Story by Rachel Schwartzmann – Learn more about Flynn Coleman – Photos by Melissa de Mata
We’ll preface this feature with the following:
San Francisco is lucky to have a local dweller like Flynn Coleman. Flynn is one of those people who hardly needs an introduction – her exuberance and sincere enthusiasm for the world around her is something that truly speaks for itself. We first came across Flynn’s professional story in thanks to her warm introduction to the recently launched online shop Malena – a platform she personally founded to help empower artisans worldwide while simultaneously providing a thoughtfully curated and conscious shopping destination. Having kept in touch we soon after worked together on crafting an interview to learn and share more of the story behind WITNESS – an organization that falls in line with Flynn’s line of work in international human rights law.
Drawing upon these experiences we found ourselves captivated by Flynn’s globally-informed perspective on both life and style. Having previously resided in many major cities across the globe, we were interested to get more of her take on San Francisco, where she currently lives and works. As she put it in our interview below, “San Francisco is a place where people come to be themselves, and I absolutely love that about this city. It’s a place where you can wear what you want, say what you want, love who you want to love and be who you want to be.” Speaking more to this, we’re thrilled to share today’s feature where you’ll find a few local destinations that Flynn frequents and more of her insights on the opportunities San Francisco as both a city and creative community provides for it’s inhabitants. You’ll also get a glimpse into Flynn’s inspirational and ethical personal style. As you dive deeper into San Francisco through Flynn’s eyes, we hope her story and curation of San Francisco piques your interest and opens you up to the rich opportunity that you can cultivate within your own city… and of course, beyond.
Hi! I’m an international human rights attorney,
a mindfulness and creativity teacher, an author, a TEDx speaker, a Huffington Post writer, a former competitive athlete, a social entrepreneur, and a founder and CEO. My background is in innovative approaches to economic empowerment and economic development, behavioral economics, international trade, war crimes, political reconciliation, humanitarian law, and improving access to justice through innovation. My life’s work revolves around the core belief that we are all equally and intrinsically valuable. And everyone deserves to have their basic human rights protected, and to have a life of dignity and agency, with the freedom to make their own choices about their lives. Everyone has a story to tell, and a voice that deserves to be heard, which is one of the foundational concepts of Malena.
I love to wander, adventure, trek, rock climb, explore, and have conversations with people around the world, I also have a huge love affair with books of all kinds, from books on physics and French literature to science fiction, magical surrealism, crime fiction, and fantasy. A dreamy day includes reading a favorite book in a cozy library, café, or park (preferably with a huge mug of Mariage Frères tea). I also love Japanese book binding (book worm alert), anything to do with France, and learning new things. I love spontaneous dance parties, snuggling up around campfires (ideally with s’mores and wine), volunteering, especially with animals, Icelandic music, and anything that involves roller skate dancing or playing soccer. I collect maps (ancient and modern), my favorite scent is gardenia, and feathers are my talisman (I have a feather tattoo on my ribcage). I’m also passionate about innovative and interdisciplinary approaches to education, and I love teaching on these topics.
How does San Francisco encourage creative living and what do you hope to contribute to the city’s landscape both personally and professionally?
San Francisco is one of the most exciting places to work and to live. I have only recently moved here from London, and while I love and miss London and New York (where I was living before that) so much, it’s also wonderful to be back in my home state of California, in San Francisco, one of the most dynamic cities on Earth.
SF has such a vibrant and creative community of makers and doers, world-changers, designers, visionaries. and rebels, and on any given day you hit an early morning dance party, hula hoop through Dolores Park, co-work alongside people building incredible things, go to a talk on the newest technology changing
the world or a cocktail hour to support an amazing cause, eat the most delicious Mexican food in the Mission, catch a breath-taking sunset on the beach, and then hit a fabulous concert or costume party.
I’m excited to be here and to be contributing to the ways we can utilize technology and entrepreneurship to protect human rights, uplift communities, and create positive social impact. I’ll be speaking on the intersection of technology, creativity, social entrepreneurship, and human rights at a law school here next month, and it’s thrilling that organizations here are engaging in this dialogue. I love that people here are willing to innovate, try new things, break a few rules, and put themselves out there in all ways.
