N:philanthropy's Founder On How She Went from Selling Megamansions to Charitable Fashion

Before founding n:philanthropy in 2014, Yvonne Niami was in the business of building — and styling — spaces. A longtime supporter of Children's Hospital Los Angeles, the entrepreneur tells us that "back in the day, I used to be in real estate development, so I started doing a tithing. Anytime we sold the house we'd give back a big donation or a portion of it to the hospital."

Her charitable fashion label is known for its effortless, deconstructed basics ($58 to $348), like the super-soft Harlow BFF tee (which has been spotted on Ashley Graham, Zoe Saldana, Gal Gadot, and Jessica Biel, to name a few), edgy-casual sweatpants (a favorite among Kate Hudson, Selena Gomez, and Kate Mara), and the Joni sweatshirt (beloved by Lady Gaga). Other women's essentials include jumpsuits, dresses, hoodies, and jackets, and the brand added menswear to its range last year (and swiftly became a staple for Bradley Cooper and Ashton Kutcher, among others). Oh, and pup lovers can get matchy-matchy with their cool canine, too: Also on offer are comfy dog hoodies.

Even cooler than its celebrity fanbase? The L.A.-made brand donates ten percent of net proceeds to support nonprofit organizations like CHLA and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, two causes near and dear to Niami's heart. And last month, the company joined CHLA's Make March Matter fundraiser and created the Zander tee ($98) with all proceeds benefitting the campaign.

N:philanthropy came as Niami was closing a major chapter in her life: "I feel like it's such a distant past now. I got divorced, and I started in philanthropy a little over five years — so a lot happened at the same time," she explains. "I'm not part of real estate development anymore, but it's definitely something that I did for years, especially the interior design, which translates into fashion and aesthetics," she says. (She was previously married to movie producer-turned-megamansion developer Nile Niami.)

"I love fashion. It's more fun than real estate development," she says. "I love that it's glamorous, but then we have that give back [element] that makes us very grounded and it makes us very driven to work hard for a purpose."

We recently stopped by N:philanthropy's chic offices in Koreatown to get to know the story behind the do-gooder label. After taking in breathtaking views of L.A. from the brand's 18th floor space (which was stunning despite the gray skies and spring showers) and discovering that Niami also founded a charitable tequila brand, we sat down the entrepreneur to chat about how her brand's evolution, her strategy for getting A-lister support, what she's got planned for N:philanthropy in the future, and more.

Read on and scroll through the gallery below to see more inside the L.A.-based line's stylish H.Q., then shop the label online here.

First, how did you get into the world of philanthropy?

My best friend was a nurse at Children's Hospital L.A. She started inviting me to events almost 16 years ago now and I started seeing what some of these kids were dealing with, all types of different cancers that and that there were in the hospital for weeks, months at a time. And my friend being a nurse, she's just like, come and see it, and if you want to support it and want to be part of it, we'd love for you to donate or volunteer time, whatever you can do. That's how I got involved with pediatric cancer research and just I said, I gotta do something.

What inspired you to transition into fashion, and what sparked the idea to create a philanthropic clothing line?

So, I have no experience in fashion other than when I started N:philanthropy a little over five years ago now, but I had an uncle — he passed away sadly — who was in the [fashion] business for 30 years. I grew up around him and he was like an older brother to me. He used to work at J Brand from when it started and he was there for quite a few years, and I used to go visit him for lunch in Downtown at the J Brand offices and I just loved the vibe; the energy.

He used to do [everything] from pattern-making to designing, so I used to see the whole process as a kid. I was like, Okay, I really love fashion. I've got to do something in this space. It's just too much fun. But I also love philanthropy. I'm a philanthropist; I have been for much longer than I've had the fashion brand.

So I said, Okay, is there a way to put these two together somehow? So we started N:philanthropy and it gives back 10 percent of net proceeds, where a lot of brands will do one or half a percent.

This touching gift was made for Niami by pediatric patients at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. She keeps it on display at her Koreatown office as a daily reminder of N:philanthropy's charitable mission.

We love your office's relaxed vibes. What else can you tell us about what it's like to work here?

We're very dog-friendly here. Today's light on dogs; we usually have a good three to four running around. We're big [supporters of] rescue. We always say rescue a dog, adopt, don't buy a dog [from a breeder.] All the dogs are rescues in the office as well.

How has the brand evolved since you founded it five years ago, and what have you learned along the way?

I'll be super honest. Our very first collection was very different from what it is now. The first six months of the brand was pretty rough. We had a designer that worked for us in the very, very beginning [and] it just didn't work out; their view on fashion was just different from mine and from the team. [After they] exited, I hired on a new design team and that's when everything kicked into motion. It's been smooth sailing ever since.

You have to have the team that works with you that has the same vision. It's such a creative business that you have to work together to make it move forward.

We've spotted some famous names in N:philanthropy. Who are a few people that you were most excited to see wearing the brand?

I think I was pretty star-struck when Selena Gomez wore our sweat pants and our tee and Lady Gaga [wore] our sweatshirt. Those two have been probably my favorites. We all love Justin Bieber and he wore the men's hoodie, and Bradley Cooper wore the men's line; he's really hot right now and all the girls in the office, we all love him.

We're really lucky and blessed that we've had such a big celebrity following and we haven't paid for anyone. It's never been a pay to play; it's been organic through our PR companies and just gifting [people] product and seeing if they like it and the message behind it — and they do. We've been really fortunate enough to get some really cool celebrities [who] have a big heart and love the brand.

Viva 32 on display at N:philanthropy's L.A. office.

You also founded a philanthropic tequila brand, Viva 32! Can you tell us more about that?

I'm Mexican-American; both my parents are from Mexico and they came to Los Angeles when they were in their teens and actually met here. Growing up, they would always bring out tequila for Thanksgiving or Christmas or a birthday party — it was like an Italian family bringing out red wine to celebrate. I never liked it growing up because my parents kind of didn't have a big budget to spend, so the tequilas weren't very high-end; they kind of burned your throat when you drank them. So I always kind of shied away from them. And then as I got older I realized that there sipping tequilas that are out there and sipping tequilas are completely different from the $15 bottle.

So there's a whole other world [of tequilas] but it's expensive. They're usually $100 to $300 for a bottle of sipping tequila and it's a hundred percent Blue Weber agave [which is the only agave that can be used in making tequila] and it's just a more expensive product. So I went down to the distilleries in Mexico and found [one] that I really, really love and we started working together. I created the profiles, which is the taste of each of the tequilas. We have three now: we have a Joven, a Reposada, and an Extra Añejo. We might be adding a fourth this summer.

The best part is that it's a sipping tequila without the price tag. So it's $39 per bottle, which is unheard of for a sipping tequila.

Back to n:philanthropy: What are your plans for the future of the brand? And do you think you'll ever open brick-and-mortar stores?

We would love N:philanthropy to be global. Right now we've just been focusing on the U.S. market and just making it as strong as we can here. We just started to sell in Canada and Australia, and we would love to just keep growing because I think philanthropy needs to be global and not just in the U.S. That's definitely something we're going to focus on in the next couple of years as well.

I would love to do kids and accessories. I think philanthropy can lend itself to anything really. The next step would be to is maybe to open a couple of retail stores. We want to do the first one in Soho or somewhere in New York and then the next one would be Los Angeles [so we'll be] bicoastal.
[In L.A.] I really like Robertson. I love anywhere really in West Hollywood; that's where I picture it. So yeah, it's the plan. I think it would be super cool and I can't wait to design it.

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