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Zady, One Year In, Is Launching a Private Label

The e-commerce site's first product -- a women's sweater -- will land just in time for the holiday season.

It's been exactly one year since Zady, the conscious e-commerce site founded by Maxine Bédat and Soraya Darabi, went live. Since then, the retailer -- which promises 100 percent transparency when it comes to where and how each product it sells is made -- has launched several exclusive collaborations with its roster of designers, operated a pop-up shop out of LaGuardia Airport over the 2013 the holiday season and declared its mission in an attention-grabbing full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal

Up next: a Zady label. The first product, a women's sweater, will be available in time for the holidays. Unsurprisingly, it's an entirely made-in-America operation: the wool, sourced from Imperial Stock Ranch in Shaniko, Oregon, will be treated in Jamestown, South Carolina, then dyed at G.J. Littlewood & Sons in Philadelphia. (The exact price of the piece is still being sorted, but Zady promises that it will compete with J.Crew.) I recently sat down with Bédat and Darabi to discuss the project, and also to look back on the past year.

What have you learned about the customer in the past year that surprised you?

Darabi: We saw our peers and we were using them as prototypes -- the men and women we were friends with, but also their friends. But we started to notice that our customer really ranged in age and geographic distribution. There are the customers in places like Atlanta, Nashville and Fort Worth that love the heritage element and deep storytelling. And then we have the cities -- Seattle, Portland, Chicago -- that seem to really like the sustainability element of Zady, and the fact that we're mission-driven. And it's exciting to see that the age range -- even though the core is 24-44 year olds -- can be much broader than that because sustainability doesn't pertain just to millennials, not by any means. We were raised by baby boomers, and they brought the organic movement to the forefront. So of course they're also interested in organic fashion. 

How have you responded to that? Has it changed the way you market? Did it change your buy?

Bédat: To me, it helped us really zero in on our aesthetic. Our focus is timelessness, which appeals to a wide swath of people. It's fashion and style aware, but not trend driven.  The connection between work and life seems to be reflected in what people buy in terms of clothing. It's not like you have your corporate suit and then a t-shirt and jeans on the weekends. It's these pieces that can serve all of those roles. One of our earliest articles -- about work-life integration -- has been one of our most widely shared. 

What other content has worked well? 

Darabi: The share tools were reset over the holidays, but they're accurate on an article called "Taking a Stand," which came out after our Wall Street Journal ad. On the East Coast, it became a trending topic on Twitter for that day. It was shared because we were taking a stand and our ad was provocative. The interesting thing about that article was that there just wasn't negative backlash. We were saying really provocative things. In particular, the millennial audience who spends a lot of time on Twitter really got it. They got the call to action right away.

Bédat: We were nervous, putting that ad out. This is why we wake up every morning and do what we do, but was it going to come across as preachy. If you talk about the surprising things of the year, it was the embrace we got as a result of the spot. It made us more confident. We do have these values. We don't have to be afraid of sharing and being open about that.   

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Let's talk about the sweater. Has product always been a part of the grand plan?

Bédat: The idea of creating a Zady line was something that was there from the beginning. What we didn’t want to do is create something that was already done before. And we needed to become familiar with the market. It wasn't just about connecting with the knitters and the cut-and-sew people, it was about the entire supply chain, speaking to the farmers, using one of the only remaining independent dye houses. It's an entirely U.S.-made product, which is really hard to do. 

Why one product instead of a whole line? 

Bédat: Well, we didn't want to get in over our heads. Starting with one product has allowed us to really build these supply-chain relationships. We're not just doing this out of American pride. It's really because the environmental standards are so much higher here than they are in unregulated countries.

Why start with a knit? 

Bédat: We knew the timeline was to launch around the holidays. And we wanted it to be something you wear to work and out of work. The idea is that you can wear this lightweight sweater tucked into a pencil skirt to work, and layer it on the weekends. 

The thing that I get nervous about with mission-driven companies is that, at some point, a part of the production chain is going to have a kink, and the mission will be derailed by something that the brand was totally unaware was happening. Are you afraid of that? 

Bédat: For us, the challenge is in creating a new standard. I think fear is the best driver. We wouldn’t be pushing ourselves if we didn't want to be the standard bearer.

Let's talk measurements of success. What has the past year looked like? Are you profitable?

Bédat: As a start-up, we're focused on growth. Our team is growing, and we're launching this new line. But we're also not throwing spaghetti at the wall, seeing what works and not really worrying about what doesn't. A personal marker of success is when we go back to the producer and are able to reorder things. For instance, we've reordered pieces from Alice.D 10 to 15 times.