interview by JANA LETONJA

Mentorpreneur®, APL Managing Partner and fashion entrepreneur NJ Falk is an inspiring force in the fashion industry, shaping the next generation of female leaders by passionately dedicating herself to mentoring and the co-founding The Forward Female, a coaching and creative agency helping women break through barriers and thrive in the competitive fashion landscape. By combining her vast experience with a genuine passion for mentorship, NJ Falk ensures that the voices of women are not just heard but celebrated in the fashion industry. 

NJ, you are a multiple Webby award-winning creative and serial entrepreneur, who focuses on building luxury and emerging fashion brands. Tell us more about your career beginnings and what led you to this path of career?
I’ve had a circuitous and exciting journey in the industry, but it all started with my mother. She was a graduate of Parsons School of Design, was deeply involved in the fashion world, and sparked my innate love of the industry. Starting at an early age, we did everything together, from discussing the history of design and all the collections to studying street style in almost every major fashion capital. 

It was a formative experience and led me to attend the NYU Tisch School so I could expand my skill set and creative horizons. The city is and was my campus, but also provided the conduit to incredible internships every semester and jump started my career working with major fashion and luxury brands first as a film editor and then graduating to executive roles at Lippincott, the preeminent branding firm, American Express in the Merchandise Services division, MGM , Universal Studios and The Wedding Channel. 

It all came full circle when I made the decision to start my entrepreneurial journey as the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of my now sunset Webby award-winning branding, advertising and interactive agency, The UXB, and as the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of my Webby award-winning fashion blog ‘The Blonde and The Brunette’. I was able to immerse myself even more in the fashion world by working closely with brands and designers as a creative and as a journalist, including as an ongoing Forbes Contributor focusing on business and lifestyle advice, before moving on to my current roles at APL and The Forward Female. 

Amongst many things you do, you are the Managing Partner of APL, the luxury performance athletic footwear brand. What made you partner up with APL in particular?
My role as Managing Partner and one of the four APL Founding Partners has been the highlight of my career and entrepreneurial journey. The impetus was the opportunity to work with an incredible team to build and foster a brand and vision we mutually embraced from the very beginning. Those were very exciting days and it all started with our distinct vision to be at the forefront of performance footwear when we introduced our Concept 1 basketball shoe featuring our groundbreaking patented Load N’ Launch® technology, designed to instantly increase vertical leap. As a result, the Concept 1 became the first shoe banned by the NBA for performance enhancement reasons. 

Beginning in June 2014, APL pioneered the luxury performance segment of the athletic footwear market in connection with the launch of our running and training shoe collections for men and women. The combination of APL’s world-class patented technologies and its unique, innovative designs has enabled us to become a globally recognized brand carried in the finest luxury retailers in the world. 

Today, the journey has continued from all our design accolades to our global partnership with the Oracle Red Bull Racing team and the recent opening of our newest flagship store at 75 Prince Street in New York City, reinforcing APL’s commitment to innovative design and exceptional quality in every pair. 

You are the co-founder of The Forward Female, a coaching and creative agency helping women break through barriers and thrive in the competitive fashion landscape. What inspired the creation of the agency and what is its mission?
I started the Forward Female, our coaching and creative agency, with my co-founders Priscilla Presley and Lauren Cheek, who is also one of my former mentees, with a mission to help emerging female entrepreneurs push boundaries while giving them meaningful context, structure and scaffolding to help women build successful businesses and thriving communities. 

The three of us also discussed the importance of giving back by sharing our experiences because it can be life changing when a mentor empowers you to make moves you wouldn’t make on your own. We want others to benefit from what we’ve learned and know they are supported by a strong community. From our deep experiences and our many clients in the fashion industry, we have seen first-hand it can be an especially demanding and complex business, particularly at the beginning stages or when you are leveling up an existing brand. We want to support the fashion community and the ability of emerging designers to build businesses and take charge of the environment around them by providing the skills they need to be successful and competitive. 

