Faryl Morse & Cassie Rosenthal | The Fix
On navigating 2020, leading with compassion & transparency, and the importance of inclusivity.
- Faryl Robin launched a size-inclusive, price-conscious collection with Zappos on June 1st, 2020. The move, atypical for most footwear brands due to the extra costs associated with production and distribution, was not only strategic but is aligned with Morse’s personal and business ethos as well.
- “For far too long, the fashion industry has gotten away with the excuse ‘but this is the way we’ve always done it.’… Now is the time to ensure that all members of our community are represented equally. If the table is not large enough, rather than having marginalized communities compete with each other for a seat, we need to collectively demand a larger table.” — Faryl Morse
Faryl Morse is no stranger to leading a company in the wake of a crisis. Her shoe company Faryl Robin, founded in 2001, shipped their first branded orders two weeks after the devastating 9/11 attacks. In 2007, the company was in overhaul mode, evolving the way they did business when the financial crisis hit.
2020 has been trying for businesses across all industries, Faryl Robin included. Like many other fashion companies with factories in China, the supply chain was challenged early on. Morse and her team focused on working lean, embracing technology, and putting people before profit.
However, the year also brought opportunity. Faryl Robin launched a size-inclusive, price-conscious collection with Zappos on June 1st, 2020. The move, atypical for most footwear brands due to the extra costs associated with production and distribution, was not only strategic but is aligned with Morse’s personal and business ethos as well.
In this edition of The Lead 1-to-1 x The Fix, we invited Cassie Rosenthal, Senior Vice President at Rosenthal & Rosenthal to interview Faryl Morse about navigating 2020, leading with compassion and transparency, and the importance of inclusivity for businesses today.
(CR) You launched your business in 2001, so you’ve been through consolidations and financial crises before. How does this time compare to anything else you’ve experienced before and how has it changed you personally and professionally? Have you reprioritized the way you manage your business and allocate funds/resources?
(FM) We are not strangers to adversity or navigating crises. We delivered our first Faryl Robin branded orders two weeks after 9/11, and in 2007 we were in the process of changing the entire way we did business. But while things may have felt slow to return during past events, there was always some certainty that “normalcy” would indeed return.
A global health crisis of this magnitude, however, has required business owners to put the health of others before the health of their business. To put people before profit. After several months in a COVID world, with no end in sight, it seems likely we will not be returning to any former sense of “normal,” but rather moving towards something entirely new.
At Faryl Robin, we are taking this time to learn from the current environment and focus on working leaner and more sustainably. We are investing in digital systems and technology to ensure we are in the best place possible when we come out on the other side. While we cannot predict the future with as much confidence as we once could, we are definitely utilizing this moment as a unique opportunity to create our own future. We have an unbelievably rare chance as business owners to reimagine this world and to make it better for the communities we touch.
(CR) You have a wide range of retail partnerships with everyone from Amazon to Zappos. Many of your factory partners are in Asia. I suspect you’ve had to completely reimagine your supply chain, along with how you forecast and manage your inventory? Can you tell us what’s changed as a result of COVID?
(FM) Faryl Robin is in a unique position. We don’t hold inventory which has given us the ability to focus on the individual needs of our retailers. Flexibility and speed have always been our superpowers. They have become even more important during COVID and they remain our top priority today. We continue to focus on what it means to be a good partner to our retailers and our factories.
This crisis has reinforced the importance of diversifying our factory locations. We currently source our product from multiple countries in order to meet the diverse needs of our retailers and will continue to develop strong relationships with factory partners in the US, Mexico, Europe, and throughout Asia.
(CR) The way we conduct business had to shift decisively and quickly when COVID hit. Managing a team through abrupt change is hard. How have you led your team through this time of unprecedented transformation? What’s kept them excited and motivated?
(FM) Faryl Robin has been set up to work as a virtual company for many years. We have employees all over the world and have always supported parents working from home to ensure a healthy work-life balance. When the pandemic began, we assumed that having the team work from home would be easy, but having everyone home indefinitely, comes with its own set of new challenges.
Early on in this pandemic, we chose to show our employees our full commitment and compassion. This allowed us to work as a team towards our collective success. We were completely transparent with our team week after week which gave them peace of mind and empowered them to focus on caring for our customers, rather than worrying about their employment status. Likewise, our customers also valued our commitment to their businesses.
Over-communicating with our team has also been critical. Pre-COVID, we were never a big meeting culture company. However, in this environment where everyone is virtual all the time, we have found that having reasons for people to come together has been helpful and motivating for everyone. Weekly meetings have created a camaraderie and it has been empowering to work together towards a common goal.
(CR) Creating a culture of inclusivity both within your company and among your external customer community is critical right now. Can you give us some examples of how Faryl Robin does that both internally and externally? Also, tell us a bit about your size-inclusive collection exclusively with Zappos.
(FM) Faryl Robin sees a world where everyone, regardless of age, identity, ethnicity, size, physical limitations, financial means, and fashion sensibility can find shoes that make them feel empowered.
We have always been industry mavericks. By focusing on making the world a better place, one shoe at a time, we have been able to change the industry “status quos” and focus on individuals or communities that are important to us — ones that have often been marginalized for one reason or another or overlooked because they weren’t seen as profitable.
When I sat down with Zappos in October (2019) to discuss working together, I was adamant about inclusivity both in sizing and price. I knew there was a customer out there who couldn’t find shoes in her size. Zappos, which has the ultimate do good/be good mentality, embraced and supported our goal of making women’s shoes up to size 16. We could not have asked for a better partnership or find a company that is committed to doing the right thing.
On June 1st, as the world was crashing, we launched FARYL (exclusively with Zappos), a boldly inclusive line featuring sizes 5-16, ensuring all women have shoes that make them feel confident and beautiful. Since our launch, we have gotten emails weekly from women who have struggled to find fashionable and affordable shoes in larger sizes. Every letter thanks us for our commitment to them, which makes every struggle we faced launching this initiative during COVID, absolutely worth it.
(CR) You are a very active supporter of women in the industry and you’ve mentored many designers and executives. You have also personally led the NY chapter of WIFI — Women in the Footwear Industry. Do you think brands overall are doing a good job advancing diversity and inclusivity initiatives? Are some industries doing a better job than others? What should we all be doing more of right now?
(FM) Now is the time for all brands to step up and do the right thing. We must break the systemic behaviors and habits that make the playing field uneven and find ways of doing things that create equal opportunities for all.
For far too long, the fashion industry has gotten away with the excuse “but this is the way we’ve always done it.” No longer can we accept white men sitting in the c-suites alone. Now is the time to ensure that all members of our community are represented equally. If the table is not large enough, rather than having marginalized communities compete with each other for a seat, we need to collectively demand a larger table.