Jan 27, 2016
They Try to Change Their Worlds
The Rise of a Feminist Film Collective
Caroline Conrad is the co-founder of SRSLY, a film production company centered around female-identified filmmakers and feminist content. Conrad started the company in 2015 along with Claire MacDonald. Together, the two are seeking to break down the gender disparity in the film world and beyond.
What initially drew you to the film world?
I fell into filmmaking sort of by accident, actually. I went to college with the goal of eventually becoming a clinical psychologist, but Wesleyan has a very highly regarded film program. I took an intro class on a whim, and that turned into a love affair with cinema. I met Claire during my junior year, and she was another mentor and a role model who helped me grow into a confident, outspoken filmmaker and young woman. A passion for storytelling drew me to a career in film, but a succession of supportive, feminist mentors inspired me to believe in myself enough to pursue it.
What’s the story behind the name?
Our friend and collaborator Mai Fujiwara came up with the name. We’d been discussing the idea of starting our own company for a long time, but after a conversation with Mai, Claire decided we should just go for it and take our dreams “seriously.” We chose the all-caps and abbreviated spelling because it’s playful and that reflects the balance of fun and seriousness we try to incorporate into our work.
How do you think SRSLY can impact what’s happening in this field?
By producing for and promoting female filmmakers, we’re trying to give these women opportunities they may not have had access to otherwise, which will lead to more doors opening as their careers progress. We believe that if more women, and especially young women, see female filmmakers succeeding, they’ll be inspired to pursue their own dreams and not be held back by the insecurities we both felt when starting out.
What does SRSLY do differently that makes it stand out from its competitors?
One of the biggest motivations is our mutual desire to provide mentorship and guidance for young female filmmakers. Unfortunately, support is extremely rare. Women in film are often driven to see one another as competitors rather than collaborators. That’s something Claire and I really want to change with SRSLY. We make a dedicated effort to fill as many roles on our sets with women as we can, and look for clients and projects that cater to the female gaze and feminist issues. We connect female filmmakers with one another and to clients who come to us for recommendations. We want to create not just a network of female filmmakers, but a community.
How is SRSLY connected to other communities, within Brooklyn and beyond?
SRSLY is partnered with a really rad Brooklyn-based production company called Anchor Light, run by our friends Kevin Hayden and Sydney Buchan. Anchor Light strives to produce stories that otherwise might not be told, and tell stories in new and interesting ways, so our frequent collaborations come really naturally and we work together to come up with fresh ideas.
Making Trend-Hunting Easier than Ever
Does anyone really love shopping for clothes? Like, really? It’s exhausting, expensive, and usually does not yield the blouse, or curtains, or earrings you really need, or had envisioned. Courtney Harwood is the CEO of Keep, an online site and app that takes the best of what shopping can offer—beautiful, relevant, jackpot items—and makes them a lot easier to spot, buy, and make your own.
Describe what Keep does?
Keep’s community of tastemakers bring the best of all commerce sites into one beautiful shopping experience. Browse the Trending feed every day on our app or Keep.com to shop the latest trends in fashion, home decor, and beauty. We are sure to delight you every time with new finds from all your favorite brands and ones you’ve never heard of.
How did you come up with the idea?
Our team saw a real opportunity to take visual discovery, an emerging trend just a few years ago, and make it immediately shoppable. Millions of members have discovered their newest handbag, the trendiest cuff earring and the perfect hostess gift, simply by browsing the Keep Trending feed, which is constantly refreshed. When we launched our mobile app, our usage really took off. We realized that mobile is the future—and the now!—and that we could make mobile shopping across thousands of stores easier, beautiful, more spontaneous, and fun.
How does Keep innovate the way shoppers and brands currently interact?
Traditional department stores have been around forever, but the internet took away the need to be restricted to a specific number of brands and SKUs [numbers that uniquely identify a product]. Because Keep holds no inventory and has no floor space issues, we can present all the best products without these business constraints.