San Francisco is a place where people come to be themselves, and I absolutely love that about this city. It’s a place where you can wear what you want, say what you want, love who you want to love and be who you want to be. It’s the birthplace of many proud civil rights moments that have shaped our history, and hopefully a place where we continue to evolve and shape the discussion on civil and human rights, social impact, entrepreneurship, technology, and innovation.
Describe a day-in-the-life of a typical San Franciscan. How has the city’s lifestyle informed your day-to-day?
One of the amazing things about this city, is the day in the life of a typical San Franciscan varies so much. Our city is the epicenter of building new technologies that change the world, which has of course altered the city’s landscape in many ways in recent years especially. There may be a protest on one block and a festival on the next, a delicious restaurant, cool bowling spot, or street food truck park near a beautiful hiking spot or an urban soccer pitch.
We are a city that has embraced the awesomeness of co-working, and as a big believer in the power of collaboration, teamwork, community, and cross-pollination of ideas, I love co-working, as I love learning from what others are doing in the city, especially in the social impact space. I teach at co-working spaces around the city as well, and there is such a wonderful community of creative souls here in SF. And right around the corner, right across the bridge, we have everything from stunning wineries and incredible hiking, to hidden beaches, surfing, camping, glamping, and exploring galore. It’s glorious.
Talk to us about San Francisco’s creative and small business community – what do you think it offers makers the most that one might not find in other cities?
San Francisco is a haven and a melting pot of creative ideas, and people here are excited about building and investing in new concepts. San Francisco offers an incredible atmosphere of people with vision and drive to innovate and create, and as a result we have a vibrant community of people trying to start new things, and also a history of supporting the freedom to be who we want to be.
In many of the spaces where I teach for example, there are also workshops on topics from textile weaving and perfume making to big data and growth hacking, and all types of ways to get involved with the community of makers here. If you want to make something or try something new, people here get that, and you will find people who will root you on and collaborate with you.
As such, there are tons of gatherings, festivals, and spaces for creative people, start ups, and communities to come together to collaborate and support each other. And it’s exciting that this scene is growing beyond just being a hotbed for technology.
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Address: United States, 1 Dr Carlton B Goodlett Pl, San Francisco, CA 94102
“City Hall is one of my favorite places to be in San Francisco. It’s a magical Beaux-Arts building, in the style of Val-de-Grâce in my other favorite city (Paris), where people are celebrating their most special days, protesting for what they believe it, and holding events, parties, and hearings for causes they are passionate about. It’s the seat of SF government and has the fifth largest dome in the world, which lights up in different colors depending on what is happening in our city and in our world. And the light and enormously high and majestic ceilings in the Rotunda are awe-inspiring. Even while we were there for the shoot, we celebrated with several women’s groups who had won a hearing for their rights, along with dozens of weddings and marriages happening all around us. It was beautiful, and an honor to there for their special moment.”
Shop Flynn’s Look:
I feel like everyone needs to have a vegan faux leather grey asymmetrical leather jacket with metal detailing (one of a kind at a vintage shop). And a great pair (or five) of jeans are a must-have (Mother denim, Similar $242). I love riding boots of all kinds, a staple from my New York and London wardrobe, including these ones from London (made in Spain). My mother made these tassel necklaces, and of course my Malena tote with Ethiopian tibeb textile detailing and a tassel keychain attached (from our exclusive new Malena collection coming soon!), and a scarf that I designed, and that are both made in Ethiopia. The black and white zig zag bracelet is from Malena as well, and was made in Rwanda.
As a social entrepreneur, what would you advise aspiring values-driven entrepreneurs to utilize in their own endeavors?
Remember that you have a unique perspective that matters. Find out what you believe in, find your community and your tribe, find your purpose, and the causes that make you feel alive, and align your decisions and collaborations around these core values. It’s never been a more exciting time to start a project that matters you, and there are more opportunities than ever to be able to do this, in your way. I talk a lot about this in my classes, and I always recommend that people surround themselves with people they admire and believe in, and who believe in them. And once you find what you are passionate about, be willing to start, to try, to fail, and to get up again, and try again. The work of Brené Brown, Dan Pink, Seth Godin, Bryan Stevenson, and Joseph Campbell has been very inspiring for me in this sense.
