Game Changer Lauren Santo Domingo

Every issue, GRAZIA USA highlights Game Changers, who inspire, educate, and celebrate individuality, beauty, and style. Meet style icon and Moda Operandi founder Lauren Santo Domingo who shares what’s next.

In my journey through fashion, my business choices have always reflected what my needs are as a consumer, a shopper, and as a lover of fashion. How I approach business decisions is: How would I want to see these problems solved? Or, what type of access as a customer do I want to have?

When I was a young editor at Vogue, I would attend fashion shows, and when I would go to designer studios, I would have access to the entire fashion collection. I could make a personal order straight from the designers’ showrooms. But I realized as I went about my life that most women didn’t have this access. All they were seeing was whatever would be on the shop rails in front of them. To me, they weren’t seeing the best that was out there.

At the same time, I saw that these young designers also wanted to have a direct line of communication with customers. They wanted to know: What is a woman buying? What’s resonating with her as it goes down the runway? When we set out with Moda Operandi, it was really about giving access to women to discover fashion; and then, giving designers a platform to reach their customers. That ecosystem was really healthy.

What occurred to me later on is that the preorder part of our business really allows designers to see what customers are responding to, and it allows them to tailor their collections. At the end of the season, there’s a lot less marked down, and there’s a lot less waste. It creates a much healthier ecosystem. In 2010, that environmental impact was not something that I was even thinking of.

Now more than ever, I’m happy that I’m able to focus on those young designers and to help keep their businesses going strong. I’ve come of age in the fashion industry, and what really stuck out to me in the last several months was the sense of community that we all have, from designers to models, to production assistants and everyone else in this world of fashion. We all came together to support one another, to be there for one another, and to advocate for one another. I was really touched by that sense of community that we all have and share. It’s a really special industry full of really special people.

In addition, the movement for social justice—and how seriously this industry is taking that—has made me really proud of our industry. There’s an expectation of all business leaders in all industries to have a new sense of awareness and priorities. It’s something that not only am I really passionate about, but it’s something that’s expected. Our customers expect that. Our employees expect that. Our designer community expects that. I’m really proud to be a part of an industry that values that and is taking this moment seriously—not hiding from it—and really doing whatever we can. For example, we signed the 15 percent pledge (to stock 15 percent products by Black designers).

It’s just where my values are. I think that’s part of what also makes Moda special: that we’re made up of associates and designers and this community, but as a founder, I’m still involved in the business. We aren’t just sort of a headless machine spitting out fashion algorithms of, you know, “what’s most liked near you.” We really try to keep it personal and we’re able to keep it really high-touch. I want the experience on Moda to always be that way, where you feel part of this fashion community. What we do for these designers is important. We’re all really connected to one another, and shopping in that way is not transactional. I think that’s what really dawned on me during COVID-19, is that these relationships were really, really real, and really valuable. It was brutal, but it’s behind us. We’re more aware of how connected we are.

If you had asked me in the beginning of COVID, I would have said that we were going to emerge from quarantine as a much more casual species. And while we are never going to give up our loose clothing, now at the end of it, I have a completely different perspective. Some of our best-selling items are crystal shoes and crystal bags, nonexistent crop tops and minis, crystal encrusted and bright pink neon. Everyone’s really ready to party. I’m definitely seeing a lot of glamour.

-As told to Melissa Cronin.