I am extremely passionate about the welfare our planet and how environmental devastation effects those most vulnerable among us. The fashion industry in particular is a great contributor to suffering around the world by polluting communities in the developing nations and by also grossly mistreating their workers. The Rana factory collapse is just one example of this. The mistreatment goes beyond factory workers and is even seen in the modeling industry. Underage girls are put in age-inappropriate positions when used to sell garments to middle-aged women. Not only does this create an atmosphere where young models are commonly abused or sexually assaulted, it also creates a very odd value of beauty in our society. If all the major fashion houses followed Kering’s example by raising the age of their models to 18, it would be a major victory not only for models, but for women in general and therefore society at large.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brana Dane who is a model and activist. She has appeared in numerous publications such as Porter Magazine, Forbes, Vogue Italia and Harper’s Bazaar highlighting her ethical modeling efforts. She has worked for some of the top brands including Maison Margiela, Milly, Samantha Sung, Redken and many more. Brana is an active member of the fashion community and one of the leaders in the activist group, “Model Mafia”. In fact, she was honored to be asked to speak about the importance of sustainable fashion at the annual public Earth Day celebration in Union Square this last April. As an advocate for sustainable living and buying second hand, Brana was thrilled to be recruited by Toni Garrn to help with her annual Supermodel Flea Market. As a well-rounded model, Brana is experienced on film as well. She can be been seen hosting for FNL Network on Amazon Prime globally, in between fashion bookings. Like modeling, Brana believes that film is just another art form in which she is truly expressing herself authentically. Brana’s ultimate mission is to inspire others to be true to themselves and follow their own unique path. While using her platform to shed a light on the needs of our planet and the plight of the modern garment worker, she seeks to inspire a light in the hearts of as many people as possible. Human understanding and embracing differences in every individual can give the freedom, space and opportunity for grace.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was actually supposed to take a completely different path in life; I was accepted into medical school. I eventually chose to pursue a less traditional career path instead. This has opened me up to experiences I never thought possible growing up. When you’re habitually forced out of your natural comfort zone, hidden aspects of yourself come alive!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
It’s tough being a model. The general public does not see the nitty-gritty details of what this life means. It’s constant rejection, constant negative feedback, constant financial insecurity. There is the glamorous side as well, but everyone is already familiar with the glossy side of the industry.
For example, I remember when I first walked at Lincoln Center. I had passed through the casting and the fitting and was looking forward to my first major show. The day had arrived but suddenly everything had changed. Now my bosom was too small to fit any of the gowns.
Waiting backstage for hours, I was on the phone with my agent who was telling me I was officially booked and would still walk. All the while, the client was repeatedly telling me to leave. Eventually I did make it down the runway, but after all the nit-picking and verbal abuse I suffered I was completely insecure didn’t perform at a level I was remotely proud of. This experience and so many others have taught me to be strong in my own belief of myself. It’s a very hard thing to do when you’re a young woman. It’s for this reason I’m grateful I started my modeling career later than some of my peers.
Modeling is truly all about confidence. Even when people are trying to tear you down, you have to be resilient and strong-minded. If you let the negativity get inside your mind, then you truly will fail and let yourself down. I think this is apropos in so many different aspects of life.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Perhaps the funniest story is the time I was introduced to supermodel Karlie Kloss and accidentally called her Alexa! Everyone makes small errors and it’s not the end of the world.
I have made so many mistakes in my career both big and small. What counts is pushing through. Particularly in any of the artistic fields, what matters is your resilience. Those who stick it out are the ones who succeed.
I’m constantly facing plateaus in my career. It gets really hard to keep faith alive when everything seems so unpredictable. However, people are watching what you’re doing even when you’re unaware of it. If it’s in you, don’t quit. The opportunities that pop-up may seem random but it’s a reflection of the effort you have already put in. Proactive patience is key.
What do you think makes you stand out as a model? Can you share a story?
Fashion is changing. Brands just don’t want “the look” anymore they want the personality behind the look as well. For me this is great because I have a strong viewpoint and a strong personality! As both an influencer and model I am able to take control of my brand and my career. I’m not just a model anymore; I’m truly my own brand, my own business.
In fact, I was recently booked for the Pildora launch campaign and they actually wrote a script for their video advertisement quoting my own words on social media! The client wanted me, Brana, not a nameless model.
This is the power of social media and the new trend in advertising. As a model, your looks will change but your name will remain. Develop who you are as a brand and then work with those who promote you as a full package and not just a face.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
This month, I will be speaking on the podcast “Better World”, alongside my agency Role Models Management, about my role in advocating for a more sustainable fashion industry and world. Hopefully our message will spread and have an impact. Our aim is to change the way the general public thinks about fashion. We need a more sustainable and just future!
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
My advice to the female leadership out there is to foster an environment where your team is free to act on their particular strengths. For example, I recently led the Model Mafia in the NYFW climate strike rallies that went viral.
While working in a larger team on coordinating an international effort for the strike in about 12 different countries I became a bit overwhelmed. Everyone had different communication styles and a different schedule. This led me to the idea to act instead of talk. I wanted to physically get out there and start raising awareness for the global Climate Strike. I thought that a visual representation on social media was going to get the general public and our larger activist group engaged in a way that emails, documents and texts could not.