What is one question you wish people asked you more often?
“Do you want to go dancing in the rain right now?” WHY YES.
Address: 4035 Judah St, San Francisco, CA 94122
“I simply love the curated style of this store, and their outdoor garden space is a sublime secret garden of delights that includes gorgeous raw wood tables, an incredible array of succulents and other cool things like metal watering cans, complete with a gorgeous little greenhouse of plants, cacti, succulents, and even a bizarre and awesome oval rock with a cat painted on it.”
Shop Flynn’s Look:
These are a cozy pair of ripped and cuffed jeans, paired with a flowy tank top and a three quarters length duster sweater in some ombre earth tones to wrap oneself in. I love wearing hats, and this one is made of salvaged and upcycled materials (Yellow 108, Similar $108). These beige booties are super comfy as well, and I completed the look with an upcycled brass and ethically sourced bone lariat from Kenya, from Malena of course, to go with our Malena collection tote and a Malena scarf on hand for breezy sunsets on the beach or dinner and drinks outside.
How do you both celebrate personal style?
I see style is a way to creatively express ourselves, to tell a story of who we are, to celebrate our favorite people and places, treasured gifts we have received, memories we love, pieces that inspire us, and experiences we have had. For example, I love piercings (I have seven in my ears), and I mix rose gold hoop earrings that my mother hand hammered out of rose gold wire for me, with a special rose gold and opal hoop I got as a gift from her, and my favorite rose gold earrings from my dad. For over a decade, I have been carrying my passport in a beloved handmade passport holder I bought while living in Cambodia, one of the greatest experiences of my life. Style is a mélange of what we cherish and what makes us happy, and is really less about what we wear and all about how and why we wear it. For me, it’s also about acknowledging and celebrating the makers of who make what we wear, and their creative expression, joy, dignity, and supporting fundamental rights and fair and dignified livelihoods for the people who make what we wear and use every day.
As someone who has now designed an ethical fashion line, I have a whole new appreciation for every part of the sourcing and design process as well. Having lived most of my life outside of my home state of California, I have also loved collecting inspiration and pieces from all over the world, and having those are reminders of the incredible places and people I have met along the way.
Sidenote: I also highly recommend the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, a book given to me as a housewarming gift when I moved to San Francisco. It’s a beautiful meditation on finding joy in what we surround ourselves with, and letting go of what doesn’t bring us joy, even if it’s been in our closet for a very long time (ahem, that expensive frock you think you should love and wear and have kept in your closet for 13 seasons, but for whatever reason it just doesn’t make you feel happy or beautiful), so that we can make space for what does make us feel joyous, confident, and free. Because ultimately style is about celebrating and expressing who we are, what we love and are passionate about, and about being ourselves and feeling good as we go about the world.
What is one question you wish people asked you more often about life in San Francisco?
It’s critical that we find more ways to support our homeless and most vulnerable populations, and while SF is home to many innovative solutions and dedicated heroes working to provide housing and services to our homeless populations, we need more. So I would love to see more and more of the incredible brilliance and resources that are here, companies and institutions building incredible and world changing ideas, to also focus more on ways to support long time San Francisco residents, and those who live on so little and need our help, right here in our city.
Address: 2 marina blvd san francisco ca 94123
“Fort Mason is a former military base by the water that is now home to myriad events and festivals, conferences and exhibitions that celebrate arts, culture, and the environment. It’s a compound of huge warehouse spaces and beautiful bars and restaurants, including The Interval and Greens, and it has gorgeous views and huge open spaces that host a wonderful array of cultural events in the city. There are always friendly birds wandering the piers, and with views of the Bay, including Alcatraz, it’s always an exciting and beautiful place to be, and one that both preserves the history of the city and also celebrates the incredible creative and innovative spirit of San Francisco and the people who live here.”
