…Learn something new every day. It was thanks to this word of advice that I was able to reinvent myself and bring my brand offline to an online business, I didn’t know anything about the digital world, social media, and the new technologies. I continue to learn every day and I love it. I always have the mindset of a student. I never think I am too old to ask questions or know too much to learn something new.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nada Sawaya.
Nada Sawaya realized very early on that her passion revolved around creation. Whether it be creating fine jewelry early on in her career and selling her collection to some of the finest stores in Miami, New York, Paris, and Dubai, to then creating a retail environment in her home country of Lebanon, fast forward to today with the design of her collection of Italian handcrafted handbags. Her mission has always been to bring her aesthetic of luxury to her clients.
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 “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I cultivated my early passion for creativity by studying at the Gemology Institute of America in Los Angeles and becoming a jewelry designer in Paris. After a short-term experience in fine jewelry, I returned to Lebanon, my home country, to launch “Chiktok” [from the French “Chik” = chic and “Tok” = fashion jewelry] becoming the go-to name for fashion accessories in the region. The Chiktok name grew to include a variety of fashion accessories including handbags. My interest in handbags culminated in a 2006 move to New York City and the 2010 launch of Sawaya’s now-iconic self-titled handbag brand. Each blend of my fashion-forward designs and authentic craftsmanship is done in Italian ateliers.
In the “adapt-or-die” world of fashion, the need to stay relevant and ahead of the trends makes reinvention part of the job. With a career in the fashion industry spanning 25 years and six continents, I had plenty of experience to be prepared for my most recent revamp: blending the handcrafted bags with NFC tag technology. As the business grew connection with my consumers was being lost. “I was missing the direct contact I used to have with my customers back in the old days of Chiktok. When you are selling wholesale, you only have the feedback of the buyers, you don’t hear the feedback of the consumer. I also realized that millennials were looking for more than just a product. They wanted an experience.”
Adaptations to two such problems can be seen in the DNA of the new NFC tag integrated handbags of my “Je te Veux” line. Authenticity is assured, protecting the brand and wary consumers from counterfeits. And with a scan of their phone, buyers are treated to a customer-facing “product experience,” offering the potential for product traceability, styling recommendations, care instructions, personalized promotions, and more.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Who needs another bag? What if your bag is disruptive and is more than just a bag and can deliver memorable, meaningful, and useful brand experiences that exceed pre-existing expectations?
Every Nada Sawaya handbag has brains as well as beauty. Tucked away inside every handbag lives an NFC tag. A.K.A. the consumer gateway to the world. And their smartphone is the key.
Unlocking the experience is simple: Hover over the bag’s logo with the smartphone on, hold on for a connection, tap the screen and the journey will begin. It’s that easy.
The bag is transformed into a digital platform that engages the consumer in ways current channels cannot. With the NFC tag embedded in each one of our bags, we protect our brand and our consumers from counterfeits and instill confidence in the authenticity of our products, we engage our consumers throughout the entire product lifecycle, by telling our brand and product story, and finally, we can drive sales and reward consumers with new product commerce opportunities.
We also believe in total transparency in everything we do. The Fashion World lacks transparency on sourcing and production traceability. That’s why with a single tap of your smartphone, you can also delve into the provenance of every element of the bag to convey the source location but also the impacts the product is having on the environment and people of society. There are no secrets here.
We live in a connected world where digital experiences make the impossible possible.
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?
I don’t know if I would qualify my first experience as funny, but it is definitely memorable. It was in April 2010, while I was attending a trade show in Hong Kong for raw materials. Initially, I had in mind to manufacture a collection of leather bags in China. Except that, it did not go as planned. The show was huge, there were hundreds of vendors coming from all over the world, I felt completely drowned in this world and had absolutely no buying experience. It was intimidating. I was walking down the aisles when I came across some beautiful python skins from an Italian seller based in Tuscany. The finish on the skins was mind-blowing. I absolutely had to make bags with these skins, except that basically, my plans were “leather + china” now, we are moving towards “python + Italy”. I kept on walking and those beautiful skins never left my mind. I wanted to approach this seller except I had never bought python skins before and didn’t even have a manufacturer in mind, I was not aware of all the restrictions with the trade of python skins, how we buy a skin, the price range, etc. Then came to my mind to find another supplier with some random python skins to whom I would ask all the basic questions of a first-time buyer, before returning to MY Italian seller and look a bit more professional. My plan to look professional did not last long, the Italian vendor quickly realized that I was fairly new in the buying of skins. He gave me great advice, I, then, visited him in Tuscany, he introduced me to my first craftsman, and we worked together for many years, he soon after, became my biggest vendor of python skins in Italy. I have since learned that even though we can have over ten years of experience buying skins, we will continue to learn over and over again. From that day forward, I was no longer afraid to say I don’t know and realized that people are always ready to help.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
You’ll be surprised, but I didn’t have a specific mentor. I am rather self-taught. I had the privilege to be surrounded in my life with friends, who were not necessarily in the fashion industry, but who had been successful in their field which I used for advice whenever I encountered problems or that I had questions. It’s hard to pinpoint a single story to share about the impact they had on my life, however, I think the impact can be seen in the culmination of how far Nada Sawaya has come. However, what I can say is that with all the experience that I have gained over the years, I can become someone’s mentor.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
The idea of disruption excites some people and terrifies others. In truth, a successful disruption not only destroys but creates a shift in mental models. In times of disruption, the only viable strategy is to adapt. We have seen many once-successful businesses fail not because they lacked competence or conscientiousness, but because they were operating according to a defective model. we increasingly need to learn how to reinvent ourselves.