How does The Forward Female help ambitious women on their way of building the business of their dreams?
We help women navigate their business goals through our business development coaching programs, full-service creative agency, entrepreneurial community and events. We do this through our highly focused support systems to keep members on track with everything, from our twice weekly accountability Club Class and one-on-one coaching sessions, plus a wide portfolio of creative templates and tools to customized creative support that is specific to each member’s personal and business needs. 

We also offer our monthly community gatherings at coveted locations. They are truly special from panel discussions, Networking Bingo, which is a fun vehicle we created to enable members to meet each other while also incorporating an engaging business quiz, and our annual New Year, New Level event with in depth workshops and one-on-one VIP sessions with me. 

How do you generally use your experience in the industry to inspire women on their entrepreneurial path?
Emerging female entrepreneurs are looking for successful career roadmaps that they can follow and emulate. I try to be very accessible, transparent about what I have learned and share the knowledge and lessons I have gained on my journey. In particular, I counsel my mentees to learn to be great storytellers, to love to sell, embrace change, consistently build their network as it lasts a lifetime, and also be great connectors as it can help facilitate their success. Lastly, I always want to be part of the conversation and give back, so that means I need to be continually growing and learning new skills myself. I hope that inspires others to seek those things for themselves. 

You trademarked your title ‘Mentorpreneur’. What does the title represent and why was it important for you to trademark it?
For me, a mentorpreneur® is an individual who is both an experienced mentor and a serial entrepreneur. The mentee benefits from the successes and failures of someone who has taken the journey and learned the routes, the best direct paths, the potential roadblocks and the critical shortcuts to building a business. Consequentially, a mentor can share their road map in the most meaningful, personal way by giving ongoing, earnest, constructive feedback and specific advice from the perspective of someone who has been in their shoes. It’s someone who is in your corner and operating in a neutral zone, conveying information that is balanced, honest and in your own best interest. 

So much of my work at The Forward Female and in my career has been about the important elements of entrepreneurship and the positive impact of mentorship. It was important to me to combine these two elements into a trademark as a way to communicate what I am doing at The Forward Female in and in my life. 

You’ve also been recognized as a ‘Style Icon’ by Louis Vuitton and one of LA’s ‘Leading Ladies Of Style’ by Angeleno Magazine. How do you make your style stand out and what does fashion represent to you?
I describe my style as Mod meets Morticia chic. Since I have embraced Audrey Hepburn’s philosophy “I just do my own thing”, my looks often reflect an elegant independence embodied by excitement, newness, very contemporary, unique bold, high contrast and graphic choices in my signature black and white style. It’s my way of standing out, but still being true to what works for me. 

For me, fashion is also one of the best forms of self expression. It communicates who you are without words. If you embrace it, fashion can also function as a way to make a statement depending on what you want to communicate or serve as a certain kind of armor in specific work or personal situations. Ultimately, it makes life so much more interesting and engaging. 

You are always looking for the next opportunity to showcase your entrepreneurship. What can we expect next from you? What next projects are you currently working on?
I am excited about all the newness we have coming up in the APL pipeline along with how we are continuing to grow and develop our Forward Female community. But two of my next big moves are to hopefully bring a ‘Poker Power’ session to LA and then start a LA-based women’s poker club. I learned from a session with The DealmakeHers, an exclusive network of leading female dealmakers who are shaping the way consumers shop today, of which I am a member, that poker skills are life skills. By improving our poker skills, you can flip the odds in your favor because the game teaches negotiating skills, strategic thinking, decision making and creates increased confidence enabling women to have more winning hands in life. Simultaneously, I am working on launching my ‘Mentorpreneur’ podcast that will be focused on practical business and lifestyle advice and coaching. 

When you are not working, how do you like to spend your free time?
It’s probably not a surprise, but I have a very active, sporty lifestyle and APL is an integral part of it. I am a runner as it’s one of my favorite ways to decompress. You can often find me on my favorite trails in the Hollywood Hills while enjoying my ever-evolving playlist. I also do weight training, at least three days a week, along with walking at least a mile a day in the flats of Beverly Hills or the streets of New York City. My other passions are traveling, swimming, skiing, and frequent fashion week attendance, as there is so much inspiration and camaraderie within the fashion community.

photography by OWEN KOLASINSKI