As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Laverne Delgado, a passionate activist, speaker, artist, and Executive Director of Freedom and Fashion. She is an alumnus of The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and has spent many years working in the fashion & beauty industry, with her experience encompassing everything from mass production to couture for the runway. Beyond fashion, Laverne has a love for young people overcoming human trafficking and other injustices and has built her life around serving them with her talents and resources. With her vast experience in working with survivors of abuse, single mothers, conquerors of injustice, and the LGBTQIA+ Community, Laverne’s track record upholds her connection to the human spirit and empowering one’s greatness. Throughout the years, Laverne has led many teams and activated generosity in thousands of people, which has led to providing resources to people in need around the world. She currently lives in Los Angeles.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. I know that you are a very busy person. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you grew up?
I was born in the country, grew up in the inner city, and later planted my own roots in Los Angeles. I was able to experience various cultures and demographics at a young age. I didn’t know it at the time but this gave a unique perspective and ability to authentically relate to so many different people. This still serves me in my day to day life, on and off the field.
What were your early inspirations that set you off on your particular journey?
I’ve always been a spiritual person. As a little girl, I remember being very curious and longing to connect with something deeper than what we see. Later I learned about Mary Magdalene and her power as a healer. I resonated with her love for people and desire to help those around her. She has been a constant source of inspiration and power for me.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I didn’t find it funny at the time, but now I laugh at the younger me who thought she can keep it all together all of the time. I became an executive director rather young and wore many burdens that were not mine. This was my ego working against me. Since then, I’ve been able to identify my egoic drivers to help me better serve without compromising my health and the sustainability of my leadership.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I remember getting a donation pledge from the founder of one of the biggest fashion companies out there. She promised to send 2 of our girls to college as long as they passed their interviews. Our girls went through the entire process and were eager to start school and their new lives. Long story short, the donor disappeared and left our girls and me devastated. I was depressed for months. Luckily we were able to connect them with other internships and they’re now doing well, but at the time, I was beyond discouraged. How could someone with some much resource promise and then turn their back on these young women in such need? I still don’t understand why but I was able to do the self development work to accept and learn from the situation. I’m confident when I say that that will never happen to us again.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Everyday, I get to work with survivors of sex trafficking and other abuse, many who went through their trauma before they can legally drive. Seeing them fight for their freedom in the classroom inspires me to push through any barrier set to hold me back. If they can do it at 12, I can do it at 32.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Grit is not separate from success, it’s a fiber of it. It’s inevitable and once I made friends with it, when it showed up, I was able to embrace it. Think of it as that video game you played growing up. With every level came a different boss. It’s almost expected that you’ll fall a few times and the real goal is not to do it without error…it’s to simply beat the boss to advance to the next level. If things don’t get hard, you’re cutting yourself short. This “grit” helps us know we’re actually growing, rather than “fighting a boss” that we’ve already killed a few times.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We have a very resilient team. Almost each one of us is a survivor of abuse and injustice. This gives us the necessary relentlessness needed to serve the survivors in our programs.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Awareness is the first step. Do the self discovery work to identify whether you are thriving or approaching burn out.
More often than not, we are unable to do this ourselves because of the patterns that live in our blindspots. Hiring a coach really helps with this. We all need support when it comes to learning about ourselves and our habits. The sooner we invite trusted individuals into our process, the sooner we can identify, use, or move whatever is “on our table” that is contributing to burn out or us thriving.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I take great pleasure in using any platform I’m given to share our survivor’s stories. They are by far some of the most powerful and resilient people on earth and the world needs their stories of hope.
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
-Identify your wins, big or small, and celebrate them constantly. The world is not waiting to clap for you, but chances are if you’re reading this, you’re doing some hard things that most don’t see. Share them with your team and let them celebrate with you. This example can help transform your work cultures for the better.
-Hire a coach. Use your own resources to invest in yourself. This creates and solidifies the narrative you’ve adopted about your value, worth, and potential.
-Identify the different communication styles. We all have our own ways of communicating and rarely do two people communicate in the same way. This knowledge will help you better serve your team and save time.
-Learn the power of subliminal messaging. It’s not always (in fact, hardly) about what you say. Training will help you learn to develop your tone and posture in conversations.
-Agreements < Expectations. Without training, most of us live in a world of unspoken expectations but healthy teams do the work needed to identify their needs and invite their partners into agreements regarding those needs.
Awareness, invitations, and accountability are needed in order for teams to execute powerfully.
Now that you have gained this experience and knowledge, has it affected or changed your personal leadership philosophy and style? How have these changes affected your company?
I now live my life entirely based on agreements rather than expectations. This has impacted all of my relationships in the best of ways, whether business or personal. People in my life feel valued and I have healthy boundaries. This empowers me to love and be loved well.
This series is called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me”. This has the implicit assumption that had you known something, you might have acted differently. But from your current vantage point, do you feel that knowing alone would have been enough, or do you feel that ultimately you can only learn from experience? I think that learning from mistakes is the best way, perhaps the only way, to truly absorb and integrate abstract information. What do you think about this idea? Can you explain?
Experience and exposure are key. I’m convinced in order for knowledge to truly be adopted as ways of being, we need a playground to practice what we learn. This enables us to develop and use the knowledge as a tool.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Celebration station, baby! There’s something to celebrate, every single day. It’s easy for us, especially in a pandemic, to quickly acknowledge what we lack, our failures, etc. Most of us were not trained to notice or celebrate our victories, let alone be the first to do so. Authentically empowered people do this daily and invite their teams, families, etc. to do the same.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Instagram: @loveverne , @freedomandfashion