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Nomadista's Design-Cause-Effect Model Making Shopping More Meaningful

What started as a conversation amongst three friends in 2012 soon evolved into a new online retail concept founded on a shared passion to make a difference.

Nomadista, a term coined by co-founders Irina Bezsonoff, Marisol Gomez and Luisa Echeverry meaning an open-minded, stylish and socially-conscious wanderer, launched in September with a mission to provide shoppers with beautifully designed products that are responsibly sourced and made, while helping to improve conditions and create opportunities for underserved children in Colombia.

“We were all at a crossroads in our lives,” Bezsonoff, co-founder and head buyer said in a recent interview. “We have been lifelong friends and decided that we wanted to do something that is beautiful, inside and out.”

Nomadista presents a new approach to the fashion retail model, not only by offering clothes and accessories that adhere to environmental, economic and social criteria, but also through a percentage-of-purchase donation scheme, or ‘design-cause-effect’ system, that helps fund educational and social programs for these vulnerable children.

“Education gives a better start in life,” explains Bezsonoff, who has over 10 years' experience in a variety of roles within the fashion industry, from designer to buyer, in the U.S., Colombia and Chile. “It paves the way for a better future. We’ve seen the terrible and disparate conditions under which a lot of people live; we grew up all around it in Colombia. There are people with great wealth [and a high] standard of living right beside those who struggle to even find clean drinking water. Those early-development stages in life is where we believe you can make great impact.”

For every $100 spent on Nomadista.co, one day of school is donated to children in vulnerable communities across Colombia. Each donation provides 8 hours of school, 4 meals and health check-ups.

As Bezsonoff elaborates, “It’s about finding further meaning in the things we do regularly, like shopping. Nomadista is a place where you can buy unique things with amazing stories behind their creators and also have a direct impact on someone else’s life.”

The self-funded startup’s ‘give-back’ business philosophy extends to the designers and artisans that it carries. Counter to traditional retailer-brand relationships, Nomadista has supported some of its smaller designers in their journey to export products to a new market, including financial and logistical coordination. In addition to established designers, Nomadista sources from emerging artisans who have never had access to customers outside their immediate village or town.

Bezsonoff recounts, “We met a designer from Chile a year ago. She makes beautiful jewelry and also employs women in her community who are able to work from home. After purchasing earrings and learning of her story, I approached her with Nomadista. Unfortunately, she said she’d never be able to export.”

Instead of turning away, Bezsonoff and her team worked with the designer, bringing in logistical and financial experts to help her become export-ready.

“Finding designers is part of the equation,” Bezsonoff explains. “helping them to be prepared to ship products is another.”

This collaborative and compassionate approach to business is breeding benefits for all of Nomadista’s stakeholders. “There is a sense of discovery in different aspects of our business: a way for customers to discover amazing products and brands, and also a way for designers to discover new customers.”

And after less than four months in operation, Nomadista has already accrued enough to fund close to two months of full school days that will be donated during the first trimester of 2014. Bezsonoff says the team’s vision is to eventually have a partner foundation in each of the countries from which Nomadista sources its products. In the meantime, the company will continue to focus its efforts in Colombia, so that they can have a palpable positive impact on a specific community.

Bezsonoff offered three pieces of advice for getting a sustainable fashion business off the ground:

  1. Finding designers and products that don’t compromise beauty for sustainability. Let’s face it, women love to look great and with so many options in the market today, people need to feel that if they are paying a premium for something that has taken into account the social and environmental impact it has, it must be beautiful.
  2. Be 100% honest with your customers. If the purses you sell are not 100% eco-leather, then say it. Customers appreciate honesty.
  3. Be patient. There is an ever-growing market out there for sustainable products and a growing number of educated people who are willing to pay a premium price for things that actually take into account the price of not dumping chemicals in rivers or using child labor, for example. Believe in your vision and your commitment and wonderful things will follow.
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