In today’s day and age, some of the most successful companies are helmed by some of the most interesting people. Although I say interesting as a blanket term as some are more known for their less-than-favourable characteristics, it nonetheless also refers to the great ones. Revered leaders tend, above all, to be humble, relatable and ultimately, cool.
A graduate of Harvard Kennedy School of Global Leadership and Public Policy and a start-up veteran, Diana Verde Nieto has become one of the biggest names in sustainable development. Born in Argentina, this CEO, co-founder and public speaker now calls London home. After exiting Clownfish, the communications agency she started in 2002, she needed to find her next venture. Enter, Positive Luxury, a company devoted to the promotion of brands making a real difference in the world to consumers looking to do the same.
Within minutes of speaking with Ms. Nieto, you realize that not only does she possess the core qualities of what makes a memorable CEO, she’s also driven by a powerful “why” – a value that makes her even more likeable. This value informs everything in her life from what inspires her to how she approaches some of her biggest career challenges. And it all boils down to one thing: People.
Why did you create Positive Luxury?
I suppose it’s because I’ve always felt really close to this idea of justice. When I first moved to the UK, I realized I couldn’t be a human rights lawyer, which is what I had come to do, so it was about finding what else I could do with the amount of English I spoke at the time.
I ended up discovering the field of sustainable development and totally fell in love with it. I started my first business, Clownfish, which was a sustainability communications agency for the markets in China and the US. When I left the business, I found my co-founder (Karen Hanton MBE), also an entrepreneur, who created and sold Toptable to Opentable in 2010. We met up and said, what’s next?
My passion has always been in communications; showcasing the good stuff that brands do. She suggested I make something out of that skill, which I thought was a great idea and that’s really how it was born. I wanted to show luxury lifestyle brands that care about sustainability to luxury consumers that care about sustainability through the butterfly mark, which is a first-of-its-kind trust mark. When you click or hover over the mark, people can see all the great stuff that companies do regarding their governance, their social and environmental responsibility, innovation and of course sustainability investment.
Have you faced any obstacles with launching a new trust mark? Do brands seek you out or do you approach them?
A couple of things. For one, this kind of thing does exist in other industries, but it hadn’t yet in luxury. So companies are certainly aware of this kind of thing, which helped, but it was still a new thing to introduce.
Brands want to connect with us because consumers care more and more about sustainability, but for some brands we will approach them instead. It’s really a combination of the two and it becomes like an ecosystem: when you have the brands, the consumers come and when you have the consumers, the brands come.
Recent studies show that consumers are willing to make more sustainable purchases, but the numbers aren’t reflecting this interest. What do you think brands could be doing differently to help improve this?
The world has changed, and people have too, especially young people. I think people today have very different expectations for brands, even more so than 15 years ago, or even five years ago! It’s not an option not to do it, and it’s even less an option not to communicate it.
Of course we work with small, independent brands that can sometimes take bigger steps. However, when you work with bigger brands, to the naked eye it might seem like they are only doing small things. But actually, they are massive in their reach and in how they work. Brands like Biotherm and YSL Beauty leave a global footprint because of the millions of people they can reach, so those small things add up in a big way.
So I think its a two-way conversation. People have the intention to buy value, and brands are starting to offer that value, so it will just take time.
Consumers often still find themselves in a scenario where what they want to purchase isn’t necessarily ethical. How do you deal with this issue and what would you recommend for consumers?
Nothing is perfect or absolute, and it’s much like how you would approach healthy eating. More often you eat healthy, but sometimes you will have that piece of chocolate cake, or that scoop of ice cream. If you like something and want to buy it, buy it but make sure you look after it so you can wear it over and over again and minimize the impact of that garment. It comes down to the 80/20 rule, really.
Do you think luxury brands should lead the way with sustainability versus fast-fashion brands?
It should be all of them, but luxury often leads the way because they are aspirational brands, making it easier for them to have a say in which way the world will travel next. Other brands will then generally copy the behaviour of these fashion brands.
What types of tasks and activities are typical in a workday for you?
That varies quite a lot! It’s a combination; first, I go running or go to the gym, then to the office or to a meeting. Same as everybody else. I travel a lot for work and I work hard toward my goals, but I also try to have a work-life balance of some sort. I think that balance is important, whatever way it turns out to be.
Do you enjoy what you do?
Of course! I love what I do.
Who or what is providing you with inspiration right now?
To be honest, it’s the people I know, like some of my good friends or other people around me. These people are incredibly hard-working, that manage to have a family and work tasks and juggle many other things on top of that. They inspire me to keep at it and to try to do a good job. I’m not generally inspired by famous people, because when you start putting people on pedestals it can be really hard to get them down, which can get tricky. So it’s always normal people whose backgrounds I know who inspire me – by how they live and what they do.
What’s your biggest professional achievement so far?
I haven’t achieved them yet! As an entrepreneur you’re always thinking of what you need to do next. I’m always asking myself, how could I have done this better? You have to keep working and trying different things. That’s how I look at everything in life. Once I’ve achieved something I just move on to the next one. For me, it’s more about always staying hungry, and always trying your best.
*This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.