Laverne Delgado is both an executive and an activist passionate for justice and helping other survivors of abuse and injustice overcome their struggles. As an entrepreneur, she is the executive director of Freedom and Fashion, whose mission is to use the “arts of fashion and beauty” to “empower youth and women overcoming sex trafficking, domestic violence, and other injustices.”
Prior to Freedom and Fashion, Laverne Delgado worked as a designer in the fashion industry. Later, she realized that she wanted to do something that “created more social impact.” She knew that fashion could be a powerful tool for social change, because it was not only an “art form” but it was also a “language.” She decided to use the language of fashion to tell stories that would transform people’s lives.
According to Laverne Delgado, Freedom and Fashion is an “innovative, local nonprofit organization creating big impact.” The organization began as a platform for awareness, but quickly became known for “compelling, story-driven fashion shows.” Since its founding, the “platform has been an opportunity for youth & women to rise above statistics and tell their true story of power.”
Laverne Delgado also says that in 2013, Freedom and Fashion has “incorporated educational, mentorship programs designed to unlock each mentee’s gifts, talents, and expression.” Their work “goes beyond fashion, beauty, and the expression of art.” At Freedom and Fashion, people are able to “explore trade-driven industries while engaging in imperative conversations addressing self-image, vulnerability, leadership, character development, and more.”
Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Laverne Delgado: There are many organizations that use the trade of fashion and beauty to teach. Few use it to heal, but Freedom and Fashion is the only organization that utilizes this language for all the above while enabling transformation in the mind, and raising awareness of social justice issues.
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Laverne Delgado: Burnout is all about vision and accountability. Most of the time, no one is breathing down our back about rest. This makes taking breaks tough, especially for leaders and innovators. I highly recommend every leader have an executive coach. This changed the game for me. My coach is not necessarily my accountability but they help me stay committed to my vision and by effect, that increases my accountability to myself to rest so I have the energy to move toward my vision and avoid burnout.
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Laverne Delgado: A couple of recent inspirations are Jonathan David and Aila Rose: The Love Gurus. We met and quickly bonded over our common love for humanity and passion for helping people heal. In conversation, they opened me up to a deeper healing I was yet to experience. They later took me through my own bridging™ session, which connects subconscious emotional and physical trauma with the conscious mind to create new neural pathways. My session was unlike any other experience I’ve had. It was hard, loving, sobering, and healing. This means everything to me as an individual but as leader, the results are priceless. I immediately implemented the knowledge into my work with Freedom and Fashion and can say with full confidence that I have holistically evolved since meeting Jonathan and Aila.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
Laverne Delgado: A “good” company points culture in a specific direction.
A “great” company creates cultures.
A “good” company supports a cause.
A “great” company is a cause.
A “good” company strives for profit.
A “great” company strives for legacy.
Jerome Knyszewski: What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Laverne Delgado: So many leaders are going through this during COVID-19. My solution has been to keep a service-driven mindset and all else follows. Sometimes that means focusing on the best way to authentically love and serve yourself. This can be tough to discover on our own because most of the time, the solution is hidden in our blind spots. Hire a coach and be radically transparent about where you’re at. Boldly increase your vulnerability with the right people.
Standstills, declines, and crises have their way of being mirrors. If we pay attention, they can be the catalyst to our evolution, but again, it requires radical transparency. Any less and you might as well make friends with the standstill. Buy it dinner. Move it in. You’ll be together for a while.
Jerome Knyszewski: Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Laverne Delgado: I’ll speak to the times on this one too. There are things I can mention about business strategy like the power of storytelling during times of crisis or the importance of protecting your cash flow, however, this goes much deeper than that.
The reality is everyone who is going through this pandemic is suffering a trauma. There’s no question there. The question is “Are we going to address it?” and “How will we use it?” This can not be done alone and it’s not the time for hubris leadership. Embrace vulnerability and the strength of others. I previously mentioned the benefits of leaders being seen asking for help. This is an opportunity to practice and lead by example.
Some of the best inventions, art, and movements have its birthplace in adversity. Limitations and constraints promote innovation. There really is so much opportunity right now! However, the first step is to acknowledge and accept what is. We’ve all been hit and we all need support. Vulnerably seek it and let your team see you do it.
Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Laverne Delgado: The power of public recognition. I’m convinced this is underestimated because many of us tend to see flaws before wins and even if we do identify our victories, rarely do we share them. (That’s tied to our view of self and is a longer conversation)
From a young age, human beings crave praise and have a strong desire for positive affirmation. This continues to hold true to employees in the workplace. Giving public recognition displays a deeper level of awareness from leadership, expresses appreciation for those being recognized, encourages others to strive for excellence, and builds trust. Neuroscience shows that oxytocin is produced in the brain immediately after a goal has been met and recognized publicly. The benefits go far beyond the moment of praise and can have a lasting impact on a company at large.
Jerome Knyszewski: Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
- Become emotionally intelligent. Things are rarely just transactional. We are human beings and when there’s a partnership, emotions are present. If a customer is having a poor experience, do not obsess over the minute details, especially with the customer. Don’t get me wrong, find out what you need to in order to improve, however, the focus should be on the experience they are having and the emotions that come with it. Care about the people involved above the situation. Ask the customer the right questions to ensure their experience of you reflects that care.
- Express gratitude, it builds relationship capital. Most companies have a way of doing this, usually around major holidays. If that’s the case, there’s definitely room to get creative, intentional, and curious! Train your team to ask the right questions that can inform them of new opportunities to make the customer feel seen and appreciated. This should be done with zero sales involved. Don’t invite them back in (unless you’re comping or gifting their experience). Don’t give a discount. Don’t advertise.
This is solely about expressing gratitude because your customer deserves it and your team benefits from practicing it.
Jerome Knyszewski: What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
Laverne Delgado: Beyond a health concern, this is an opportunity to get to know ourselves and our brands in a deeper way. Social media has led me to more intentionally consider my values, my brand’s positioning, and what the potential risks and payoffs are when using the tool.
I definitely don’t think anyone should shy away from social platforms due to fear. Once we start asking the right questions like, “What are our values and are they coming across in our posts? What are our weaknesses and can they be exploited on social media? How do we strengthen the weakness and lessen the chance of exposure in the meantime?” etc., we can become empowered to maximize social media and have fun with it!
Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Laverne Delgado: In my experience, many do not know their “why”, or if they do, it’s superficial. I’m in the nonprofit sector and often times when someone is asked why they do what they do, you’ll hear an answer like, “I want to make the world a better place” or “I want to live in a world where human trafficking doesn’t exist”. All of those things are fine and good but I’m not convinced anyone’s “why” is completely altruistic.
Why are YOU so invested in YOUR vision? What are the personal, even selfish ambitions tied to your cause? Let’s not pretend like they aren’t there for some false sense of humility. You need them. Figure out what they are, evaluate their health, and prioritize them accordingly.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Laverne Delgado: I want to empower people to create purpose from their pain. Every tear we’ve cried can water the revolutions that live within us all. The wisdom that is hidden in our traumas can be one of our greatest assets when healing ourselves and the world.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Laverne Delgado: You can follow me on social media:
Instagram: @loveverne , @freedomandfashion
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!