We offer a beautiful discovery layer that sits on top of the web’s best shopping sites. Our Keepers love the work we do for them and the brands love the savvy mobile millennial shopper we deliver to their ‘doorstep.’
What does the future of your business—and field—look like?
Discovery commerce, which is serendipitous shopping—not search—and mobile transactions are the future of shopping. Phablets (really big phones!) are making it easier to transact on mobile devices. Fifty percent of e-commerce traffic is already generated from mobile devices and that, along with transactions, will continue to grow quickly as shoppers become more comfortable with it. And, as importantly, brands optimizing their sites for mobile transaction, including integrating one-click solutions, like Apple Pay and MasterPass, will make the mobile-shopping experience even better.
The BuzzFeed Emerging Writers Fellowship
Bringing Equity to the Media World
BuzzFeed’s commitment to diversity—not only editorially, but in all its varied aspects—is one of the most noteworthy things about a very noteworthy company. One way the company is proving this is through its Emerging Writers Fellowship, which has the “mission of diversifying the broader media landscape by investing in the next generation of necessary voices.” Saeed Jones, BuzzFeed’s executive editor of culture, founded this initiative, and through it and other methods is changing media as we know it.
What do you do?
Officially, I’m a writer and the executive editor of culture at BuzzFeed. What I do is try to use the platform I’ve been given to create spaces for conversation that I hope can move us forward through culture, as opposed to creating a feedback loop where people are trapped in the same repetitive space. Often when we talk about a lack of equity in media and publishing, or when we talk about hot takes and bad writing, or the dearth of opportunities for young writers—the conversation begins and ends in the same place. So through my work launching BuzzFeed’s Emerging Writers fellowship program, and the work I do in terms of my poetry and memoir, I try to create a conversation that has a sense of productive movement.
How does it affect your industry?
The moment you begin to see direct correlations between your decisions and the wider world, you are either really, really powerful or really, really crazy. I am hopefully neither of those things yet—I’m not ready for either of those adjectives to apply to me. But I see small glimpses of hope. I would like to see more media organizations create paid fellowships for emerging writers. Bringing in underrepresented voices is healthy for organizations, for writers, and for readers. We’re just getting started.
What changes have you seen in the years you’ve been involved?
I’m going into my fourth year at BuzzFeed. I think, in terms of diversity—and I’m thinking broadly—I’ve seen new sensitivity. I don’t know if I’ve seen results. But people are talking about it now. It’s not such a taboo to say that newsrooms are overwhelmingly white, and that the people who make decisions for those companies are overwhelming white and male. That’s truer the higher you go up the masthead. The social web has become a cultivating space when it’s good, on a good day. It’s an opportunity for writers who aren’t a part of that legacy pipeline to develop a relationship with readers and become a writer in demand, one that media organizations are more aware of.
What’s been most gratifying? And challenging?
My job is to help people think through and address real conversations and questions. My job is not totally separate from my own occupation as a human being trying to make sense of how to exist in this culture. When I am assigning work on police brutality, or on gender and sexuality—these are questions I wrestle with on my own.
I’m really interested in focusing on aspects of culture that are challenging, that are loaded. It can be taxing, whether someone is writing about a very difficult part of their life or a very difficult cultural question. It’s an intense job, but I love it.
What would you like to see happen in the future?
I would like in the future for what I am doing and accomplishing as a writer or as an editor at BuzzFeed to be regarded as ordinary. I want these to be normal concerns. It is normal to have concerns about equity, to recognize that these are core issues. It’s not that I don’t take pride in what I do, I’m extremely proud of the work I do, individually and at BuzzFeed. I think we have to get past the point of this being exceptional work. This is just us doing our job as writers, editors, reporters. I want to be one of thousands. Then we can finally get to other, more interesting questions, not “Why are there more white men named Peter in your boardroom than any women of color?”
