Nomi Network is a non-profit organization that offers "economic opportunities for survivors and women at risk of trafficking by providing training, fashion product development, and marketing support.’ Currently, Nomi Nework provides hands-on training through a one-on-one mentorship program with experienced product developers in the fashion industry to create bags and accessories that are sold online at Buy Her Bag Not Her Body, and through select retailers. One-hundred percent of Nomi Network's profits are reinvested back either into training programs or educational scholarships. In this interview, Diana Mao, Co-Founder & Lisa Kim, Legal Counsel and VP of Sales share their strategies on selling and marketing a fashion social enterprise.
What kind of products do you sell?
Diana Mao: We create functional handbags and other accessories for everyday life. Being functional is really our sweet spot for our target audience, which includes young professional women.
Who currently designs your products?
Diana Mao: Our head product developer, Supei Liu, designs and develops the products and line sheets and conducts the training for program participants. She used to be a buyer at Saks Fifth Avenue, Production Director for KH Studio Designs and Senior Merchandise Planner for dELia*s.
What do buyers respond to first? The story or the product?
Lisa Kim: For direct sales, the story behind the bags and accessories are quick to sell the product and capture consumers. We include postcards with every purchase letting consumers know the story behind the brand and thanking them for their support in fair trade.
Diana Mao: The fact that our supply chain is fair and the conception to product is all fair sourcing as well, sells the products. Nomi Network is hoping the product self sells as a stand-alone, soon. We’re currently working with fashion designers to come up with modern designs and starting to explore other local materials to incorporate in product creation.
How do direct sales compare to wholesale?
Lisa Kim: Direct sales are always higher than wholesale. Online sales also help us raise more awareness because we control the messaging – still somewhat of a slow process just as wholesale has been just as slow and more difficult.
Diana Mao: We have a lot of challenges when it comes to wholesale and having our products at boutiques and retail chains, primarily because of pricing. Big retail chains like to squeeze the margin to maximize the profit, but as a fair trade product, we need to make a certain profit to channel it back to our workers.
Lisa Kim: Also, with trying to create relations with store buyers, we’re looking at two years of relationship cultivation for boutiques to understand our products, trust us and for us to also trust them to tell the story when selling our products.
What support do you provide stores who carry Nomi products?
Lisa Kim: One very important factor is our sales kit which includes all the background on the brand, fair trade, tips on how to sell the products for their sale associates, terminology sheet and, if they’re local boutiques, we offer to visit their store and train their salespeople. We also have a very fun look book!
What has been the feedback from retailers?
Diana Mao: They are all very receptive verbally, but it’s a lengthy cultivation process. Apart from pricing being an issue, we’re also noticing confusion with buyers trying to understand our funding and where it actually comes from. We are not a charity just because we are ‘not-for-profit’. We still need to make a significant profit. We make it clear that 100% of the profit goes back into the program to train our current workers and expand our program.
What role does social media play in your PR efforts?
Diana Mao: We do have a presence on Twitter and Facebook. I’m in India now, so I upload photos of our program participants at work to our Facebook page and blog, real time, so our followers are with us every step of the way and feel closer to the mission. We also try our best to really interact, almost immediately, with all of our followers when they comment on our page to start the conversations.
What are your plans for expansion?
Lisa Kim: We’re currently courting uprising designers who will be willing to take over as pro-bono. We have worked with Project Runway Season 8 contestant and New York Fashion Week veteran, Ivy Higa, who is passionate about empowering survivors and women at risk of trafficking. For every product sold on her online platform, she donates 10% to Nomi Network to strengthen the program.