You might feel like you already know Zady, the ethical-minded e-commerce site that launches today. That’s because it’s everywhere: in the Wall Street Journal, on NewYorker.com, and in your Fashionista newsletter.
So yes, cofounders Soraya Darabi and Maxine Bédat hired good publicists. But they’ve also constructed an argument writers can’t help but find compelling.
Darabi, 29, and Bédat, 31, met in Minneapolis as teenagers. “We were dark-haired girls in a sea of blondes,” jokes Bédat. The two kept in touch over the years, and each eventually landed in New York. Darabi worked in social media at the New York Times, and went on to cofound Foodspotting, a photo-sharing app that sold for $10 million to restaurant reservations site OpenTable in January 2013. Bédat’s career took her to Tanzania, where she was a law clerk at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Inspired by her time there, and her experience with the local craftspeople—who were often ready and able, but lacked the infrastructure to produce goods—she launched the Bootstrap Project, a nonprofit organization that helps to finance the work of artisans around the world.
From these two seemingly disparate backgrounds came Zady.com, an e-commerce site that sells clothes with a conscience. To Darabi and Bédat, “conscience” can mean many things: locally made, ethically sourced, environmentally sound. Because it’s impossible to judge every single item with the same criteria, they’ve created badges that help the shopper to understand the product’s story. If something is handmade, it says it. If the cotton is organic, you’ll know that too. If production of an item helps to support a dying craft, you’ll be aware. And there’s a charity element as well: some items for sale are the fruits of projects micro-financed by Bootstrap. (By the way, 5% of all proceeds are actually donated to the organization, of which Bédat is still the executive director.)
“There’s usually such a big question mark,” Bédat says. “We thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if there was a solution out there—tasteful, beautiful products with origins.’” Imogene + Willie jeans and Claire Vivier handbags are displayed alongside Shinola notebooks and Fair Trade stripey shirts. How, with no retail or fashion background to speak of, was Zady able to convince these well-respected brands to let it place orders? The answer is advisor Stephanie Seeley, a veteran buyer who spent significant time at both Los Angeles indie boutique American Rag as well as Project, the org that runs the Magic tradeshow in Las Vegas—which is probably the biggest women’s tradeshow in the country.
The duo raised $1.35 million over the past year in a round of funding led by New Enterprise Associates, a private equity firm not particularly known for its fashion e-commerce investments. (Although they have put money into Moda Operandi and Beachmint, as well as broader e-commerce sites including Groupon.) There are now six full-time employees, none of which are specifically buyers. While Bédat acknowledges that eventually the company will need to hire a proper buyer or two as sales increase, it doesn’t seem to be a place of concern. “We’re two women living in New York City, we care a lot, and have always loved fashion,” she says. “We’re a startup, we all wear many hats.”
Another hat they’re all wearing is that of storyteller. The hope is that the stories behind these projects—often told by journalists who write for publications including The Atlantic and the New York Times—are interesting and honest enough to make a customer loyal. Yet transparency is something that many brands are currently aiming to achieve. Whether or not Zady’s particular mix of content, commerce, and conscience will work is still unknown.
Yet Zady is already thinking about what’s next. Darabi is most excited regarding the possibility of an in-store project. “We want people to be about to experience Zady in the real-world, too, hopefully through a pop-up shop in the near future.”
One thing’s for certain: With consciousness comes optimism.