Meet Francesca Kennedy, the vibrant CEO of IX Style

IX Style in Harper’s Bazaar and People Magazine

IX Style in Harper’s Bazaar and People Magazine

Francesca Kennedy CEO of IX Style

Francesca Kennedy CEO of IX Style

Tell us a little about yourself: I want to run a half marathon in every country in the world!

Where are you from? When and why did you move to New York? I grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, but my family is originally from Guatemala. I moved to NYC after I graduated from Lehigh University

What inspired you to start IX Style? My parents are originally from Guatemala and as a little girl I spent my summers returning to visit my extended family there. My fondest childhood memories are swimming with my cousins in the once beautiful waters of Lake Atitlan. On a trip back to Guatemala a couple years ago, I found the lake overrun with blue green algae. I saw children bathing in, collecting, and drinking the polluted water.

It was a shock to see the beautiful lake I grew up with turn into a toxic mess. I didn’t know exactly how to help, but on a trip to the local market I discovered local artisans making these amazing sandals.

I had just finished reading Start Something That Matters by the founder of TOMS Blake Mycoskie and it was the catalyst for this great idea… Why not create jobs for these remarkable artisans by employing them to make hundreds and thousands of sandals for sale and raise their families out of poverty and then use the proceeds to provide clean drinking water to the children of Guatemala?

That’s exactly what we did!

Ix Style is produced in Guatemala by female artisans. Why is this important to you? I read the book Half the Sky and it really drives home the point that woman empowerment can literally change the world. Women typically invest 90% of their income back into their communities versus 30% for men. Employing women will help raise families out of poverty in Guatemala. Creating jobs and providing clean drinking water to children in Guatemala is our bottom line!

Tell us about the Ix Style team:
My brother, John, and I launched Ix Style about three months ago. He’s a second grade teacher in Philadelphia. We both have an amazing team of rock star interns that help in our respective cities – Philly and NYC.

What are the biggest challenges you faced when starting IX Style?
Our greatest challenge has been meeting the demand we’ve had since our inception three months ago. We weren’t prepared for the amazing press we’ve received. It’s truly a blessing and we’re lucky to have some incredibly patient customers!

What advice can you give to charitable entrepreneurs like yourself? Boot-strap it all the way! My apartment doubles as our office. Keep your costs as low as possible. I’m constantly asking the interns to ask our suppliers to cut costs for shoe boxes, dust bags, shipping, etc. It doesn’t hurt to ask! The more we save; the more we can provide to our clean water initiative in Guatemala.

I am most proud when I defy people’s expectations. It fuels me to no end! Someone once said they didn’t think I could finish the NYC marathon – fast forward a few months after that and I was in the NY Times for completing it under 4:30 hours.
— Francesca Kennedy CEO of IX Style

What is the best advice you ever received?
One, all my PR friends are going to kill me for saying this, but don’t hire a PR company! The ROI for a start-up simply isn’t there yet. Mark Cuban (thanks Shark Tank) taught me that and the fact that no one is going to pitch your brand and product with more passion than you!
Secondly, get as many rock star interns as you can! I couldn’t live without my 10! They are so full of energy, creativity, and ideas. They convey that we-can-conquer-the-world attitude! One of my interns emailed me on her way in today that she had a dream last night we were on Oprah. Then she came into the office and started to figure out how to reach her. I 100% believe she’ll reach her, too! Hey Oprah – we’re waiting for your call! 

Ix Style has already had some high-profile press. Harpers Bazaar, Vogue and People magazine to name a few. How does it feel to be noticed by such influential publications?
Very blessed! There have been so many amazing blessings at the Ix office every day for the last three months! I’ve been left in joyful tears countless times. All of them have been tiny signs that we’re on the right path.

IX Style Inventory in Francesca’s office/apartment

IX Style Inventory in Francesca’s office/apartment

Tell us about the water charities you donate to. We donate 15% of our profits, to the below two organizations:

Charity Water: I attended their Water Ball in December a few years ago and it was the most refreshing take on charity I had ever experienced. They are completely transparent and accountable. They have these GPS systems on the wells they build so you can log on from your computer and watch the people who you helped with your contribution. It’s incredible!

Asociación Puente: This organization was started by the Former First Lady of Guatemala Wendy Berger. I had the amazing opportunity to join them on a water mission last month and it really changed my life. You have to go and experience it first-hand! Please join us in December in Guatemala on our next mission!
They’re all about woman empowerment! Their women enroll in weekly lessons about sanitation, hygiene, domestic violence, saving money, and training for jobs. This organization isn’t about free hand outs, which I think is very important. Women learn how to save for 18 months to pay for 10% of the water filtration system they receive as part of their graduation gift.

You recently went on a water mission. Tell us about that experience. 
It was a life changing experience: The people at the organization Asociación Puente and the 65 volunteers who have gone year after year from Louisiana are the real heroes in this story. They live and breathe this mission and go to the most remote places in Guatemala to help.
There are countless moving stories, but the one I’ll never forget is meeting a two year old girl with an extremely bloated belly from water-related parasites. It was heartbreaking to see a child suffer in a country with more natural resources than most in the world. You can literally throw any seed in Guatemala and it’ll grow. Just a few feet from where the little girl stood there were countless mandarin, coffee, and guave plants. All they need is clean water.
The overall feeling of the mission though was the incredible feeling to see the poorest people in the world so happy with the very little they had. It was definitely a story of hope!

Do you have any future or ideal plans for Ix Style that you would like to share with us?We are launching children’s and men’s collections next month! We’re also creating a line of clutches.

How old are you? 30

How would you describe your personal style? I immediately gravitate towards anything that is Coco Chanel-esque. My entire wardrobe is basically black-and-white!

What is your definition of an ideal wardrobe? Olivia Palermo’s wardrobe.

What is the awesomest thing you have done recently? I recently had the pleasure of meeting Richard Branson and his wife. It was such an honor and an incredibly gratifying feeling as an entrepreneur to share my ambitions about my sandal company with them and receive such a warm response. They are going to carry them in their gift shop on their resort on Necker Island in the BVIs. Now that’s awesome!

What makes you feel beautiful? When someone tells me I inspired them to do something positive!

What are you proud of? (personal or Ix Sytle related). I am most proud when I defy people’s expectations. It fuels me to no end! Someone once said they didn’t think I could finish the NYC marathon – fast forward a few months after that and I was in the NY Times for completing it under 4:30 hours. That’s how I feel about changing Guatemala – I’ve had people give me that look that they don’t think I can really help. Watch us – we will get it done!

What is your favorite spring recipe? I have to admit I’m not one for cooking. In fact, my whole family will be in hoots if I even attempt to answer this question. I am a quinoa and avocado addict (with a little hot sauce)!

This entry was originally posted on Zoe's Fashion Feed on 08/06/2013 Designer Interviews