NISHIKA DE ROSAIRO (dE ROSAIRO)
FIELD: FASHION DESIGN TITLE: CEO, CREATIVE DIRECTOR
A. | How do you define yourself?
I am an open minded person—always open to new ideas and new experiences. I am an expressive person so I tend to use vehicles such as fashion, art and dance to express myself. I am also a happy person—I tend to always be happy and fulfilled in my life. I enjoy watching people around me grow and develop, so I spend time and effort making sure this happens through mentoring, speaking on panels, working with survivors of human trafficking, and so on. I think of myself as having a role to play in society a role where I can impact the lives of others. I love to travel—I’ve lived on four continents and travelled to over 40 countries.
A. | What is a typical day in your world?
A typical day is atypical…I am a CEO and creative director, which means there is a lot of business and creative related things happening all the time, which are two seemingly different worlds, and equally different parts of the brain. I have a team of people that help me with strategic partnerships, our online dE ROSAIRO store, logistics, sales, and other functions, so that enables me to stay focused on the big picture on a more regular basis. My role is to write the strategy, the vision and the mission of the company, and design the clothes of course. Separately I oversee the PR side of the house (I used to have a PR agency but I realized that PR is so important to keep in house—people want to talk to me, they don’t want to talk to a PR agent). Managing the production supply chain, I do that as well—it is really important to have relationships with my vendors so that they prioritize our work at dE ROSAIRO. I speak at a lot of conferences, panels and events so I’m always running around everywhere (I also live half the time in New York and half the time in San Francisco) so planes have been a way of life for the last 10 years (even in my previous career in corporate America) and pilots have always been my best friends.
A. | How did you become interested in your career?
I always knew as a young girl I would have my own company. Fashion was a dream since I was six years old. I remember being 16 and reading Anthony Robin’s and Richard Branson; these mentors shaped my mind. Through what they taught me, I knew that one day I would have my own company, but at the time fashion was just a dream.
A. | What do you do outside of your work routine?
Dance—I used to be a professional Latin dancer and have been a dancer for 15 years now. It is my place of zen and my freedom of expression. I actually travel around the world to dance at conventions where 2,000+ dancers come together for four days from literally around the around…in those four days we dance for about 25 hours nonstop—it is so fun!
A. | What are you most proud of in your career?
Launching dE ROSAIRO because it meant leaving the corporate world I knew best, and was so successful in, to follow my dreams. A year and half into the journey, I have grown so much. My ethics and values haven’t changed, but how I approach things and how much more open I am to new ideas and new ways of doing things is what I love the most about this journey. And then of course, seeing women wearing my dE ROSAIRO designs on the streets is just so cool. Still feels unreal.
A. | What are the biggest challenges you have overcome?
I face challenges everyday. When you’re a in a space that is entrepreneurial there are always challenges. The biggest one was navigating an industry I didn’t know; coming from a business background I would get headhunted all of the time, I knew my footing in the tech industry. When I joined the fashion industry—I didn’t even know what a block was. So I spent six months teaching myself everything I needed to know about the industry by going to night classes multiple times a week. I also read 50 blogs a day, and a new book every two weeks, all while talking to consultants and building my brand. Starting in a new industry as a newcomer was a little strange because I had already been working for 10 years. Now, a year and a half into it, the challenges have changed. I know a lot of people in the industry, but the challenge is how do we continue to grow the brand on a global level and ship to new locations. Basically, how do you become that multi-million dollar international brand?
Personally, as an entrepreneur you have so many ups and downs—it’s not always peaches and cream. It's sort of a roller coaster ride. Suddenly everyone is saying no to you, and then they all start saying yes to you. I have a strong foundation of women who see eye to eye with me, and who also walk this walk everyday. Having a network of other smart entrepreneurs who get it is important.
A. | Where do you feel at home?
This is probably the most complicated question to answer; home to me is a bunch of places—I was born in Zambia, Africa to an expatriate family. I lived there for eight years. Then I lived in Sri Lanka for six years, which is my ethnic background. My mum took us there to understand the culture. When I was 15, I moved to New Zealand where my parents still live. I spent my high school and most of my university years there over a period of eight years. And then 10 years ago I moved to the US where I did my MBA at the University of Washington. I took to Seattle first and I now live in San Francisco, but I am also in New York a lot. So for me, home honestly is not a place, it is really a mental-emotional space….it really depends on where my heart and mind is.
