Nancy Rhodes completed the Master of Science in Sustainable Fashion.
Nancy Rhodes, a footwear designer with over fifteen years of experience in the industry, wants to rewrite the story of fashion- not just for the community of designers she is building now, but also for future generations. By day, she designs high volume footwear for several brands. By night, she attends GCNYC and is launching alternew, an on-demand alterations and repairs platform focused on providing accessibility, convenience, and affordability to the alterations experience. With an emphasis on increasing body positivity and inclusivity through customization, alternew strives to engender sustainable practices and re-invigorate a declining industry. Nancy wants to offer consumers the opportunity to take ownership of their personal style in a way that is authentic and current. In our interview we touch on Nancy’s leadership with the New York City Face Mask Initiative, her experience at GCNYC and the mission of her company, alternew.
What was your journey of coming to GCNYC?
I got laid off from my last company three years ago. After that, I went on a retreat by myself to Tulum for yoga and fitness and when I got back I started a new job. My first day I walk in there and the light had gone out. About 3 or 4 month later I am in Penn Station, traveling to Newark airport, and I run into an old colleague. She was working for GCNYC and told me she had never been more fulfilled than when she started working there. This prompted me to want more information about GCNYC.
A week later, I was in the office, and two weeks later I started. It was one of those times where I had no doubt that these were breadcrumbs being put in front of me to follow; one hundred percent I walked in there and said yes this is what I’m doing. From day one I felt so passionate and so fulfilled and so eager for the next step for myself- I knew it was right.
How did you decide on your thesis topic?
My background is in volume and I did product for Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Burlington, Target, Payless etc. I understood scale; I understood the need to have scale in order to make impact but, I didn’t know how I was going to do that personally. Through my Values Based Leadership course, I had the opportunity to do a case study on Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx. Her process really resonated with me, as she was constantly journaling and searching; asking the question “Is this my big idea?” to each potential business that she considered. This resonated with me and I thought how could I, in that same way, find something that truly fulfills me and something that I am passionate about?
So, I was taking different classes, trying to figure out what my next steps were. One day I was sitting with a classmate and we were talking over sustainability. The topic came up about how when she was in college she did alterations as a way to make money. The idea of “Well, is there an uber for alterations?” or “Is there an on demand for alterations?”, came up. I then started doing a bunch of research and realized that there was a huge white space in the market where alterations was something that was such a hassle for people. Everyone had alterations to be done and that became such a passion for me.
For every class I would find a way to use that case as my project; whether it was a marketing project, or an entrepreneurship project etc.
When it came to my thesis, it was a super easy decision- “Democratizing Fashion Customization Accessible Alterations Sustainable Practices and Consumer Needs”. My thesis was actually the green light to start my business.
What has been a highlight of your career thus far?
The highlight of my life so far has been being able to make fabric masks for the New York City Face Mask Initiative; and there are several reasons why: First and foremost, there is nothing more fulfilling than being able to help people in need and doing so in such a tangible way. In addition, my whole career I’ve wanted to step up and be a leader and I’ve always worked for companies where there were a lot of glass ceilings in my way. There was no opportunity to build out a team and practice so many leadership skills we learn about. So being able to flex those leadership muscles by providing opportunity for so many sewers and making masks for people who need it has been exciting for me personally, but, from a business perspective, has really put me in a unique position to be able to show my what I am capable of doing as a startup earlier on than most startups would be able to. We now have over 170 sewers, volunteers, and partners, over 10,000 fulfillment requests from hospitals and other health care providers and essential services needs. The number grows each day.
How did the word get out initially about your work and production of NYCFMI?
My goal was to put pieces into place so we could very easily recruit. I had just recently joined the New York Fair Trade Coalition and I sent out a call to action along with the designer I was working with, Isabel Varela. We used word of mouth and social media including Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn connecting with individuals and groups, spreading our message far and wide. We created a Whatsapp group to build our community and now have included a Facebook group. We grew from a small shared google doc, to more detailed sewer forms, mask request forms, and even hold a weekly zoom to answer any questions our volunteers, donors, and partners may have. My web designer, the incredibly talented Beverley Delay, volunteered her time to make a web page to aggregate all of our information. Our volunteers have been posting their pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #NYCFMI and it’s been awe inspiring to see the dedication and passion going into making fabric masks.
What’s next for you?
Continue to grow alternew slowly while I work full-time, especially considering the climate we will be in after this crisis. There are incredible opportunities to position alternew by maintaining and upcycling the wardrobe you already have during a recession and making that more affordable and transparent, which will be really important. Being able to update your interview looks because there will be a lot of people going on interviews or make small changes to what you already have. I.E. taking sleeves off a blazer and making it a vest or taking the buttons out on something and replacing it with something neon, so you feel fresh and vibrant, without having to spend a lot of money.
Especially right now, with companies showing their true colors, there’s going to be a lot of backlash that sees itself in fashion. I’d like to take that opportunity to engender sustainable practices through accessibility and convenience for alterations.
Head to www.alternew.com to learn more about Nancy’s company and the NYCFMI.