Since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2018, a centre of technology and innovation, I’ve been excited to immerse myself in the startup ecosystem through volunteer roles and contracts, and translating my experience into thought leadership. I have created an ongoing series to interview entrepreneurs, change makers and community builders to spread their message and lessons with others! Today I’ll share my conversation with Shirin, the powerhouse behind Fashion Community Week in San Francisco!
I previously referenced my work in Partnerships for Fashion Community Week in a couple of posts: Using Rent the Runway rental services (I so wanted to learn from this sharing model and bring it to Canada last year via my Fashion Startup: LookLab!) and also, it was through the Fashion Community Week Winter Soiree that I met my future Co-host for my first Bay Area event – a Clothing swap collab with new Stylist friend, Amanda!
What is Fashion Community Week?
Well for starters, there are 2 weeks of events per year: 1 in Spring and 1 in Fall.
There will be 4 exciting events over the course of March 13-16.
GET YOUR TICKETS HERE!
The Fashion week platform (Fashion Community Week and Sustainable Fashion Week) was created for emerging talent and those coming from under represented backgrounds. The platform has launched Fashion talent from Europe, Africa, Asia, Middle East, North and South America. This platform focuses on offering business and marketing expertise and a marketplace for those in the Fashion industry community to connect.
How Do You Challenge the Status Quo of Fashion for the New Age?
Shirin is currently a Consultant helping Fashion Designers and Startups at different stages of their business from conception to birth. And while you would never know it from the website, she also created the Fashion week platform. She is passionate about women empowerment and serves on the advisory board for several women organizations and women run businesses. She recently gave this talk at TEDx and I encourage you to watch it!
I will also summarize some key highlights below:
Shirin opens her talk and shares how she grew up in Saudi Arabia. She candidly tells you that in the eyes of her parents: She has not lived the life they dictated for her.
“As a woman, my role is to be a great mother, daughter, wife and also a grandmother. While those are all amazing, and it is such a gift for a woman to play those roles, I also wanted a professional presence. I wanted to have it all.
And so, I moved to the US as a teenager to follow my dreams and to gain freedom and independence.
However, I arrived 10 days before 9/11, which was a very challenging experience.”
While the backlash and judgement she faced as a result was incredibly difficult, she overcame all of those hardships and fulfilled the American Dream to pursue a successful career in her chosen industry: Fashion.
The American Dream – Working in Fashion and Traveling the World
She had a great job doing what she loved and worked out of a bright, spacious office.
When she started traveling the world and visited garment factories however, something didn’t sit right with her. The conditions she saw were uncomfortable, with workers having to put in 12, 14 maybe 16 hour work days for barely a living wage.
So, she chose to once again to leave her current comfortable settings, much like when she left home for the US, to pursue something bigger for herself, and to make a difference in the world.
As she points out:
Everyone should know who is making their clothes. Look at the shirt you’re wearing.
WHO made it? How many hours of labour went into it? Were the workers who made this treated properly?
How Fashion Community Week Was Born
As she thought about how she could tackle some of the these issues nagging at her, she thought about one area that always intrigued her: Fashion Week.
Fashion Week events in New York, Paris and Milan were traditionally targetted for buyers and media professionals and were very exclusive – invite only. It was vital for her job to fly around to world to attend Fashion Week to see what trends were coming into market, so she could prepare for 6 months down the road.
She thought it was strange that these events were not open to the public.
At the same time, there was a massive disruption going on the Fashion Industry from many different angles. She looked at all this and thought, Now was a time to make a change.
NOW was the time to bridge the gap between consumers and the fashion designer, while also creating a platform that could be more intimate.
She envisioned a place where everyone in the industry could network and connect. In addition, there could be a platform where fashion designers could showcase current collections, rather than only displaying designs 6 months out.
She shared some early concepts and vision for this kind of fresh, new community.
Her colleagues told her she was crazy.
Well, with Fashion Community Week in San Francisco in its 6th year, plus a long list of accolades, it’s clear that she was able to channel her passion into something meaningful that the broader community supports, and that is sustainable.
Fashion Community Week received an award by the late Mayor Edwin M. Lee of City of San Francisco for their commitment towards building a fashion ecosystem, launching new local businesses and supporting local charitable organizations. Every year Fashion Community Week chooses 5 non-profit organizations to raise awareness by gifting proceeds from the events to benefit these organizations.
1:1 with Shirin about the Platform, Highlighting Diverse Communities and Supporting the Next Generation of Students
I met with Shirin one week in February, after she had already been up since 6AM meeting with her team to plan for the final weeks leading up to the big show March 13-16.
I was glad that I had brought some pineapple cakes to share with her team (I had them with me in celebration of Chinese New Years – Mmm Sunnyhill! 🙂
She informed me that this show is completely not-for-profit and how excited she was to highlight designers, models and others from all over the world – many of them from under-represented Countries like: Ghana, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Hungary, Serbia and beyond.
One of her biggest highlights is the student feedback she receives after they participate in her platform and learn the ropes and operation skills for how to run a successful Fashion Show. They learn how to conduct research and outreach, as well as hands-on experience in logistics. Sometimes the students complain about this, but when they end up getting FT jobs, they write back to her and say, “This is exactly what we have to do now – thank you for teaching us all these skills!”
In closing, I want to share one other beautiful piece from Shirin’s TEDx talk: The Importance of Integration
When she looks back at how she achieved success, she fully credits her approach to Integration.
Integration to American culture was extremely important for her personally and professionally. If she did not integrate to US systems, she would not understand how to operate business. She emphasizes that integration is not about giving up your own values, but rather, keeping that open mind to welcome new ideas so that you can improve and keep up. In the business world, it is important to understand new markets and that we all must adopt an attitude of integration if want to succeed in new areas.
Now that you’ve learned about this incredible Change Maker and the ethos behind Fashion Community Week SF – I encourage you all to join me and support the broader ecosystem!
Attend Fashion Community Week SF March 13-16
See below for a variety of events to attend all week!
NEW!! On March 14th, I will be a HOST and help moderate a panel for the Industry Startup Portion!
While the Fashion industry is sometimes viewed as a vanity industry, there is also a huge business component. People travel to places like Paris and Milan mainly for Historical sites, Food and also, fashion! Through these series of events, Shirin and all those involved, hope to shine more light on how new innovations and diversity in Fashion, can be good for business and help economies thrive, while also emphasizing sustainability!