Editor's Note: Entrepreneur's Startup of the Month column spotlights the launch stories of noteworthy new companies.
With Giving Tuesday upon us and the holidays approaching, people once again find themselves in the season of giving back. For Zady, a consumer-conscious e-commerce store, this idea is not just seasonal but ingrained into its business model.
The startup focuses on providing consumers high-quality, unique items from designers -- many niche artisans -- they have researched, ensuring they know the origins of each product. Offering a wide range of items including a toboggan striped jacket, hand-painted ornaments and pebble salt and pepper shakers each product gets its own stamp of approval -- everything from sustainable to locally sourced.
"There is a strong desire to know where our things come from and to have a connection with the things we purchase," says co-founder Maxine Bédat.
The company decided to use the consumer-conscious approach, as they hope to disrupt the fast-fashion trend, one comprised of buying inexpensive clothes and getting rid of them quickly. Besides focusing on quality over quantity, five percent of proceeds from every sale on Zady will help the company's non-profit partner, The Bootstrap Project, an organization focused on improving the lives of artisans around the world.
While the site has only been live since August, co-founders Bédat and Soraya Darabi have been working on the concept since May.
Both raised in Minneapolis, the high school friends spent some years apart: Darabi working at The New York Times and co-founding app Foodspotting and Bédat working as a lawyer and founding The Bootstrap Project. It wasn't until the connected on Facebook that the pair realized they shared the same passion. Zady was born.
Since raising more than $1.3 million from New Enterprise Association, along with various angels, Zady not only has an online presence with its ecommerce website, but the company is also looking to capitalize on the surge in buying during the holiday season by launching a pop-up shop in New York City's LaGuardia airport. While it doesn't scream luxury, the location offers Zady the opportunity to reach impulsive buyers from all areas of the globe in a high-trafficked location.
"Our team pulled together a really unique store experience in a very short amount of time," says Darabi. "Travelers keep telling us how great it is to find such unique product offerings at the airport and that has helped sales."
We think this is pretty impressive. So for the month of December, Zady is officially Entrepreneur's Startup of the Month. With that comes bragging rights for life, naturally. The company's founders also get a copy of Entrepreneur Press' latest book: No B.S. Time Management and a digital subscription to Entrepreneur magazine.
We chatted with both the co-founders about their business model, challenges, assets and advice.
Q: What got you plugged into the consumer-conscious movement?
Bédat: We both grew up in the era of fast-fashion. I remember learning about H&M and begging my parents to take me to New York just to see what wonders lay inside. We shopped like this for over a decade -- going into stores weekly and coming out with the latest thing. As each season came to an end, we would open our closets and see unraveled clothing that wasn't wearable, because we put it in the wash more than twice. That was a sure sign to haul our clothing to our local donation center.
When we learned only a fraction of our clothing we gave away actually went to someone in need, and the majority is thrown out, the tiring feeling became uncomfortable.
We chose to start buying only products that were high quality and knew the origin. It turned out once we made the switch, we could afford to wear nicer clothing and our closets became real reflections of our style.
Q: Is it difficult to educate people about your mission? Has it been challenging to ask people to stop shopping for inexpensive clothes (i.e. fast-fashion fad) and switch over to more sustainable, high-quality product, especially when the economy isn't great?
Darabi: We are not trying to ask people to not buy fast fashion. Instead, we are providing engaging material that demonstrates the impact of fast fashion and at the same time we are providing a beautiful alternative. We never want to come across as preachy and people have responded very positivity to our messaging.
One of the features we wrote was seeing your closet in terms of cost-per-wear. It was incredible to see how much this article was circulated on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and the conversation it sparked. It was a revolutionary way of thinking for many people. It seemed to just click that in our strange economy, where some months are fantastic and other months are dead, every penny should be used towards buying things of lasting value.
Q: I have read you wanted to open up a brick-and-mortar location. Why? A lot of people would say the cost of doing business is so much lower having a strictly online presence.
Darabi: It has always been our vision to have an omni-channel presence, meaning approaching consumers through various channels and offering a seamless experience. There is so much space in retail to create a really unique experience. Likewise, online there is much that can be done to engage in storytelling. We're excited to bring the best of both online and offline to our community.
Q: Some people say it is challenging for an ecommerce startup to raise capital, because it requires so much funding. What was your experience like?
Bédat: We were lucky to find partners early on that really believed in what we're building. They understand the shift in consumer behavior and see the massive potential in creating a brand that fills the needs of this powerful, growing consumer base.
Q: What are your biggest challenges?
Darabi: At the moment, we are a small, tight-knit team. While it makes us quick and nimble, we all have to wear many different hats.
Q: What are your biggest assets?
Bédat:Our biggest asset is our team. We work in close collaboration as we don't believe in silos, which allows us to make intelligent choices quickly.Though we all work long hours, we don't forget to have fun and take in the little successes along the way.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Bédat: Very early on, we decided what our fundamental belief was: The emergence of the conscious consumer. We knew we wanted to be 100 percent committed to building a company for that consumer. Knowing exactly what we believe in has helped us be flexible in everything other aspect of our company. Our advice would be to find the thing in which you fundamentally believe in and don't waiver from that, but allow yourself to be flexible on all other aspects.
-This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.