Rono Zhang of NOIRANCA: 5 Things You Need To Lead a Successful Fashion Brand Today
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Building a harmonious work culture that bonds the team together. Great teamwork is the crucial ingredient of leading a fashion brand, and creativity blooms in a harmonious work culture as it means endless sessions of interactions and discussions, which ultimately make the products better. Don’t forget to keep good connections with suppliers, factories, and transportation companies, they are also the ones that secure smooth operations of the brand.
Many in the fashion industry have been making huge pivots in their business models. Many have turned away from the fast fashion trend. Many have been focusing on fashion that also makes a social impact. Many have turned to sustainable and ethical sourcing. Many have turned to hi tech manufacturing. Many have turned to subscription models. What are the other trends that we will see in the fashion industry? What does it take to lead a successful fashion brand today?
In our series called, “5 Things You Need To Lead a Successful Fashion Brand Today” we are talking to successful leaders of fashion brands who can talk about the Future of Fashion and the 5 things it takes to lead a successful fashion brand in our “new normal.”
As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rono Zhang.
Rono, is a visual fanatic, a storyteller, a performance marketer, and the mastermind behind NOIRANCA
Having worked on both agency and client sides in luxury and fashion, Rono specializes in brand image with emotional storytelling punctuated with a strong attitude creative direction. Expanding business strategies to different communication platforms is also his area of expertise.
Besides branding, with his diversified experience in performance marketing, Rono is competent in directing and transforming product, content and social media into ads and data that convert profitably.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I practiced music and dancing at a young age for more than 10 years, I think it stimulated my sensitivity in art direction, and opened up my world to branding and fashion industry eventually. A performance, usually consists of story plot, costume design, choreography and script etc. I like seeing how all these elements add up together and create different sensorial experiences for audiences to feel and enjoy. Building a fashion brand is somewhat similar, in the end we are not just delivering a product to the customer to use simply for its functionality, we are creating a story and an aspiration for them to enjoy the beauty of it.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
I think it’s ultimately my upbringing in performance art that connected me to the world of fashion and branding. When I first started my career, smart phones were not prevalent and people used Blackberry for email. Brands focused and spent a lot for offline promotions. This is where I trained my eyes in aesthetics and storytelling. However a few years later, with smart phones and social media, the landscape of fashion changed completely. With traditional branding techniques simply no longer enough, I expanded my profession into performance marketing and social media which equipped me with a helicopter view to look at the brand from both aesthetics and data.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The first few years when I was working in an agency serving big luxury brands, I realized that my office life was like in The Devil Wears Prada. Oh it’s real, and I survived. But looking back now, I am very grateful for those years as they provided all the fundamentals I needed to advance my career and taught me attention to detail. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that the world of fashion is created by perfectionists, somehow, I am too.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- In the past, we used very large budgets for branding and campaign shoots, but the transformation into today’s digital era has taught us good content isn’t always about large sums of money, rather, it’s more about bringing something new to the audience in a creative way. There are new topics, new techniques every day, as leaders, we need to be humble and learn from new generations, new trends, new creatives, new channels etc.
- Being distinctive is very important in fashion, but it doesn’t mean we are conducting business without looking into market data. As a brand, while we are creating our own style, we need to be open-minded to other styles, trends, materials and possibilities, as fashion changes all the time.
Always see things from a helicopter view
- Fashion is always about small details, and sometimes we are so fixated into the details and forget to look at the big picture. As leaders we need to try our very best to balance different aspects of the team and the brand, and make sure resources are allocated to the right priorities.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Being different makes us stand out. A different bag. A different leather. A different story.
Our designers put an unexpected spin on handbag shapes, creating one-of-a-kind and sustainable staples for women. Our bags are therefore distinctively and instinctively different from other brands, elevated by the unique aura of the women carrying our bags.
Consumers now pay more attention to sustainability efforts of brands. Unlike most handbag brands on the market, we are going animal-free in crafting our bags by using our signature PETA-Approved Vegan Leather. A different leather that is more eco-friendly.
Another thing that makes NOIRANCA stand out is the stories we share. Not only do we pay homage to the inspiring stories of female icons in our designs, we are also collecting stories from women from different walks of life and present them all to the world. Our latest campaign Censored Bodies addresses body positivity and a lot of our customers and influencers are sharing the same views with us. We’re so glad that we stirred up an ongoing conversation on women’s empowerment. And that’s what makes us special: we are creating a community of empowered women.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Change won’t just happen because we speak about it. The very notion of change requires us to participate in change actively. I like to be a hands-on person, instead of just someone that keeps talking. Usually, when I have an idea, a change I want to make, I take initiatives to make it happen, and this sometimes influences others to join me.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?
As sustainability has become a key focus among the fashion industry, we are beyond excited to see the emergence of more alternative vegan leather options and a significant rise in animal-free fashion items. A full-on sustainable fashion industry has been a vision of ours for a long time, and we’re so psyched that we’re getting closer and closer to that.
