Natalia Allen is the fashion designer of the future. CEO of her eponymous line, she’s developed a robotic system for producing what she’s termed “victimless fashion.” It’s a journey that gained momentum when she graduated from Parsons School of Design in 2004 with the Designer of the Year Award—as did designer Marc Jacobs before her.
Allen quickly capitalized on that win by manifesting her passion for art and chemistry in the founding of Design Futurist in 2015, a product-design consultancy that developed ultra-high-tech fabrics for global mega brands like DuPont. In 2010, Fast Company rewarded her vision and innovation by naming her one of its “100 Most Creative People in Business.” Since 2014, she’s been making smart, simple clothes out of “decadent and sustainable fabrics,” which has propelled her to the forefront of the ethical-manufacturing movement. She’s poised to hit $1 million in sales for 2018.
The Glow Up got to catch up with this young innovator—who also counts surfing among her passions—to hear more about how she’s trying to build an ethical path to fashion.
The Glow Up: Where does the concept of “victimless fashion” come from?
Natalia Allen: I was exposed to some of the largest issues in the global, industrial fashion supply chain. After graduation, I built a boutique consulting firm that worked as an external research and development agency for a number of multinationals, like Donna Karan [and] Calvin Klein. I was responsible for taking my textile concepts out into the world to find engineers, factories and scientists to develop the samples. I witnessed firsthand the exploitation of workers—which are predominantly women, and certainly a good percentage of them are children. That didn’t sit well with me.
The other issue in the fashion supply chain is the amount of waste. Basic reason would lead you to believe that you couldn’t continue building an industry where half of everything is lost. Whether you took the moral high road, or just basic business principles, it didn’t make sense. The most disturbing bit—working with scientists—is learning about the vast amount of unregulated, unknown chemicals that go into dying and stabilizing fabrication [of clothes] that we wear directly on our skin. Those three ills—toxicity, waste and worker exploitation—were, for me, so disturbing. I couldn’t have peace of mind continuing to work in the industry knowing that I was contributing to it.
TGU: So, along with victimless fashion, How did “Made in America” become part of your credo?
NA: It’s really hard to be exceedingly creative and then somewhat revolutionary if you’re dependent upon six-week shipping and Skype calls. What’s really beautiful about how I make clothing is that there’s a potential to have little mini-factories all over the world so that we’re close to whomever we’re selling to.
TGU: Explain to me how the factory works?
NA: I’ve spent a lot of time on two things: technology and clothes that fit well and feel good. I definitely try to understand what the numbers mean so that less of the fit and form are limited to only my eye. I want that the intelligence can be multiplied and easily understood by the machines. Oftentimes, we create a little algorithm for fit and patterns.
TGU: How many people are on the factory floor?
NA: That’s part of my secret sauce, my intellectual property that I hope to sell one day. So I want my competitors to have to work to figure out what I do.
TGU: Can you describe your daily routine as a CEO?
NA: Let’s see ... 5:45 a.m. swim-team practice for 90 minutes. Then calendar review, and then meetings and calls with partners between time zones from Europe to California. Right now I’m preparing to raise a series A round of funding for my business. Outside of designing, any good CEO spends a good deal of time writing to communicate my company plans for 2018 and beyond to potential investors and stakeholders.
Evenings? I try to attend different networking events, or conferences, either in [or] around design and sustainability. Lately, I’ve taken a big interest in marketing and online commerce.
TGU: Let’s talk beauty routine. Is swimming hard on your hair?
NA: That’s a misconception—one of the benefits of swimming is that the hair stays hydrated and healthier with water. What’s important is what you do before you get in the pool. I make it a point to saturate my hair with water before I get in the pool, and I use a swim cap. One of the secrets is a low-sulfate shampoo, like Curl Junkie.
TGU: What’s your makeup routine?
NA: Oh, Lord. Let’s see: I am a minimalist, just like my brand. I focus on wellness from the inside, so what you eat, how much water you drink, that’s really important to me—like getting enough rest, because the foundation is ultimately your body. I’m probably the last person that you should ask for makeup advice.
TGU: For a young CEO like yourself, what’s your style advice?
NA: How I arrive at whatever my personal style is by thinking about what’s important to me and what I value. I believe your skin is reflective of your lifestyle. My first line of defense is clean eating, staying active and making sure [I] have sufficient rest. I’m kind of overwhelmed by the options in Sephora and Ulta, but I understand that I am not the norm in that sense—but I just kind of decided that I’m OK with that. It’s hard for me to give someone else a recommendation.
TGU: No, but what you’re saying is an excellent recommendation, because what you do is to let your values dictate your life and not the other way around. Life doesn’t dictate your values, whether that comes to your company or the way you dress or what you eat or anything else. Your values come first, and that’s a really valuable message. I think for the kind of company you have and the kind of CEO you are, you couldn’t embody your brand in a more powerful way.
NA: That’s a good way to say it.