Meet the Woman Dedicated to Making High Fashion Have an Impact
By Maxine Whitney
13 July 2017
Nina Farran is the force behind FashionKind, a blog turned e-boutique with a focus in exclusively ethical and sustainable fashion. Launched initially as an Instagram account, Farran took her years of experience in business and investment and her passion for impact fashion and used it to launch a medium where humanitarian designers can educate and sell to the general public. The website features brands like Maiyet and Coclico, as well as a journal that highlights stories on everything from personal style to facts on gun violence in America. PAPER caught up with her as she is getting ready to launch FashionKind's first capsule collection. Peep the slideshow below to see some of the gorgeous sustainable pieces from their site styled by Ella Cepeda.
What inspired you to get involved in humanitarian efforts, and how did this transition into the creation of Fashionkind?
Since I can remember, I have always been happiest when making a difference. I knew from a very young age that whatever I did with my life had to make a positive impact. I also knew that fashion was one of my favorite ways to express myself, and I had always been fascinated with its ability to transcend boundaries and connect people, not to mention the sheer beauty of the craft. It wasn't until 2008 that I first saw these two passions – impact and fashion – come together, and as soon as I did my life was forever changed; I knew that I had found my calling.
As an English major at the time, I set out on a path to better prepare myself to have my own humanitarian fashion company. After an internship in the fashion industry, I transitioned to finance because I wanted to better understand what makes a company worthy of investment. It was during my time in finance that I discovered impact investing – ethical and sustainable investments – and ultimately initiated, built and launched the impact investing platform at the investment and wealth management firm where I was working. My work in impact investing opened my eyes to the ethical and sustainable issues facing our society and our planet, and I began to notice a pattern in the statistics I read: so many had to do with fashion's resource consumption, pollution and labor violations. This was the final catalyst to my launching Fashionkind in 2014.
When transitioning the website into an e-commerce boutique, what was the reaction you got from designers when you reached out to them? How have those relationships progressed?
When we were first reaching out to designers we received mixed responses. Some brands were not interested because we weren't well known, while others were excited about the work we were doing and eager to learn more. As we've grown, this dynamic has shifted. We've gone from originating each new relationship to receiving daily inquiries from designers requesting to partner with us. I remember when I received an email from the first brand we profiled when we launched on Instagram. Its knitwear designer had been following our work from the beginning and couldn't stop talking about it with the rest of the team. It was an exciting moment to realize our work was attracting the leading brands in the space.
What are the factors you keep in mind when determining if you want to work with a brand?
First and foremost, we look at a brand's style. If its designs don't stand alone as pieces of high-end fashion, it isn't the right match for us. Someone needs to be able to see the products in a magazine or worn on the street and say, "I need that" without even knowing its story. This is the key to changing the dialogue of ethical and sustainable fashion: you don't have to sacrifice your style like so many people think you do.
If the brand meets our style standard, we evaluate that brand's impact. It's important to note that 'impact' is not a black and white criterion; impact can be achieved in many ways (not everything has to be vegan!). We look at impact in four overarching categories: underserved populations that are employed; materials that are used; processes that are implemented; and initiatives with which a brand aligns itself.
Finally, it is important to us to have a strong relationship with each brand we partner with. I use the term 'partner' intentionally, because we truly do view our relationships with our brands as mutually-beneficial partnerships. It is core to us to champion their work and tell their stories in a way that traditional retailers do not.
Is there an ethical or sustainability issue that you hope to involve yourself in that you haven't had the opportunity to at this point in time?
This is a hard question! There are so many impactful initiatives targeting pressing issues, and I honestly wish I could be involved with them all (wouldn't that be nice?!). Personally, I continuously find myself being drawn to initiatives that target hunger, education and water access. However there are plenty of necessities – not privileges – that so many people around the world live without. We need to band together to change this, and I know that fashion can – and should – play a large part in raising awareness and bringing solutions.
Since you do so much traveling for Fashionkind, would you say that your personal style has been influenced by the places and people you have come in contact with? Is there one in particular that stands out?
I think everyone is influenced by the people and places around them, although often subconsciously. One of my favorite things about traveling is exploring different cultures and traditions, and fashion is a large piece of most cultures and local traditions. From solid, neutral palettes and tailored silhouettes to bold, colorful prints and statement jewelry, I've absolutely taken a bit of every style with me from my trips. Most notably, though, traveling has really opened my eyes to the creative talents around the world and the importance – and power – of knowing and connecting with the people, places, materials and stories behind the pieces that you wear. This realization has had a tremendous impact on me and on Fashionkind.
Has there been a defining moment in the life of Fashionkind so far that has made you feel like you are truly making an impact and a difference?
I'll never forget the first time I saw Lucy in action. Lucy is the Maasai artisan who beads our exclusive sunglasses by hand. As part of launching the collection with Michael Nelson and Selima Optique, we had a local filmmaker take footage of Lucy at her home in Karen, Kenya, so we could create a film to share her story. Among the videos and pictures he took were images of Lucy's children resting on her shoulders, leaning over the pile of beads that would soon adorn our aviator frames. It was extremely powerful to see Lydia – one of Lucy's children – watching her mother create the very product that would help send her and 21 other children from her village to private school. With each pair of sunglasses we sell, we contribute to an education fund that makes it possible for these children to have access to quality schooling. As Fashionkind grows, we hope to have a positive impact in more lives and to effect positive change in more situations.
Do you have plans to expand? Where do you see your brand 5 years from now?
We are gearing up to expand our platform in September, when we will be increasing the number of designers we partner with and launching our Fine Jewelry Vault, the premier curation of ethical and sustainable fine jewelry designers from around the globe. It was clear to us – and every editor we've met with about the Vault - that there lacked a strong curation of the top fine jewelry designers who were marrying their craft with ethics and sustainability, so we set out to fill that void. We've curated an amazing selection of designers so far, some of whom we will have exclusive relationships with as the US launch partner. We can't wait!
In terms of longer-term vision, we want to be the leading destination for ethical and sustainable luxury, carving a new path for consumers and designers alike. We will continue to use for-profit business to influence positive change and set a precedent for others in the industry. Someone recently told me you are either driven to make a profit or driven to make an impact, but never both. I couldn't disagree more.
Photographer: Zachary Chick
Stylist: Ella Cepeda
HMU: Anna Webber @ Wilhelmina
Model: Kate Bowman @ Wilhelmina