Apparently, I was more correct than I assumed, and the strikes went viral! Not only were we all-over social media, we were also reposted in Vogue Brasil and seen in Getty’s NYFW Streetstyle Day 4. This was a real victory for us. The momentum carried through into 12 successfully coordinated Model Mafia strikes internationally as well as two NYC speaking events where myself and other members of our group shared stories of our success. After the fact, a small team of us put a press kit together and now our group’s climate action is featured in both Eco-age and Fashionista!
This just demonstrates the power of leading cooperatively in a group setting. No one can do everything alone. It’s together that we can change the world.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I have learned so much from Cameron Russell and Aine Rose Campbell about how to lead and work effectively in a large group. Being a somewhat shy and independent person, the skills I’ve learnt while working with them in the Model Mafia are invaluable to me.
Women need to support one another, first and foremost. Definitely don’t be naïve but try to be forgiving and definitely lead by example. My biggest piece of advice would be to be more generous with your power. Lift those in your circle up. If you’re working with decent, loyal people this can only help you in the long run. Opportunities are boundless and the more people you have helped along the way, the more people you can potentially count on to help you in the future.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It’s so hard to single out any one person because the only reason I’m here is because of the help and advice I have generously received from so many people. I’m sure there will be many more people that help me along my path in the future. I’m grateful to my agents Briauna Mariah and Anne Therese Gennari for believing in me. I’m grateful to both Cameron Russell and Aine Rose Campbell for their amazing leadership in the Model Mafia and trusting me to help with their powerful organization. I’m grateful for the friends who have consistently recommended me for new projects or jobs. For example, it was through the suggestion of an old friend that I became a TV host for FNL Network (now airing globally on Amazon Fire and Roku). This is exactly why it’s so important to continually put yourself out there. You never know who is watching and who will be that helpful hand in the future.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I am using my platform as a model to advocate for a more just and sustainable world. I was honored to give a speech for Earth Day in Union Square this past April about climate change and sustainable fashion. Many people were shocked to hear that over 80% of garment workers are female and most do not even earn a living wage. As someone who works in fashion, I feel I am obligated to give a voice to these women who make all of our fast-fashion clothes. On a smaller scale, I promote awareness, compassion and body-positivity in my messaging on social media.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why.
Leadership is a process. It’s a continual evolution and re-evaluating of your priorities and your approach. This is what I have learned so far:
You lead by your example and not by your words.
Talking only gets you so far. Commitment is felt and not something you can merely announce. It’s showing up prepared and with a good attitude, ready and willing to work through any problems that may arise. If you choose to be a leader, it’s your duty to make sure that your words and actions are in alignment.
No one ever accomplishes anything alone.
It’s important to have mentors and to know how to ask for help. Especially as a woman, you need someone in your corner to give you objective advice without ulterior motives.
Be forgiving of yourself and others. Dwelling on past failures is not a proactive action.
When you’re working in a team it’s essential that you foster an environment where small mistakes can be made. If you’re too harsh with yourself or those on your team good ideas will go unsaid and your projects will suffer.
It’s of utmost importance to surround yourself with positive, encouraging people.
There’s no way around it, we are all effected by the messages and feedback we receive from those closest to us. I only started to have any success once I surrounded myself with more positive and motivated people who had my interests at heart. You have to be willing to let go of the people who are comfortable if they are not willing to fully support you in the direction you need to go.
Trust is an essential component to a level-head when leading.
Trust is everything. If you have developed your powers of judgement enough then you will not be gullible or naïve. You have to give the people you work with your trust. If you don’t, most people will be able to sense your insecurity and it will reflect back on you in a negative light. Second-guessing and insecurity will only lead you to make errors.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. :-)
I am extremely passionate about the welfare our planet and how environmental devastation effects those most vulnerable among us. The fashion industry in particular is a great contributor to suffering around the world by polluting communities in the developing nations and by also grossly mistreating their workers. The Rana factory collapse is just one example of this.
The mistreatment goes beyond factory workers and is even seen in the modeling industry. Underage girls are put in age-inappropriate positions when used to sell garments to middle-aged women. Not only does this create an atmosphere where young models are commonly abused or sexually assaulted, it also creates a very odd value of beauty in our society. If all the major fashion houses followed Kering’s example by raising the age of their models to 18, it would be a major victory not only for models, but for women in general and therefore society at large.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I will share my personal motto. “Culture is not static. Let’s be conscious of how we are all shaping our world every day.”
This is not just a lesson I’ve learned, it’s also my hope for the future. As an idealistic person it can be hard to get along in a very harsh reality. Hopefully my quote will inspire your readers to look at life as a communal act of creation. Life is truly what we make of it. The first step is awareness of the ways in which our actions, beliefs and attitudes shape the world.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
What a daunting question! At this moment in time I would have to say a private lunch with Greta Thunberg would be absolutely amazing. As a climate activist myself, I would love to gain her personal insight on the current state of affairs, especially within the fashion industry.