Trend-Setter and Go-Getter NJ Falk Is Redefining Fashion Entrepreneurship

by Tom White

Before Wednesday and Morticia-chic was trending, there was NJ-chic. The fashion-forward designer, CEO, and
Mentorpreneur™, NJ Falk, is fashion’s bold (often dressed in black) guardian angel. Not only is Falk the branding brain behind companies like Athletic Propulsion Labs and The Forward Female, but she’s also a stunning socialite in the world of fashion’s most elite circles – hosting events alongside brands like Louis Vuitton, FENDI x Skims, and, of course, attending our annual Daily Front Row Awards. From her trend predictions to how she got here to her to her highly-productive daily routine, this SHE-eo sat down with us to share it all. There’s no doubt Falk is one of the most stylish women we’ve ever met – but she’s also an incredibly thoughtful, inclusive business woman whose passion shines through in everything she touches. Falk’s empire is one to watch. Read the interview below to learn more about how NJ Falk got to where she is now.

Tell me about your background! Did you always know you wanted to work in fashion?
Yes. Fashion has always been an integral part of my life. My mother, who was ahead of her time, and a graduate
of Parsons School of Design, fostered and sparked my deep love of fashion. We were always discussing design
from the history of fashion to designers and their collections. She supplemented this by constantly taking me to
New York and Paris to see shows, stores, museums, and collections as part of my “fashion education.”
However, my career had a circuitous start. My first job was as a film editor, after graduating from the NYU Tisch
School of The Arts, where I also minored in journalism, and graduated with my MBA at NYU Stern School. The
two diametrically opposed directions have helped me build and foster my career in numerous ways because I
could be creative but also add the business acumen component to everything I was undertaking.
This has helped me throughout my career as I moved into the branding, creative, corporate and entrepreneurial
fashion arenas in my prior positions at American Express, MGM, Universal Studios, and The Wedding Channel
as well as the Founder and Creative Director of my former award-winning branding, advertising and digital
agency, The UXB, and Webby award-winning blog The Blonde And The Brunette which I sunset at the start of
the pandemic.

As a result, over the course of my career, through my creative work I became a multiple Webby, Davey, and Communicator award-winning creative and journalist. I’m a former Forbes Contributor with my column on highly actionable business and lifestyle advice, which led to me becoming a serial entrepreneur focused on emerging luxury, fashion, lifestyle and direct-to-consumer brands.

Today, I use all these skills in my current roles are as a Founding Partner and the Managing Partner of Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL), the women’s and men’s luxury performance athletic footwear brand, since the brand was founded in 2009, and as a Co-Founder Chief Mentorpreneur™ (a term I trademarked) at The Forward Female which is a consulting and creative agency for female entrepreneurs. This also extends to my past and current work as an e-commerce pioneer and expert, juggling my roles over the years as an angel investor, mentor and strategic advisor for female-focused luxury and consumer brands including 11 Honoré, Starface, Bumo Work, Artha, Modern Picnic, DeMarson, including my DEMARSON X NJ FALK design collaboration last year, to advising The FLOORR and Mr. Feelgood.

I’ve also been deeply involved in the fashion world and the creative community as a member of the IAVA (International Academy of Visual Arts), an Executive Member of the IADAS (International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences) as well as a judge for the past ten years, as a Board Member of the NYU Stern School of Business Luxury and Fashion Council, The Luxury Council and as a former brand ambassador for Net-A-Porter and Italist. One of the most recent pivotal moments for me was being honored as one of YOTPO’s 2022 Amazing Women in Ecommerce, and Cupshe as one their Women Making Waves. Joining these communities has allowed me to get even more involved with other fashion entrepreneurs including participating in the first class of the YOTPO GROW program, which is an incubator for brands of the future. It was a full circle, giving-back moment.

Photo Credit: Thomas Drotan

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
I can’t. I am a dichotomy between two personas: a caring, confident, creative but also a ruthlessly efficient individual in pursuit of excellence and innovation.

How would you describe your style in 3 words?
Mod meets Morticia chic.

You are an incredibly busy, on-the-go woman – walk us through your typical ‘day in the life.’
Everyone always asks me “how do you do it all?” I am a master juggler, and my day is like a jigsaw puzzle. There are hundreds of pieces that need to get done each day and I slowly put the puzzle together starting early each morning with two cups of coffee, get dressed, (I think about my outfit the night before), do a power dive into hundreds of emails and my to do list that includes one of my favorite productivity tricks – a distraction list. If you are not familiar with this incredible technique, it keeps you free to manage the major tasks of the day. Use it throughout the day. Simply list distractions that are outside your mind from less important emails, phone calls, to-do’s, text messages, notifications and anything that can distract you that you can do later.

By using this methodology, I work on all the A-list items, which can be anything from e-commerce, technical, marketing, pr, operations, creative tasks, zoom calls and projects before noon. I do my daily one to two mile run and weightlifting at noon or later in the day, in my APL’s of course, and then I typically only eat between 2 PM to 8 PM.

I also usually pack my lunch, using my Modern Picnic bag, then move on to key business projects that require serious quiet time in the afternoons, any mentoring calls and then I do my second deep email dive late afternoon. If I have them, which I often do, I then head out to dinner meetings or events. For events, I do a quick wardrobe change (which I carefully plan late at night in advance, including reviewing the look and tone of an event in prior years as a wardrobe prompt open to interpretation, late at night), as the trunk of my car is often a traveling closet. Late at night, on weekday nights and Sunday evenings, is my special quiet time to set myself up for success the next day or Monday morning. I use this time to do the very detailed projects, writing, responses and copy that needs more time. I love to end the day, if I can, with a bit of streaming entertainment as my personal reward for a productive day. The puzzle is complete and then I start a new one the next day.