Fashion is one of the key industries that is currently being redefined by digital disruption. This phase of digital disruption has not been good news for traditional players in the industry, as many retail stores across the United States have closed, due to their inability to respond to the shift from offline to online sales, which innovative digital technologies accelerated. The impact of this disruption is visible everywhere in the fashion industry: from production and supply chain to marketing and sales. Digital devices, platforms, and technologies such as smartphones, social media, advanced data analytics, artificial intelligence, and e-commerce are reshaping the market dynamics.
Once we begin to understand the challenge, the solution becomes clear: We must learn how to unlearn.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Trust your instincts. When I launched my brand, I had a lot of doubts, especially about the choice of my raw materials. Whenever I had doubts, the bags ended up not going into production. Since then, I have instilled a new technique, I only proceed with the purchase of the material if it stayed in my mind for at least a couple of days. I learned to listen to my instincts and always have faith in myself and it ended up being a better solution and more importantly less waste.
- Learn something new every day. It was thanks to this word of advice that I was able to reinvent myself and bring my brand offline to an online business, I didn’t know anything about the digital world, social media, and the new technologies. I continue to learn every day and I love it. I always have the mindset of a student. I never think I am too old to ask questions or know too much to learn something new.
- Be patient and persistent. I am still trying to take this advice. Life is not so much what you accomplish as what you overcome. Since I was a teenager, my father used to call me: The woman on the run.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
You are so right. I am definitely not done yet. I do not know where to start. I am a well of ideas, I tend to always want to be in the future before being in the present. Building community around my brand will be my main focus, and it is going to be a co-creation, enabling my customers to build the brand with me. The decisions I will make will be based on alignment with their values.
In addition to bringing transparency to the fashion world, personalized experiences will be developed, the possibility of reselling on the site, pre-loved Nada Sawaya items, or even the rental of a bag, etc. These are ideas that I would like to implement one day.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The gender gap in venture capital investments continues to be an issue faced by female founders. While the gender gap in other areas may be on track, this funding disparity appears to be stagnating. I still have hope that things will change.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie.
It’s a book that changed my life. With his timeless guidance in hand, I learned to eliminate debilitating fear and worry from my life and embrace a worry-free future. It’s a book packed with lessons that have lasted me a long time and made my life happier!
Whether I have to embrace sweeping changes in my life or face challenges at work, this book always comes to mind and helps me weather storms with clarity and stress-free. It helped me in many situations, whether it was when I had to move from a country or to reinvent myself professionally. It is my bible.
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. 🙂
If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to people that would be the RESILIENCE movement. It empowers people to accept and adapt to situations and move forward. We face all kinds of adversity in life and having the ability to resist and bounce back from difficult life events can allow us to move forward. Between personal crises, such as illness, loss of a loved one, abuse, bullying, job loss, and financial instability or the shared reality of tragic events in the news, such as wars, natural disasters and of course the COVID-19 pandemic, we have to learn to face and live very difficult life experiences. Being resilient gives us that strength to deal with and overcome hardship. Those lacking resilience are easily overwhelmed and may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Resilience is “the core force you use to lift the load of life”. — Amit Sood, MD
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Never give up. Never stop learning. Only those who know how to adapt survive.
From an early age, I had to face difficult life situations due to the war that rocked my country for more than 15 years. Growing up in this environment, I learned to be resilient, to never give up, and to continue wanting to learn in order to move forward. This state of mind has helped me overcome difficulties throughout my journey. I think my most important adaptation was in 2006 when I made the drastic decision to leave my home country for the third time, to give up the business I had built for 12 years and start from scratch in the United States. I Just keep going and I never quit because the way is too hard. Knowing how to adapt to the fast-changing world we live in right now is very important to survive any situation.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!