Bringing Professional Chefs into the Home Kitchen
Let’s face it: We’re all very busy. And the last thing we want to do some nights is cook for ourselves, or others. But it doesn’t feel that good to order takeout, either. Enter Chris Muscarella, co-founder of Kitchensurfing, who has created a system that takes care of your nutritional needs and leaves Seamless out of it.
How does Kitchensurfing work?
At Kitchensurfing, we bring a professional cook into your home to cook you a beautiful, fresh meal for approximately the same cost as decent takeout served in a box—and they’re in and out of your home in thirty minutes. While that sounds extraordinary, the real magic happens when you are outside the kitchen—life slows down and you get to enjoy it.
How did you come up with the idea?
A few years ago, I helped some friends get a neighborhood restaurant going (Rucola in Boerum Hill). I work in technology and knew very little about the food business at that time. I observed a lot of things: Restaurants are generally bad businesses; all cooks dream of owning their own place and having more autonomy; and that as great as restaurants are, they’re not great at other things—designing food for the restaurant environment and designing food that can travel well in a box for delivery. Also, as welcoming as a great restaurant can be, it’s never home (which is also part of their appeal).
How does Kitchensurfing change the way chefs work and cook, and how people eat?
Recently, at our Kitchensurfing holiday party, I really enjoyed hearing from Kitchensurfing chefs that they enjoyed Kitchensurfing because they could do it in addition to another passion, career, or job. That flexibility is a really big deal. You talk to well known chefs, whether it’s David Chang, Enrique Olvera or Mike Anthony at Gramercy Tavern, and they’re all pulling their hair out trying to find ways to take care of their kitchen staff. There are headlines every few months about cook shortages. Restaurants have a hard time holding on to a good cook for more than six months; they can’t afford to pay them more or give them overtime. So I’m tremendously happy that Kitchensurfing can be a flexible, safe harbor for our cooks.
On the consumer side, food has reached a cultural apex. Everybody has insanely high standards for what they eat (in terms of taste, technique, diet, and nutrition), but feel poorly when they can’t attain them all, which happens often with busy urban lives. There is less cooking, more delivery, and “good” fast (Shake Shake, Fuku, Sweetgreen) than ever before. The reason eating delivery all the time feels dystopian is because it is; the counterbalance to that is Kitchensurfing’s sweet spot. If one had unlimited resources, a private chef would take care of all nutritional needs and do right by your tastebuds. We give people a way to have their nutritional needs met, and their tastebuds taken care of with healthy and delicious food at home—especially if they’ve got kids but don’t want to cook every night.
What does the future hold for the industry, and Kitchensurfing?
I think you’re going to see many more big-name chefs throwing their names in the ring for fine or fast casual concepts. I hope they do it out of love and not just to make a buck. You also have a lot of chefs now using their position to try and push culture where they think it needs to go; those are real chefs. It’s exciting to see Alain Ducasse cut meat and dairy from his restaurant, or Marco Canora totally revamp his menu, or Daniel Giusti leaving Noma to work on better nutrition in schools.
At Kitchensurfing, we’re excited to keep deepening our relationship with our customers and what we can offer them. Our goal is to make family dinner joyful, whether it’s for a group of young friends, new parents, or your own definition of family.
Changing the World, House by House
CEO and founder of GreenHouse Eco-Cleaning Saudia Davis is changing the world with everything from lemon oil to baking soda, and providing healthy cleaning options for consumers while also providing a work environment geared to empowering underemployed and underserved workers.
Tell us a little bit about the path that brought you to where you are today—both in your career, and in life.
I am a graduate of Bowdoin College and former movie publicist, a career I loved. However, I always felt like something was missing. As a publicist we had a saying “It’s PR not ER”—in other words, the crisis we were challenged with handling was usually not a life or death situation—no one’s life was literally hanging in the balance. I had this deep desire to do something that would make a true difference in people’s lives as well as in the world. After my grandmother passed away, my path became clear to me. I knew that I had a unique opportunity to impact the lives of others while also impacting the health of our planet. I wanted my grandmother’s death to carry meaning—I became focused on providing my clients and cleaning specialists with a service and profession that was safe and healthy for them and our environment.