Is there anything you think people would be surprised to know about you?
Yes. I did four seasons of the Belgian reality television series, Astrid in Wonderland, which was actually filmed mostly in LA, airing on VIJFtv and in the Netherlands on NET5. It was quite comedic including many episodes, starting with the inaugural show, centered on our escapades producing my beloved, now sunset, Webby award-winning blog, The Blonde and The Brunette. It was an enormous amount of fun and we did everything from an episode entitled “Brow Virgin” to me becoming a blonde for a day.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to be an entrepreneur?
I always counsel emerging entrepreneurs that it is a journey (and it’s a marathon, not a sprint) that requires unparalleled stamina, resilience, hard work, and a solid business plan that solves a burning problem. You need to pour the concrete for your business structure by knowing your audience, identifying a niche or gap in the market, raise as much capital as you can, as you may not be able to go back to the well again, aim towards profitability versus unsustainable growth, be prepared to hear “no” often and pivot. The perfect example is Modern Picnic, one of the brands I mentor, who has reinvented the lunchbox. So much of what they are achieving follows this methodology.

I also counsel that the other key ingredient is you have to love to sell. Steve Jobs taps into this with his advice, “Most people never pick up the phone and call. Most people never ask, and that’s what separates the people who do things from the people who just dream about them”; Pick up the phone and ask, but after you do, also always make sure to follow up. Good manners are everything in business and life.

You’re very well connected in the fashion industry. How did you immerse yourself and make your way to the top?
From the beginning of my career, I have always wanted to be part of the conversation. I did and still do this by being a change agent and a connector. It all started when I was invited to become a member of Advertising Women of New York (AWNY). I met so many incredible, legendary women in the New York fashion and publishing circles. They were all exceptionally talented. However, the women who were fast tracking their careers, were succeeding by using the power of networking to move themselves forward faster. Each time they threw another pebble in their social and business ponds, more positive things kept happening for them.

I realized it was my responsibility to make this happen. To this day, I proactively immerse myself by reaching out to others, building my social circles, attending industry events and fashion shows, following up with brands and all my business contacts, joining organizations, going to conferences, connecting diverse groups of individuals and people I don’t know well within the industry or that I have just met, to events I am hosting so I can widen their world and mine my with unique experiences we can share. The process never stops, including me being recently invited to join DealMakeHers, the most influential female dealmakers in the retail and consumer space. A strong network gives you access to the conversation and helps you endlessly continue your educational journey. It is the one constant in your career you can control.

What do you think the future of fashion looks like?
It’s going to be an incredible mashup of forces coming together to create a new frontier driven by consumers focused on sustainability, diversity and inclusivity. Brands will respond with a rise in fashion technology from 3D printing to virtual reality. This will change the way fashion is designed, produced and how we market— perhaps even creating more niche products and potentially greater personalization. Combined with the emergence of AI, increased social shopping as well as a return to real shopping, conversational commerce, the metaverse and supply chain innovations, we are in the midst of a new, immersive customer-driven online and retail landscape.

However, at the core of it all is the product. In a post-pandemic era with hybrid work environments, we will continue to see the rise and “shock of wearable clothes” as well as the return to occasion dressing as we find we need to reconnect in new ways as the result of more remote, hybrid, and impersonal workplace environment. We will also continue to see the rise of luxury products coupled with luxury experiences targeted toward top consumers with authentic micro and mega influencers both playing important roles. Hang on, it’s going to be a bumpy but fascinating ride.

Who is your biggest fashion icon/ inspiration?
It’s Audrey Hepburn. Her iconic style and persona are captured in the quote, “I just do my own thing.” I actually keep a reminder next to my laptop in the form of the quote gracefully displayed on a tiny, elegant tray. It’s a constant nudge that it is essential to be your authentic self in how you dress and whatever you do.

What are your favorite fashion trends for summer?
All the new colors that just debuted for this season captivate me. I plan to stray from my signature black and white look and experiment with all the metallics, especially silver, digital lavender, viva magenta, lemon and energy (which has really caught my eye) especially for accessories, skirts, and cargo pants. Around July, we are probably going to be living in “I’m a Barbie Girl, Living In a Barbie World” with the onslaught of even more fusion pink and looks out of the 60’s. This will continue to be coupled with the rise of all the rebellious black looks which I absolutely love including the bare midriffs (yes, I’ve added lots more situps and planks to my workout routine, and sheers that are flooding the Red Carpet and show no sign of disappearing.

What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming projects?
There are so many things happening right now at APL including the opening of our new Flagship store in NewYork City this summer, but I am also particularly excited about starting up a new entrepreneurial venture focused on creating a smaller, highly curated womenswear collection with a twist. I hope to unveil it later this year with a new partner. It’s been a dream of mine and on my bucket list for a very long time.

Finally, we had to ask. Do you have a favorite fashion memory?
Yes. The first time I ever went to The Met Gala was for Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. This exhibit has always stayed with me along with the privilege of wearing the “Angel Gown” from his last collection. The icing on the cake was when my dear friend, Cameron Silver, helped arrange for Sarah Burton to create a bespoke McQueen knuckle clutch to perfectly match my gown. It was a pinch me moment.

Presented by: Amir Bakian

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