Soraya Darabi on Ethical E-Commerce, Storytelling, and Zady.Com

7/2/14Follow @bvbigelow

Soraya Darabi already has had an amazing career as a digital media entrepreneur, and she’s only 30 years old.

Darabi and friend Maxine Bédat are the co-founders of New York-based Zady.com, a socially conscious e-commerce website for what they call “slow fashion.” They are building Zady.com as a brand that sells high-end apparel, accessories, and other products from makers who care about timeless style and durability, for consumers who care about the origins of items they purchase. Darabi compares their ethos with Whole Foods, saying Zady.com offers high-quality products from ethical companies that use sustainable business practices and pay living wages—in contrast to the “fast fashion” penchant for selling throwaway products made under sweatshop conditions with no regard for the environment.

A 2012 regulatory filing discloses that Zady.com raised $1.35 million in initial financing. Darabi says that’s not accurate, but won’t disclose more specific information about the round or its investors.  AngelList shows $1.95 million in funding for Zady; Crunchbase and other sources have identified the investors as NEA, Softbank, Box Group’s David Tisch, and San Diego investor Navid Alipour of Analytics Ventures. Since April, Darabi has visited San Diego twice to meet with local entrepreneurs, business partners, and investors.

Darabi grew up in Minneapolis, MN, where she graduated from the Blake School in 2001, and intended to become a journalist when she enrolled at Georgetown University. In a talk last month at the 12th annual San Diego Venture Summit, Darabi said she was working as the college marketing rep for Sony Music Entertainment in Washington, DC, when she realized the established music industry was on the verge of disruption. “I’d get boxes of CDs sent to my house every month at a time when all of my friends were downloading their music from Napster and LimeWire,” she recalled.

As a college student, Darabi also had the good fortune to work as a marketing intern at The Washington Post’s website, where her job was training reporters how to use RSS feeds.

After graduating with a degree in English, Darabi moved to New York, where she joined Condé Nast and met Dawn Barber, who was a founder of the New York Tech Meetup, and learned the importance of networking. “Were it not for her welcoming young women like me into the group back in 2005, it would have been much harder for me to network with people who later became founders, friends, and investors,” Darabi said.

In the fall of 2007, The New York Times hired Darabi, initially as manager of “buzz marketing.” She was promoted 15 months later to manager of digital partnership and social-media marketing. Somehow, she also found time to work as a social media adviser at ABC News. “I became the person behind the scenes at big media companies who was trying to syndicate the news,” she said.

Darabi left The New York Times to join Drop.io, a Brooklyn-based file-sharing service later acquired by Facebook, and in late 2009 she joined Foodspotting, a food-discovery app that enables foodies to share photos of their favorite dishes.

Before OpenTable acquired Foodspotting in a $10 million deal that closed in early 2013, Darabi re-connected with Bédat, a high school friend who had graduated from Columbia University and Columbia Law School. Bédat founded a nonprofit called the Bootstrap Project while she was working as a private lawyer in Tanzania at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which was prosecuting perpetrators of the genocide. While exploring Tanzania’s markets, she noticed that local artisans had trouble selling their crafts, and started the Bootstrap Project to help bring sustainable economic development to similar communities around the world.

Zady.com co-founders

Maxine Bédat (left) and Soraya Darabi

Bédat and Darabi founded Zady in late 2012.

I got a chance to speak with Darabi before her talk in San Diego, and we chatted about creating an online brand, the importance of storytelling at Zady, and the challenges facing women in business and as entrepreneurs. I’ve condensed and edited our conversation here:

Xconomy: I was reading a blog on your website about “Objects with Meaning” that was really about the sentimental importance of heirlooms. It’s like you’re creating a sensibility for the products you sell—that every item is one of a kind.

Soraya Darabi: Isn’t that a wonderful campaign? Maxine was inspired by a gift her father gave her and that she’s held onto for years and years. She brought up the idea in a marketing meeting and the whole team just loved it right away, so we decided to … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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