I started ADIFF because I wanted to create change within the fashion industry. I was a fashion student at Parsons when the Syrian refugee crisis happened and felt overwhelmed with an urge to help. But coming from a background in design, it didn't seem like my skills were useful or needed at all. Regardless, I kept researching the crisis and discovered that clothing was actually playing a key role in the safety and comfort of those on the move. And yet the fashion industry - whose key product is clothing - wasn't creating solutions for these people, or even paying attention to the crisis at all. I wanted to not only create useful, intentionally designed pieces that could be donated, but also leverage the fashion industry as a way to provide aid and awareness for the crisis, and harness it as an unexpected medium through which to have important conversations.
Forbes 30 Under 30 | Parsons 2016 Designer of the Year | Eyes On Talents Innovation Award
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
Bringing a product to market has definitely been one of the biggest hurdles we have faced; in fact, we wrote an entire Failure Report on it! It's one thing to design a product and make it yourself, but it's another beast entirely to streamline it for production, source all the components, find a manufacturer, get it made (on time and on budget), delivered, and distributed. It's a learning experience and there are always going to be mistakes, all it comes down to is whether or not you're willing to keep working though the process. What makes an entrepreneur is someone who gets up after getting knocked down, and keeps running.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
Ha! Only all the time. Your family and friends can be a great support network, but they can also reflect your greatest weaknesses. I strongly feel that maintaining a work-life balance is pivotal for entrepreneurial stamina - not putting in the effort to maintain personal relationships puts you at a greater disadvantage down the line. That said, of course there are moments where I'll prioritize the company over personal matters! And to me, that seemed like the responsible thing to do at the time. But you shouldn't neglect your community, even if they might disagree with you on a certain business decision, or your entire venture. When it comes to business pursuits, at the end of the day, you need to remain true to yourself and your intentions, because that's really all that matters.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
I was very lucky early on to receive a large amount of media traction, which is essentially what pushed me from this only being a project to becoming an actual company. I just wish I was more prepared for it at the time. Lighting can strike at any moment (and it typically only hits once), so preparing the infrastructure for when it does is really important.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
That you are the only thing keep this moving forward! The only person that you can rely on is yourself.
What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?
Figure out 1) what you're passionate about and 2) how to maintain that passion. Make a list of things you can do to keep that internal fire going, because as an entrepreneur, the ups and downs can make the flame flicker or even extinguish it entirely. Stay true to what interested you in the first place, because this is a game of endurance.