A. | What is your vision for the future of your work?
At dE ROSAIRO we are doing three very distinct things: one is that we’re a design house; we create clothes for powerful women—people often label our stuff as architectural and powerful…we dress women based on our values of of ‘Look Feel Lead.' Basically what this means is that how you Look, is how you Feel, is how you Lead your life. Additionally it translates into the work I also do around leadership, where I spend a lot of time coaching entrepreneurs, CEO’s and their executive teams. This coaching piece will eventually transition into a Leadership Centre. And then the third piece is the not-for-profit aspect of dE ROSAIRO. With the Look Feel Lead model we work with women who get stuck in this awful race of human trafficking and prostitution and help empower them, after they have had help mentally and emotionally getting over the challenges of being a survivor. We teach them the power of clothing in building your brand, in gaining back your confidence, and in re-claiming your life. We just started working with a non-profit called Not For Sale in this space.
A. | How does oppression and privilege influence people’s success in the fashion industry?
What is interesting about the fashion industry is that it is known for glamour and for privilege. What people don’t understand about fashion is that, yes when it’s on the runway its glamorous and there is that level of status, but fundamentally the clothes we wear have such a deeper psychological aspect to them. In certain cultures, women have been made to wear specific types of clothing because it makes them more desirable or allows them to be more controlled. There is a direct relationship between psychology and why we chose to wear what we wear, and how what we wear makes us look, feel and lead our lives. I am eventually interested in doing a TED talk around the psychology of clothing…it is a really interesting topic that hasn’t been explored, I believe.
A. | What makes a successful business?
Success is defined by who you are asking…some people’s success is selling two pieces a month and another persons success is building a multi million dollar brand. For me personally, I love pushing the boundaries and empowering others around me. Success for me is being able to get to a place where I am influential enough to make a difference in the lives of the people around me. I look at some of these celebrities and the power they hold…if you have that ability to influence, and you use that influence to make a difference in the world, then to me, that is success.
A. | Why did you shift careers to work in the fashion industry?
I was in the tech industry for 10 years…but I wanted more in my life by way of impacting the lives or others. I was lucky enough to be able to leave my corporate career behind, self fund my own business, and follow my childhood dream.
A. | What personality traits are crucial in your industry?
You have to be a hustler, you have to be strong, you have to be confident in the work that you do and know that you don’t design for everyone; you design for a very specific customer in mind.
Don’t take “no” for an answer—you will hear a lot of no’s along the way and you have to keep pushing and persevering.
Don’t be sensitive. It’s not about you it’s about your business. If someone is giving you feedback and it is good for you business, then it is good for you. Feedback is a gift.
A. | What would you recommend to yourself 20 years ago?
I was a rebel child because I always questioned linear patterns of thinking—I questioned the whole idea of “you should go to college, get married, have children, buy a house, and build a picket fence around it—” that type of linear thinking drives me crazy. I was actually kind of shy—I had to push myself to become a more extroverted person. So to answer your question, I would give myself the advice to be more courageous, more adventurous, more open minded, and to always look for the good in people, and to build a better network—there are so many people who probably slipped through my fingers simply because it wasn’t until recently that I truly started to understand the power of a strong network.
A. | Any other production advice you would like to share?
It doesn’t matter what the industry is, growing a company is growing a company. You need solid people, you need a vision, you need strategy, you need processes, and you need really good supply chain partners. When I coach people in leadership roles I often ask them what their brand does for them because sometimes people don't understand that if you are the CEO of a company that you need to be exhibiting qualities around being a leader—it doesn’t just mean showing up and doing the work—it also means how you show up. How do people see you—do they often see you as frazzled and running around? Do they see you dressed confidently and always poised? How do you look— Are you dressed to lead? Are you dressed as a power woman? All of that matters. The more people understand the correlation between managing your personal brand and being a leader, the more they will be successful in their life. People think of fashion as petty sometimes—they are like ‘oh fashion, whatever, I don’t care about how I look,’ but you should care about how you look, because the world cares about how you look. The world basically treats you based on how you look. Whether you like it or not, we live in a superficial society where people will take one glance and decide on whether they want to know you or not. Sometimes they’ll give you a second chance, but most of the time we take first impressions pretty seriously (for right or for wrong). That’s why at dE ROSAIRO we believe in the psychology of clothing and we empower women to Look Feel Lead their lives.
EDUCATION | UNIVERSITY OF AUCKLAND AND UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON, BUSINESS
SKILLS | DANCE, DESIGN, TRAVELING