The Influencers

Soraya Darabi and Maxine Bédat of Zady

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Two halves of one very important whole are Soraya Darabi and Maxine Bédat, Co-Founders at the uniquely innovative lifestyle brand, Zady. Before Zady, Soraya graduated from Georgetown University and went on to be the Manager of Digital Partnerships and Social Media for The New York Times. Maxine, who graduated from Columbia’s Law School with honors, had cultivated a strong background in diplomacy through her experience working at the United Nations. The two joined forces to create a retail brand setting a new standard of ethical transparency, offering sustainable goods for the discerning
and conscious consumer.

Soraya, can you describe what the process was like taking your degree, which was focused in the arts, and cultivating a prominent career in Digital Media management?
I minored in art history and majored in English with a concentration in journalism. My internship at the helping journalists learn to use digital tools, led to a great job with Condé Nast Digital and later with The New York Times, partnering with leading social networks. That led to friendships with founders who showed me that I, too, could start a company with the right network and focus. My career unfolded naturally, as most do. I’d say that you could major in just about anything, but get internships in the area you think you’d like to work.  Far too few college students intern, but I wouldn’t be anywhere without that first job at the Post. I’m still grateful to my mangers there for hiring me.

What about your role at The New York Times? What was the single biggest lesson you learned during your time there?
The biggest lesson I learned at The New York Times is that a prestigious brand is built on the back of a best in class team, but a best in class team must be continuously humble to produce excellent work. You will walk around the café there and spot three or four Pulitzer Prize winners, but at the end of the day, everyone views themselves as a Times staffer, and feels proud to wear that badge everywhere and anywhere they go.  I learned there that I’d only like to create or join companies with the same humble attitude going forward.  

Maxine, was law always something of an inevitable pursuit for you?
I was always focused on social justice. Law is about process, which I enjoyed and it has become helpful in my role today with knowledge of contracts and the like. My experience in law was also a great resource in developing the Bootstrap Project before I came to Zady, which is a platform for enterprising artisans to learn new skills, expand their businesses and share their customs.

Maxine, do you feel the retail landscape has always been lacking in integrity or have we evolved to become ready to embrace the model of Zady?
Our grandparents wore simple, timeless garments that were made in America. Their closets were small and modest and contained a handful of pieces that offered comfortable, practical wear. Following the mid century dawned an era of lesser quality synthetic materials. Society has begun to raise the question of value and what it is they’re paying for.

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What’s the average workday look like for you, Soraya?
My day is centered around meetings, and high-level strategy discussions, but working alongside leaders of industry is what I love most about a business-centric career. Partnerships and networks are what make the world turn.

What’s the most gratifying part of this day?
Cracking jokes alongside Navah, our Relationships Manager. She always cracks me up and leaves me with a line that I later want to tweet or share with friends. But truthfully, the most gratifying part of the job is feeling like we are impacting an industry. We are shaking things up and folks are changing their shopping behavior thanks to our growing brand.

Maxine, what does the future look like for Zady?
Continuing to attract major talent. We’ve already been so fortunate in our success with cultivating and acquiring brands concerned with something more profound than the next trend. We’re committed to maintaining this momentum.

Soraya, what kind of advice do you have for entrepreneurial young women?
My first bit of advice for entrepreneurs, women or men, is to believe in yourself. There are far too many people on this planet who won’t believe in you, so starting with self-confidence is fundamental. Peter Druker said “entrepreneurship isn’t a science, it’s a practice,” and I believe that to be true. The best way to be entrepreneurial is to test out your ideas, small and large, and to see as many of them through to completion as you possibly can. Completion may be a fort in the backyard, solar panel power, or it may be an IPO.  Chip away at your idea, one day at a time.

Text by Jennifer Richardson
Photography by Mike Kobal