KERYN FRANCISCO

A CREATIVE WOMEN'S ACTIVIST

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Professional Title: Creative Director

How long have you been in your profession?  25 YEARS

Brands worked for: Levi Strauss & Co, Nike, Lucy, The North Face

Real talk- PRO’s vs CONS in your profession?

PROS IN DESIGN CAREER:
One word:  TRAVEL.  Factories are scattered all over the world, often in the most obscure and remote areas of distant countries.  It's made me more empathetic to the people that sew our garments, the farmers who grow our wool, and the communities that our work impacts. Seeing the world through the sights, smells, food and people of different cultures makes me appreciate the 5 mile radius in which I live daily, and gives me a wider perspective that makes me a better citizen of the world.  Travel is something that I share with my son so that he can embrace the fact that he is part of a larger community of different beliefs, lifestyles, colors and environments.

CONS IN DESIGN CAREER: 
Sometimes the apparel industry is a real grind.  Season after season...spinning the same ideas...with the same antiquated tools, and having many product dreams evaporate seemingly arbitrarily.  One mentor once told me...brutally, "You have to learn to kill your babies", meaning that you can't get attached to your art.  Also, the higher the food chain you go, the more politics become more of your reality...the further away you get from being an artist.  But you also evolve into a strategist, and really start to design "the culture of design" which is way more fulfilling than designing another jacket.

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Best moment in your career?
I felt the most empowered in my last position as Creative Director at Lucy Activewear. I worked with a majority of women, and was a part of an all-female executive team. I was proud to be a woman of color at that table, and eventually I presented to the Board of Directors in North Carolina....probably a first.  In that position, I felt like we delivered product that really spoke to women.  I won my first design patent, broke conventions that empowered women, and gained a fiercely loyal consumer base.

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Most challenging moment in your career?
I burned out at the age of 29 working as a designer at Levi's.  We were working 80 hours a week, I was barely sleeping and I was just depleted and exhausted.  A woman sitting next to me on a plane took one look at me and said, "You know, I had a heart attack at 27."  I gave her an indignant look...and realized that what she was really telling me:  I reeked of stress and depression.  It was time for a change.  I took myself and my job way too seriously.  It was just colored cotton I was stressed about.

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What advice can you offer potential designers?  Embrace technology...it's your greatest weapon and tool next to your innate creativity.  Being an undercover geek, tech has always given me an added advantage and a foot in the door.  We're in the midst of another tech revolution with Digital Product Creation (3D), so I'm excited to be a part of the shift.
 

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Your thoughts on diversity and/or inclusivity in the design industry?
I'll admit, it never occured to me that I was an outlier in the design industry because my insecurities were non-racial at first:  Imposter Syndrome is real.  I never believed I was smart enough, talented enough, original enough or creative enough to be either a student at UC Berkeley, or a designer at several global brands.  

It wasn't until I worked for an all-women's brand that I grew into my own authenticity and stepped into my power.  We advocated for women through body-positive imaging and messaging, we had women of all shapes, sizes, hair texture and ages in our marketing.  We designed clothes for women with real curves and nuanced our fit to make her feel amazing.  I have also worked for extremely male-dominated companies, and after the Lucy experience, I was awakened to (and shocked by) the unconscious biases that often pervades the workplace, as well as the overt sexism and exclusionary behaviors that often go unnoticed or unreported.  

Currently, I feel a personal responsibility to help remedy these cultural oversights.  I never considered myself an activist or feminist, but I realize that I CARE about women.  And as a single mom, I have great empathy for those who are working parents or caregivers, so I have become involved in our community to help.  I am a founding member of VF Corp's "Elevate Design Community", and serve as a Core Chair on our Women's Empowerment Network.  On both committees, I advocate for employees who struggle to be heard or can't speak for themselves.  In the same way that I approach design, I want people to know that "I see you." I can help.

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Favorite inspirational quote?  
"Black letter, black leather, black lingerie, black marks, black tie, the black box, black robes, the black frame that turns white paper into an obituary:  The depth of black takes each situation and makes it more so."  (Lorraine Wild)

 

#ELEVATEDIVERSITY #WOMENDESIGNERS

#SEEYOURSELFHERE