How are you changing your industry?
The cleaning industry is primarily made up of companies operating with independent contractors, not employees. Workers are often from lower income households and are part of a generational cycle, one that does not allow for job growth or new opportunities. We screen hundreds of experienced cleaners and when we find one that aligns with our standards and mission, we hire him or her as an employee—not a contractor. We believe we are breaking the generational cycle for many of our employees—we are offering them resources, education and job growth opportunities. Investing in their well-being—through sustainable practices and employment—is good for them and good for our business.
What void are you trying to fill with GreenHouse Eco-Cleaning?
The void we are filling is providing both healthy cleaning and healthy employment options for our workforce.Our employees know they are a part of our mission as a company—they feel a strong level of responsibility and accountability to not only GreenHouse Eco-Cleaning, but to our clients. This allows us to develop strong relationships with our clients who want the best for the people cleaning their homes and offices every day. The close-knit culture we have created over the past 10 years is representative of what is truly possible when we care as much about the people that work for us and with us as we do about ourselves. I always say that some people start companies, but we are growing a community.
Into the Wild of the Sharing Economy
It’s all too common in New York ito feel detached from nature and the great outdoors. But it can also seem super complicated to find some way to escape. Luckily, Tentrr is here to help. Founder and CEO, Michael D’Agostino is giving us the chance to enter the wilderness and run free.
What do you do and why?
We’re building the largest network of fully equipped individual campsites on privately owned properties, including the tents. These sites can be booked through our website by anyone who wants to get outside, breathe fresh air and sit around a campfire with the people they care about. Camping is one of the most popular activities in the United States. Forty million people went camping last year, that’s like 1.3x the population of Canada. But here’s the problem: Enjoying the great outdoors how, when and where you want to is hard. So we’re using technology and great design to reinvent the infrastructure of camping and making it Uber-easy to enjoy the great outdoors.
What kicked off your interest in camping?
I’ve been a camper my whole life, starting around age six at our family friends’ farm in Litchfield, Connecticut. Camping is a great way to get out of the city and reconnect with nature. And I really need that, particularly since I worked in finance. It was hectic—like most of our lives today. And my wife, Eloise, and I had a long series of slightly disastrous trips to campgrounds, one of which included a convention of about 40 friendly Wiccans right next to our tent site. I just thought, “What if there was a way to go camping anywhere? Everyone could benefit.” So we created it.
How would you describe Tentrr to someone who never heard of it?
Tentrr is camping made dirt simple. Everything you need is waiting for you. Just bring pillows, blankets, good food and drink, and the dog (if you have one). I think we’re the first technology company that actually wants you to turn your computer off.
How are you impacting the industry that you are in?
The sharing economy is booming, but what we’re really pioneering is the shared experience economy. In addition to providing fantastic private campsites, we enable our CampKeepers (landowners) to offer activities and other amenities as part of the camping adventure…a guided fly-fishing trip, for example. This exposes people to things that they might not otherwise be able to do very easily, and allows landowners to earn a bit more money. The economic benefits help make rural communities more resilient. And these communities are where the unspoiled land is that we need to protect for everyone’s enjoyment.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to start their own startup?
Do it now.
League of Kitchens
Empowering Immigrant Women at Home
You know what they say about learning a foreign language?
To do it well, lessons need to come straight from the source. Same goes for cooking new cuisines: Recipes for bibimbap or curries in cookbooks often fall short. Lisa Gross is the Founder and CEO of League of Kitchens, an organization that more than makes up for these limitations.
How does League of Kitchens work?
The League of Kitchens is a unique cooking school in New York City where all of our teachers are immigrants who are exceptional home cooks, and all workshops take place in the instructor’s home kitchen. We have two offerings: A 5.5-hour all-day immersion workshop, and a 2.5-hour taste-of workshop. We have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian menus. All our workshops have only six students, and everyone goes home with professionally written recipes, and a detailed shopping guide to the instructor’s favorite shops.
