For Olivia Fay, it was a screening of Girl Rising that kickstarted her newest endeavor. She was shocked to learn about the millions of girls out of school worldwide and wanted to use her fashion background to do something about it. That was three years ago.
Now she’s launched Rallier, a for-purpose womenswear line based right here in New York City.
We recently caught up with Olivia to learn more about what motivates her, her career in fashion, and how she’s taking action to break down the barriers that girls face to education.
When did you first realize that design was something you wanted to pursue as a career? What has your career path been up until now?
The intersection between creativity and commerce drew me to fashion PR early on in my career. I was a Fine Arts and Art History major in college but have always been intrigued by consumer behavior and sales. To me, sales results are reflective of what people value, which can be so interesting to observe over time. I started interning in fashion PR in New York City the summer after I graduated from high school. My first internship was at Vera Wang, which gave me such great insight into the inner workings of an American fashion brand. From there, I spent my summers at a number of European labels before starting full-time at Prada once I had graduated from college.
After working full-time in New York City for several years, Girl Rising caused me to rethink my career trajectory. I decided to go to business school in order to develop what was then a very early concept of Rallier. Immediately after graduating from business school in 2015, I launched Rallier! I now work full-time on the brand.
Can you tell us a bit more about your model of work - Why school uniforms? Where will the uniforms be sourced from, etc.?
After seeing Girl Rising, research led me to a study in Kenya, which found that giving school uniforms to students who did not previously own one reduced school absenteeism by 64%. Even in cases without the requirement, schoolgirls likely wouldn’t go to school if they didn’t have a school uniform. I think we can all relate to the influence that clothing has on where and how we decide to show up. In coming up with Rallier, it was important to me that the social mission be authentically connected to the brand. I love the connectivity between giving a girl the uniform she needs to confidently go to school and creating a dress to make our customers feel their best in their own day-to-day lives.
For each Rallier dress sold, one to three school uniforms are donated to schoolgirls through our founding non-profit partner, Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). Specifically, our donations go towards the cost of materials, training and labor for local production of the uniforms in Kibera, Kenya. The uniforms are made through a women’s empowerment group also run by SHOFCO.
Why do you feel that you connect with Girl Rising and similar initiatives for girl’s education? Why this topic in particular?
There is a pragmatic side to the film that makes the issue of girl’s education undeniable and impossible to ignore. My first thought was “How can I not do something about this?!” From a personal perspective, the film sparked my own process of self reflection in thinking about how I’ve been affected by simply being born a girl. I saw glimmers of myself, my mother, and my grandmother in those incredible stories.
A lot of people don’t realize that they can follow their own dreams in the business world or otherwise while also being socially and globally conscious. What advice do you have for those who are either discouraged or don’t know where to start? How do you stay motivated?
This is a great question and immediately makes me think of Dan Pallotta’s Ted Talk. In the Talk he says “we have a visceral reaction to the idea that anyone would make very much money helping other people. Interesting that we don’t have a visceral reaction to the notion that people would make a lot of money not helping other people.” While this quote still rings true, I do believe that the tide is turning for the better.
The Internet and social media have engaged us in global incidences of economic downturn, social turmoil, extreme poverty and polarizing wars unlike any other group of young people. Companies are realizing that in order to be successful moving forward, they have to incorporate social responsibility into their value propositions. I actually think it’s a really exciting time to merge business and social good. There’s a lot to be optimistic about!
How has the reaction been to Rallier thus far?
The reaction to Rallier has been overwhelmingly positive so far. I feel that I’ve hit a nerve with a growing and important cohort of consumers. I’m so encouraged by the early reaction to the brand.
One big piece of our work is providing examples of accessible stories and positive role modeling in order to inspire others. Has a particular individual or experience inspired you to do the work that you do?
My late grandmother, Lily, continues to be one of my biggest inspirations. She was among the first women of China to attend college in the United States. Later in life, she immigrated to San Francisco and supported her family’s new American life by designing dresses she recalled from her years growing up in a golden age of fashion in 1930’s Shanghai. She was eventually able to open her own dress store in San Francisco called “Lily’s”. I am also extremely grateful to call Jess Posner Odede one of my friends. She is the co-founder of Shining Hope for Communities, our founding non-profit partner, and a constant reminder of how much impact one person can have on the world.