Commerce with a conscience

Inspired Luxe’s Founder and CEO Denise Bradley-Tyson on broadening the definition of entrepreneur, advancing social good, and keeping artisanal traditions alive

the Center
Oct 1, 2015 · 4 min read

hen Denise Bradley-Tyson launched Inspired Luxe — a curated online marketplace for wearable art made by artisans around the world — she added ‘entrepreneur’ to her long list of credentials, which include President of the San Francisco Film Commission, former Executive Director of the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD), and Harvard MBA.

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Inspired Luxe CEO Denise Bradley Tyson is wearing Masha Archer and Inspired Luxe bangle and earrings; Gymboree founder Joan Barnes is wearing Tamara Hill necklace

But entrepreneurship, especially supporting the work of artisans, has been a uniquely meaningful experience for Bradley-Tyson. She strongly believes in commerce with a conscience — that is, paying fair wages to artisans for their work because it’s essential to sustaining healthy communities and economies.

Inspired Luxe will be featured as the inaugural concept store at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco (Store hours are Monday — Friday, 11am — 6pm, from October 2nd through November 6th at 505 Howard St.)

Bradley-Tyson sat down with the Center to talk about Inspired Luxe and the meaning of entrepreneurship:

Part of Inspired Luxe’s mission is supporting the artisans who make the wearable art you sell. Could you tell us more about this support?

The first part is paying a living wage. At a conference called Design Indaba, I went to a showcase for artisans wanting to bring their work to market to potential buyers. I met so many artisans I’m still working with today, and I saw firsthand what a difference a fair wage makes in their lives. It’s not about charity. People just want the opportunity to do good work and be paid a fair wage so that they can provide for their families.

The second part is supporting community causes. So for example, for one of the organizations featured on Inspired Luxe, the proceeds go towards supporting HIV/AIDS initiatives in their community.

It’s also about providing a platform to keep artisanal traditions alive. Because if younger people can’t make a living practicing that craft, then as older generations die out, it’ll become a footnote in our history books.

The last part is preparing them for the global market. I facilitate introductions between the artisans and high-profile designers. I have discussions with artisans who do beautiful work, but the finishing isn’t polished enough. I point out safety hazards that might prevent them from being picked up by a retailer. I’m just trying to use my platform, connections, and experience to shine the spotlight on their work.

You talk about artisans as entrepreneurs. Why?

Because they truly are entrepreneurs. They have a vision. They don’t know if it’s going to work or not. They create something functional, beautiful, innovative — and then they put it out there, hoping it finds its way to somebody else who believes in it.

They’re out there pitching, sweating, and practicing their craft just like other entrepreneurs. But the stakes are higher. The money they make at a craft fair can make or break whether their family eats for the next week.

The idea of commerce with a conscience is core to Inspired Luxe. What role do businesses play in advancing social good?

I’m often reminded of how interconnected and interdependent we truly are in this world. And if we aren’t doing a good job taking care of all the people in it, then the system — our macro-economy — is ultimately not going to survive.

But I think companies are finding that social good is good for business. And the two things aren’t inherently separate. For one thing, companies foster better business practices and disciplines for social entrepreneurs and businesses. Even in the social good space, people want to see metrics that show a return on their investment, whether it’s job creation, education, or other forms of advancement.

You’ve had a long career in the arts, from TV to film to fashion. What is it that inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

Some people plot out their journeys, but it wasn’t like that for me. I reached a point where after a long career, I knew I loved culture, art, and people. I just wanted to figure out how to make a living doing what I love while giving back. This is what it ended up looking like.

MoAD was a compelling opportunity for me because it was a vehicle for educating people formally (through art and public programs), but also informally (through artisanal crafts) about cultural connectivity and how we’re more alike than we are not alike. Connecting those dots is something I get very excited about as a powerful tool in breaking down barriers.

In my career, I’ve been fortunate to travel extensively. And wherever I am, I seek out local artisans. The most exciting discoveries are those in which people draw upon their traditional cultural heritages to innovate and push artisanal legacies forward.

For me, the “luxury” in Inspired Luxe is all about crafted excellence.

Come visit the Inspired Luxe pop-up store at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco (Store hours are Monday — Friday, 11am-6pm, from October 2nd through November 6th at 505 Howard St.)

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