Can you share how your brand is helping to bring goodness to the world?
As advocates of Ahisma, the principle of non-violence, we are 100% against animal cruelty. Our bags are all about uncompromising quality with sustainable vegan leather containing 58% recycled materials. To us, “vegan leather” is not just a term, it’s a commitment in making sure no more animals are harmed ever.
Aside from our vision in sustainability, we also endeavor to contribute to the female community on a global scale. Partnering with i=Change®, we donate $1 from every order online to a charity of customers’ choice — Her Future Coalition, Women’s Community Shelter and National Breast Cancer Foundation — so everyone can be a part of the journey of empowering women.
Can you share with our readers about the ethical standards you use when you choose where to source materials?
The climate crisis has inspired us to employ strict eco-conscious and ethical standards to our business. We start from ourselves, our own actions, and our passion to make a change.
Opting for an “In House First” approach when producing our prototypes, we prioritize surplus materials that we already have on hand to avoid wastage and unnecessary shipping whenever possible. In addition, as part of our commitment to circularity, the majority of these surplus materials that we use, and reuse, have a viable recycling solution.
To further offset our ecological footprint, we adopt different sustainability measures behind the scenes. Our suppliers must first implement strict environmental standards, such as meeting EU REACH and US CA65 standards, and obtaining the ISO9001 certification, to demonstrate that they are committed to protecting the environment and water sources from toxic chemicals, and informing the public about the risks that can be posed by them.
Fast fashion has an advantage, that it is affordable for most people, but it also has the drawback that it does not last very long and is therefore not very sustainable. What are your thoughts about this? How does your company address this question?
Indeed, a host of issues has arisen as the aftermath of fast fashion, for example, pollution, over-consumption and unethical material usage. Not only an enormously high quantity of garments is manufactured, but the fast fashion industry is responsible for tremendous waste — be it textiles or garments — where many of the materials are non-biodegradable. Another thing about fast fashion is that many brands aren’t transparent about their supply chains, it is essential that consumers know what products they are buying, and whether or not the factories are treating workers reasonably.
With the vision of sustainability, our designs are bound to stand the test of time, encouraging consumers to buy long-lasting pieces that look classic all the time. With higher quality accessories we hope that all of us could buy less for the sake of protecting the environment. Plus, unlike animal leather and traditional synthetic leather, our signature vegan leather is lighter, thus lowering carbon emission; it is over 40% and 300% more durable, respectively.
Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Lead a Successful Fashion Brand”. Please share a story or example for each.
- It’s imperative to keep an open mind, all the time. It goes without saying that the fashion industry is always evolving. There’s always something new, something mind-blowing springing up — be it materials or new aesthetics — and it’s only with an open mind that we keep our pace in the industry. This also inspires us to be ahead of our time with new ideas and concepts on our designs.
- You need to stay abreast of current events all over the world. Aside from keeping up within the industry, it’s also important to know what’s happening around the world. Fashion, in a sense, reflects culture and what society is going through — current events do not only affect our design, but also the messages embedded in our campaigns and editorials. Keeping conversations going is what makes a fashion brand stand out.
- Build core values that you believe in. The values a fashion brand holds, build an identity for it and around it. These ideologies are not only for the brand to execute business plans, but also influence how people view the brand. Values add a humanistic touch to the brand’s image as well as the products whilst echoing customers’ beliefs. In short, it’s all about constructing an active community.
- Know your customers. Everyone loves to be heard. Listening to your customers helps maintain a close relationship with them, while their feedback is also a valuable element that could enhance your products.
- Building a harmonious work culture that bonds the team together. Great teamwork is the crucial ingredient of leading a fashion brand, and creativity blooms in a harmonious work culture as it means endless sessions of interactions and discussions, which ultimately make the products better. Don’t forget to keep good connections with suppliers, factories, and transportation companies, they are also the ones that secure smooth operations of the brand.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
Definitely. We see more and more fur-free policies from different brands, and some even stopped using leather. For sure the fashion industry has become more environmentally conscious. With technology advancements, there are also more choices for greener materials with recycled elements, and we hope all brands will be adopting eco-conscious materials in the long run.
Though it still takes a long way to full-on sustainability, brands can always collaborate with NGOs and green organizations to get a better grasp of how to strike a balance between fashion and environmental conservation. As for us, we have been collaborating with PETA, the largest international animal rights NGO, in certifying and promoting the use of non-animal materials.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Making “diversity and inclusivity” a reality instead of just a gimmick — that’s the credo of NOIRANCA. While the fashion industry has become more diverse than ever, most of the models are still the typical white slim girls. Plus-size, transgender, and disabled models are still in fact the minority, that’s why we have been bringing forth campaigns regarding these issues. We hope our little steps will also inspire others to advocate diversity, and we’d like to see more kinds of women being represented in the industry.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Just simply follow our Instagram @noiranca for campaigns, editorials, and new updates! Also feel free to check out the Journal page on our website for empowering stories from different women at https://www.noiranca.com
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.