really crucial you don’t just work with the first people you find. We at Zady are a lean staff, and we work hard. There are four of us who are full-time, and everyone basically has three job titles. It’s not uncommon for us to pull all-nighters. But, we’re also a family. We genuinely like each other, and that makes going to work fun.
5. Be Brave — and Believe
In the beginning of his career, Whole Foods founder John Mackey, one of our heroes, was turned down by investors. Come up with a clear mission, build a team that will stick by you and then, as a staff, live your core values. You’ve got to believe to succeed.
This post originally appeared on The Shriver Report.