How did you come up with the idea?
My mother is a Korean immigrant who came to the US in the 1970s. When I was growing up, my Korean grandmother lived with my family and cooked lots of amazing Korean food. But whenever I wanted to help her or showed interest, she would tell me that studying was more important than cooking. Later, when I fell in love with cooking and wanted to make Korean food, I tried to teach myself from cookbooks and the Internet, but nothing was as delicious as when my grandmother made it. I realized cookbooks rarely capture the techniques and details that make food great; you have to learn those things from a person. I had this fantasy of finding a Korean grandmother in New York City, whose kitchen I could cook in, and whose family recipes I could learn.
How does League of Kitchens change the way the immigrant communities cook and interact with their adopted communities, and vice-versa?
In the League of Kitchens, the immigrant is the expert, the teacher, the host, and the cultural ambassador. This is not a service experience. Everyone cooks together, eats together, and cleans up together. It’s also very important that our instructors are “home cooks,” not restaurant chefs. I’ve learned that the fullest expression of many global cuisines can only be found in the home, because doing things the traditional way is too labor intensive and/or expensive for most restaurants.
For instance, Yamini and Afsari, our Indian and Bangladeshi instructors show their students how to eat their meals with their hands. For many, this is the first time they’ve eaten South Asian food this way, and it really changes the taste and the experience of the food. Yamini also always makes an offering of the first plate on her home altar and chants a prayer before the meal. By the end, our students always say it feels like they’ve gained a new favorite aunt or sister, and that another part of the world and another culture suddenly feels personal.
What does the future of League of Kitchens look like?
I hope we continue to grow in New York City by finding and hiring lots of amazing new instructors from all over the world. I also hope to do a cookbook (one that really captures those crucial tips, tricks, and techniques!), and I would love to do a TV show so that people everywhere can learn to cook from our incredible instructors.
A Music Platform Grows Editorial Wings
Bandcamp is a music platform and community that allows artists to independently promote and sell their music. Since its inception in 2007 by former Oddpost founder Ethan Diamond and Shawn Grunberger, the site has served as a launchpad for countless emerging musicians. Now, esteemed veteran music journalist J. Edward Keyes, 40, will helm their brand new editorial component.
Can you give us a brief rundown of what exactly your role at Bandcamp will be?
I’m Bandcamp’s Editorial Director, so my job is fun: I get to comb through the site, find bands and artists that excite me, and figure out the best way to tell their stories and to introduce them to the Bandcamp audience. I’ve always been a natural “digger” when it comes to music, so getting to do this on a daily basis is a dream come true. It’s also a treasure trove for the curious listener: You can get lost exploring artists of every genre, style, nationality and background. Because there’s no barrier of entry, we get everyone from the bedroom rapper to the indie breakout star on the platform.
How do you think Bandcamp’s editorial can impact the rest of what’s happening in this field?
Hopefully it will demonstrate a way to recommend music that’s an alternative to algorithms, and that will show that context and the the personalities and stories behind the music are all a part of the creative endeavor. I hope it can help develop the idea that music isn’t just an app that you download, it’s the product of real people’s lives and dreams and imagination. I hope it shows that every musician, no matter what stage of their career they’re in, has a story.
What is the most exciting aspect about being involved with Bandcamp so far?
So many things. It’s not only getting to write about bands that I love, it’s getting to work with a team of people who are truly in this for what I consider to be the right reasons. Everyone here loves music, is passionate about music, and truly cares about making sure artists are paid fairly for their work. It’s an inspiring place to be.
What are some concrete ways people can help support your goals?
Truthfully, the answer is by supporting artists whose music they care about. Just the simple act of saying, “This artist is doing something I love, so I’m going to support their ability to do it” is becoming so revolutionary. Bandcamp creates a system that allows them to get their legs underneath them in the early stages of their career so they can gradually build something viable and real.
