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Beyond the Pencil (Skirt): Soraya & Maxine, Founders of Zady

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We are living in a time when trends move in and out faster than you can say “statement necklace.” Fast fashion is unfortunately often synonymous with cheap goods, underpaid and unsafe labor, and materials that do not last more than a couple of wears.

Soraya Darabi and Maxine Bedat, high school friends who stayed in touch with each other, recognized this $60 billion ethical consumer market, and created Zady to actively address the issue. Zady is an online shopping destination for a conscious consumer who values quality and wants to know the ends and outs of where a product came from. It’s been nicknamed the “Whole Foods of fashion,” and for good reason. We chatted with Soraya and Maxine about launching their company and got a close up look at some Zady-certified pieces.

Current location:

New York, NY

Where you are from originally?

Minneapolis, MN

Education (College / Major):

Maxine: Barnard College, Political Science (minors in economics and psychology). JD from Columbia Law School

Soraya: Georgetown University, English and Art History

[Related: Read all about Soraya & Maxine’s professional journeys on their Levo 100 Profiles!]

Brief description of Zady:

Zady is a destination for the conscious consumer. We provide an alternative to fast-fashion by searching the globe for beautiful products that you will want to keep and wear for a very long time. It’s global style with a purpose.

Zady has been referred to as the “Whole Foods” for clothes. How did the idea for this originally spark?

We met in high school in Minneapolis and bonded over both having international parents (Maxine’s parents are from South Africa; Soraya’s father is from Iran). Years after college, we were both living in New York and reconnected. We realized that we had similar interests including a shared interest in understanding how supply chains work and how beautiful things are made. We passed articles back and forth on the negative impact of fast fashion and the idea of Zady was born. Unfortunately recent trends support impulse-buying low-priced items made from cheap materials and labor. Zady is addressing the $60 billion ethical consumer market.

Office Style

Your personal style in a few words:

Maxine: Classic silhouettes, feminine tomboy, with a strong emphasis on accessories

Soraya: Simple, clean, global, accessorized

Go-to outfit for meetings:

Maxine: My Stevan Alan Danny pants, Cashmere Revolution Barca crew neck sweater, and heels.

Soraya: Black jeans by Imogene + Willie, a red silk blouse by Steven Alan, hand-hammered earrings by Marisa Haskell, earrings by Brandy Pham, a foldover clutch by Clare Vivier and if it’s cold outside, the men’s alpaca hat and scarf by Apolis.

Were you already clothing-conscious before launching Zady?

Maxine: I grew up in the fast-fashion generation. I remember when H&M first-opened in the U.S. It was exciting to buy things that seemed so cheap. But after years of buying this way, I found myself going back to the few basics that were higher quality. As I did more research into Zady and discovered what a human cost fast fashion has, it became that much easier to just say no. Now I have a highly edited closet where I know the story and can feel great about every single piece I own.

Soraya: I was aware, but still occasionally buying from the fast-fashion chains when I needed something last minute. Those items fell apart within three washes and so I don’t miss those products one bit.

Favorite piece on Zady right now:

Maxine: I love my imogene + willie jeans. I also keep my Le Feu de L’eau candle burning almost all the time.

Soraya: The Winter Session Carry-All. It’s a unisex tote bag and I love that it makes me feel like a chic-carpenter

Office Lifestyle

A day running Zady looks like:

Maxine: From 5:00 to 7:00 a.m., I am responding to emails and doing strategic thinking. Soraya and I are early risers, and find that’s the best time to think more globally about Zady and our strategy moving forward. The day is a balance between connecting with the team to advance projects, appointments with brands, and engaging on social media.

Soraya: Meetings! And team editorial, design and inventory review sessions. Investor calls. Interviews with publications. Coffee. Emails. Decaf tea after 2 p.m. At night I decompress by playing in the park with my puppy Pepito.

Maxine, how do you find the brands featured on Zady?

I never know where I’m going to discover a Zady brand, that’s half the fun. We of course go to all the industry shows, which is a great opportunity to speak to brands, and figure out what emphasis they play on quality and craftsmanship. I can walk down aisle after aisle, asking each brand where they do their manufacturing. It’s just scary how the vast majority do not have a clear answer to such a simple question. Some brands are found at the shows, I also discover them while traveling, others we find on blogs from around the world.

Soraya, now that Zady has launched what is the next bit item on Zady’s agenda?

Building out our community online and offline, planning for a pop up event, and strategizing all things Zady 2.0. We are @zady on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and we are /zadypins on Pinterest.

Work Life Integration

Where do you spend your weekends and free time?

Maxine: Living in New York is quite hectic, so I love to take weekend trips upstate. Being in nature definitely brings a sense of calm and helps me stay focused.

Soraya: At the Anjelika movie theater, reading in Washington Square park with the dog.

Where do you go for a ten minute break?

Maxine: I buy candy. It’s a habit that I’m told you grow out of, I just never did!

Soraya: I like to walk around the block briefly, and use that time to call my Mother to say hello.

City that describes your personality:

Maxine: New York, hands down.

Soraya: Paris. Maybe all girls say that.


Best piece of advice ever received:

Maxine: What life partner you choose is the most important decision you will ever make. I’m very fortunate to have found a husband who has been incredibly supportive of my goals in life, and I of his.

Soraya: Life is a marathon, not a race.

My mentor:

Maxine: My mother. She was new to America with my father, had three children, and somehow built a successful company. I turn to her often to get her take on relationships, which is at the foundation of a successful team and company.

Soraya: My mother now and grandmother before she passed away.

In 10 years:

Maxine: I hope fast fashion is spoken about in the past tense.

Soraya: I would like to be very very happy. Simply that.

Career wisdom for young professional women:

Maxine: Don’t expect your career to be given to you, go out and make it happen. Ask for more responsibility and put the work in to prove to yourself and others that you can handle it. Never underestimate hard work.

Soraya: Think about how you can help others get to where they are going, it pays back in fold.

Say hi to Soraya, Maxine, and @Zady on Twitter, and ask any follow up questions on Soraya and Maxine’s Levo League mentor profiles. You can also check out Soraya’s Office Hours here!

Photo editing and visual content by Pinsi Lei

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