Call it the Tower of Babel of international creatives: With more than 100,000 artists, the San Francisco-based collaborative design venture VIDA connects painters, sculptors, jewelry makers, photographers, hair stylists, pastry chefs, and others from 83 countries with product makers from around the globe.
Armed with a passion for art and an MBA from Harvard, Umaimah Mendhro created the online fashion startup in 2014. With a goal of marrying impeccable style with global responsibility, the founder and CEO developed a business model that empowers artists by lowering costs associated with large inventories, and factory workers. And she does this by funding literacy and educational programs in places such as India, Turkey, and Pakistan — where she was raised.
These efforts, says Maggie Kovacs, head of community strategy and retention, combine VIDA’s mission of “bringing more beauty into the world” by “creating artful products in a responsible way.”
The Startup Nation is no stranger to the site. Kovacs reports that 662 products have been designed by 61 Israeli artists.
With styles as diverse as their backgrounds, sabra Rivka Sheffer, native Argentinian Liliana Orbach, and Paris-born Patricia Abramovich are among the Israeli creatives.
The supply chain is simple. Designers sign up on VIDA’s website and upload high resolution images of their creations. Workers or, as VIDA refers to them, “makers,” use the photographs to create the on-demand products. Once the artist finalizes the product, it goes live.
It is the uniqueness of each product that draws people to VIDA. Kovacs describes the customer profile as mostly women between the ages of 25-65, with 32-45 being the sweet spot.
“They are educated, sophisticated, and interested in the world around them and expressing their individuality,” she adds.
Although the company is still young, something is working. With prices ranging from $40 for a scarf to $400 for a bracelet, VIDA’s earnings have grown tenfold since it launched — from $300,000 in 2014 to $3 million in orders during 2016. Ideas are growing as well. In addition to using technologies like 3D printing, new techniques allow printing artwork on metal for jewelry and other products.
“Not everybody can afford a painting,” Kovacs explains, “so VIDA brings art to fashion. We make it more accessible and bring more beauty and uniqueness to consumers to express themselves. The end goal is to have a place to discover new artists, have a base of consumers who make a conscious decision about supporting artists and factory workers, and to wear something to be proud of.”
Given the global nature of the enterprise, Kovacs confirms that situations inevitably arise when an artist is paired with a maker whose countries are in conflict.
‘A lot of our shirts and sheer wraps will have labels that say, “Designed in Israel. Made in Pakistan”‘
“We have definitely run into situations where countries don’t talk to each other, but haven’t run into problems,” says Kovacs.
“The maker always knows where the artist is from,” she says. “Our products include the artist’s signature as well as the location where the product was made and designed. A lot of our shirts and sheer wraps will have labels that say, ‘Designed in Israel. Made in Pakistan.’”
Kovacs also emphasizes that a factory has never refused to create an item. VIDA is selective about its partners, she adds, and would not choose someone who doesn’t align with its vision “to spread love, hope, and acceptance through art to the world.”
“We are about giving voice to everyone,” Kovacs explains. “We are accepting of differences. It is so embedded in who we are in the art community. The message is one of hope.”
Here is a brief profile of the three featured Israeli artists. While their backgrounds are varied, they all proudly identify with the Jewish homeland as they work with producers and customers around the globe.
Years with VIDA: 2
Rivka Sheffer joined VIDA because “she likes the chance to expose her creations to the world and other markets.”
A retired arts education teacher who laughs when she says she’s been an artist since she was born, Sheffer discovered her current passion following a car accident 15 years ago. Unable to fully feel her arms and with treatments showing no success, the artist turned to creating mosaics. Not content to use pre-cut tiles, she discovered that breaking the large stones helped strengthen her hands.
“It’s my therapy,” she says of her unique technique.
Sheffer creates both decorative and utilitarian mosaics inspired by nature and Jewish traditions and symbols, such as pomegranates. Sizes range from small pieces that can hang on a wall to full-size tables. Her initial goal was to sell a variety of products, however, due to high shipping costs associated with weight, she began having her mosaic designs printed on clothing and accessories.
“You can see your art so differently from the real thing,” she says of the transformation. “It is unique. No one else has it.”
City: Tel Aviv
Years with VIDA: 1
Liliana Orbach was recruited by VIDA at the end of 2016. The email invitation piqued her curiosity so she visited the site and liked what she saw. She began designing a line of scarves, blouses, and totes inspired by nature.
“The idea is great,” she says of the platform. “Because of my life, I’ve been very global. That is what drew me to VIDA, that it is global.”
Referring to her Argentinian background, Orbach explains, “More than the territory of Argentina, what informs my work is my personal story, not the place I was born.”
The artist’s crafts include printmaking, photolithography, jewelry making, video, sculpting, and photography. With a bachelor’s degree from the University of La Plata in Argentina, a master’s degree from California State University, Fullerton, and a PhD from Poznan Art University in Poland, she relates her work to the human condition with, as she says, “pure beauty of line and color.”
Years with VIDA: 2
“When I paint, this is for me a sort of meditation,” Patricia Abramovich says. “I feel I am alone with my canvas and the colors. Then the creation begins. It comes from inside.”
Abramovich says that along with drawing inspiration from freedom, colors, and landscapes, she recognizes the integration of her Parisian roots and her life in Israel that began when she made aliyah with her family at age 15.
She says she’s “not sure I can put my finger on it, but we say that a human is his native landscape. I certainly kept my childhood scenes in my memory and they come out into my work, as do my Israeli life experiences.”
The artists learned pattern design in 2015 and was looking for a way to enter the fashion world. She discovered VIDA after seeing an artist’s collection published in LinkedIn. She entered the site and “knew it was the manufacturer for my next creations.”
She says, “VIDA made my dream come true.”