Shop Flynn’s Look:
I love a flowing dress with an asymmetrical hem, and this is one of my go-to vintage leather coats in camel, with some brogue detailing and brass hardware. These sandals are incredibly comfy, which is a must for me, since I walk whenever possible (Matisse sandals, Similar $114). And I designed this tote bag, coming out with our new collection, which is made in Ethiopia. I also designed this adobe Maya scarf in Ethiopia, named after the evanescent Maya Angelou, who I think said it all when she said: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” This is our original Malena Collection zig zag bracelet in adobe (Shop it here, $25) made by my amazing friends and partners in Rwanda. And I love these RetroSuperFuture shades (Similar $165.12). They look just like the ones my parents first rocked in the 80s, that are now back in style, and I actually found this pair on the street. Jackpot!
How would you describe the collective personal style in San Francisco and how has it influenced your (individual) approach to your work?
The collective personal style in SF is awesome and almost impossible to describe as a whole. I may see a man wearing only a pink glitter tutu, and then a glowing bride coming down the steps of City Hall, a businessman in a suit, and group of friends in hoodies and jeans, all on the same block. There is a solid vintage vibe here too, matched with a lot of festival wear, since there is an awesome fair or cool event going on pretty much every day here.
California celebrates a zest for life, nature, being outdoors, the beach, and a more relaxed style than other cities, but San Francisco is also an uber-urban environment, so it’s a true mix, and you can basically wear whatever you want here and you wouldn’t surprise anyone, and that’s the beauty of it all. In SF, you are free to be you. And on certain days and festivals that can include a lot of glitter, and so I like to keep a glittery rainbow unicorn style bonnet and a glittery pair of “LOVE” heart sunglasses on hand just in case a party breaks out or I’m needing a disco roller skate dancing fix. (true story).
The Style Line was built on the premise of discovery, exploration and transit. With this in mind, if what is your “the style line” in your wardrobe?
I’m a lifelong wanderluster, and wandering and adventuring in different places is one of the great joys of my life. I am also a total francophile, and used to live in Paris, my happy place, and I love how people there treasure a few classic and gorgeous pieces, and wear them for ages. So having those timeless staples you can always throw on is a great way to celebrate makers and beautiful design, and a way to always have a classic go-to article of clothing to wear and feel fabulous in, and who knows, perhaps also hand down as a family heirloom, or give to a friend one day.
As someone who loves to walk everywhere I can, I also adore looks that I can walk all day in, from day to night, So I’m a big fan of a beautiful yet super comfortable shoe, paired with layers, a hat for windy, cold, or sunny days, a pair of sunglasses, a classic piece of jewelry, and of course a Malena scarf that I always have in my purse. That way I’m ready for anything that comes my way, from saying yes to a last minute meeting or an impromptu dance party, a bonfire on the beach or a meandering hike to see an awe-inspiring sunset.
Address: 680 point lobos ave san francisco ca 94121
“Sutro Baths is one of my favorite spots in all of SF. It was a swimming pool complex in the 19th century, and is now a stunning and mysterious layout of outdoor ruins with the most spectacular beach sunset view in the city. The birds fly out and perch on the rocks jutting out of the ocean as the sun fades to pastels, and you can walk along the ruins and nearby beach and cliffs, and watch the birds fly overhead while the sun sets in a miraculous display of color. I feel most at home near the ocean, and love to feel the vastness of it all, and Sutro Baths is such a magical place at the edge of our miraculous city.”
Shop Flynn’s Look:
I spend a lot of time in maxi dresses, and this drapey red number was a gift from a friend (Catherine Malandrino, Similar $41.98). It’s super comfortable and also low cut enough to see the feather tattoo on my ribcage, so that’s quite fun, as I am not often in outfits where you can see that tattoo. And I love the Aztec pattern and coloring of my favorite cozy beach towel, a must have in case an impromptu beach picnic, music festival, or star gaze is in order (Pendelton, Similar $169). And the natural colored zig zag bracelet is from Malena as well, made in Rwanda, and I got my hamsa necklace on Portobello Road in London.