How do you hope other people in the future will build on the work you’re doing?
I hope that written editorial—especially pieces of length—continues to be seen as valuable. I don’t feel things are as dire right now as others might—there are so many publications I admire and respect who are doing great work. I hope that continues. I also hope that we start to explore new ways of storytelling, integrating new formats and technologies where they make sense, but always staying true to the idea of a rich, well-researched, fully realized narrative.
How is Bandcamp connected to other communities, within Brooklyn and beyond?
On a personal level, I try to be at a show three or four nights a week if I can. It’s especially easy to do in Brooklyn; it’s a great way to stay in touch with bands and labels and to also get introduced to new music. My personal rule of thumb: Always try to get there for the opener. I’ve discovered some of my favorite bands that way. Beyond that, I have a great network of friends, editors and label owners who I’ve met over the years that I stay in regular contact with, and from whom I continue to learn.
Taking Sustainable Fashion into the Future
As the co-founder of New York City-based line Cienne NY, Nicole Heim, 33, is dedicated to instituting sustainable creative practices for her globally sourced and locally made brand. Heim worked in corporate, mass-market fashion for years, and the ethos of Cienne serves as an antithesis to the amoral, profit-driven way the rest of the industry tends to be run. Along with her partner Chelsea Healy, also 33, Heim strives to incorporate global creative communities into their own creative process in New York.
Can you give us a brief rundown of your job description, your company, and exactly what your role in all that is?
We are a new womenswear brand who specializes in sourcing artisanal textiles from all over the world and bringing those materials back to New York, where we work with local manufacturers in the Garment District to produce our collections. I founded the company in May 2014 and we launched in June 2015, so we’re very new.
What initially drew you to the fashion world and what other background do you have?
My education took a more general art and design approach, usually spanning multiple mediums, but it always had a fashion focus. What we wear everyday communicates a lot about what we want to say to the world. After graduating design school, I fell into an apparel design position within corporate fashion. Fast forward eight-ish years, and I was still in the industry designing apparel, but I became discouraged and decided to leave. I went on this passionate quest in search of a purposeful way to use business and design. I fell in love with the people and textiles of Ethiopia, and the important role the traditional fabrics played in their culture. Not long after returning, I founded Cienne with my long-time friend and fellow designer, Chelsea Healy.
What does Cienne do differently that makes it stand out from its competitors?
We’re design-driven and we strive to put quality, versatility, and uniqueness as top priorities. A lot of how we do this is through our manufacturing model, which we call “globally, sourced, locally made.” Currently we feature hand-woven cotton from Ethiopia, hand-woven silk from India, and textured crepes and wools from Japan. We’re soon introducing hand-woven alpaca from Peru, a custom-designed block printed silk from India, and more. We use minimal design so that the materials take center stage, and we aim to focus on silhouettes that are modern but not trendy, and that can be worn and layered easily with other pieces in the collection, but also make a statement on their own. We produce all of our pieces in small-batch collections here in New York’s garment district. By focusing on artisanal materials and local manufacturing, craftsmanship is the core connector, and it’s also a more sustainable and ethical way to create.
As a designer, who are some of your influences?
I’m most inspired by creativity outside of fashion. Books, vintage typography, music, color, photography, food, travel. I’m currently engrossed in the paintings and writings of Agnes Martin, and I recently visited the Siam Hotel in Bangkok, which blew my mind. The owners house their extensive antiques collection there, and the details and design by Bill Bensley are impeccable. It strikes the perfect balance of modernity, passion, culture, and heritage.
What do you think the biggest challenge of pursuing innovation in the fashion industry is?
This isn’t a fun answer, but it’s certainly true: Making innovation and creativity a sustainable business is by far the biggest challenge. I come from an entrepreneurial family history, and I find business fascinating, but finding a balance between business and creativity is such a challenge. I have to carve out specific time for creativity, or it’ll get lost, as so much of what I do is business-focused. Without space for creativity, there will be no innovation. ♦
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