We’ve all heard the centuries-old expression, “Clothes make the man.” The white coat makes the doctor, the suit makes the lawyer, and so on. For women especially, studies have shown that personal appearance and grooming are heavily tied to career growth and income. Other research also indicates that, in addition to contributing to a workplace impression that commands respect, dressing the part can also affect one’s self-perception of competence. Better wardrobe, better performance.
Enter a rising crop of female entrepreneurs in fashion who are shaking up stifling dress codes and inspiring fellow professional women to boldly ascend career ladders. Their collections are rooted not in passing fashion trends, but in high-quality, timeless staples designed to inspire confidence.
And with more than 11.3 million women-run businesses generating $1.6 trillion in collective revenue in the U.S., today’s female entrepreneurs are refusing to accept that business is a boy’s club. These clearly capable women want business apparel that reflects their ambition.
The stakes to dress the part are even higher for women pursuing careers in corporate, male-dominated fields, where the odds of achieving leadership positions are long. In 2015, only 1 in 5 board seats at S&P 500 companies were held by women, while the percentage of women CEOs was 4.2 percent, according to a survey done by Catalyst.
To help this rising generation of go-getters shatter glass ceilings across all industries, we’ve partnered with Georg Jensen to spotlight two innovative women, each at the helm of a startup working to empower women to challenge the status quo. Their ammo? Italian wool blazers and sheath dresses.
Bettering The World Through Blazers
Cynthia Salim’s career path began in the buttoned-up world of diplomacy at the United Nations, and in dressing for the job she quickly became frustrated by a lack of high-quality wardrobe options for young women like herself looking to suit up for professional growth. “I always wanted to look as credible and serious as my male colleagues, and I found that it was so rare to find a brand that had that design philosophy for women,” Salim told The Huffington Post.
Salim didn’t just want to dress the part, though. She also wanted her generation to be able to reflect its commitment to sustainability and to helping others lean into career growth of their own. So she took matters into her own hands.
Salim founded Citizen’s Mark around just one product — the blazer — a workplace staple that, when designed for women, Salim felt never measured up to men’s options. Citing a blazer’s ability to add instant gravitas to any outfit, Salim wanted to create a version that could carry women through their entire careers. And she strove to set a new precedent in the fashion industry by committing to a sustainable business model.
Fulfilling these conditions kicked off a two-year design process, in which Salim carefully vetted suppliers for fair working conditions and minimal environmental impact. Finding a family-owned Italian wool mill that purified the water after its dying process was central to creating a sustainable supply chain. Likewise, the blazer’s biodegradable lining is Japanese-made Cupro, a regenerated cellulose fiber made from cotton waste.
Production occurs at a factory in Portugal that pays fair wages and health care to its workers. Buttons are sourced from a female-owned fair-trade enterprise in Nepal. The global perspective of Citizen’s Mark gives professional women a way to reflect not only their bold ambitions, but also their values of social consciousness.
Bringing Personality Back To The Boardroom
Working in the male-dominated world of private equity, Sarah LaFleur ran into a problem similar to Cynthia Salim’s when it came to building LaFleur’s professional wardrobe. “I was shocked at the options that were available to me,” LaFleur told The Huffington Post. “There were generic contemporary brands that were not at all inspiring. The designs were so ho-hum.”
So LaFleur decided to veer from the finance path in order to solve the disconnect she saw between fashion and function in professional clothing. She envisioned a line of dresses, skirts and jackets that would allow women to express their personality in the workplace — instead of the anonymity that often accompanies an ill-fitting pantsuit.
In order to bring a high fashion element to boardroom dressing, LaFleur teamed up with luxury designer Miyako Nakamura, and together they launched MM.LaFleur in 2013. They vowed to build their brand around better fit, fabric and functionality than what was currently on the market. And, like Salim, LaFleur would source materials from mills paying fair wages to its workers.
“I am my customer and she is me,” said LaFleur, explaining the thought process that guides her product design. That means outfits that empower women to excel in all facets of their lives, as increasingly women today are proving that careers and motherhood aren’t mutually exclusive.
By creating wardrobe staples that won’t wrinkle over the course of a 16-hour day, LaFleur hopes her clothing exhibits the same stamina that female trailblazers bring to their work. Her company’s blog features career profiles of her customers — professors, civil rights lawyers, entrepreneurs and other trailblazers — who are refusing to let others set the limits of their success.
The stories represent a vivid snapshot of the status quo being disrupted by what Cynthia Salim aptly called “the era of the woman on the rise.”
Of her company’s ethos, Sarah LaFleur said, “We’re trying to put the emphasis where it matters” — a statement as much about attention to fit and finish as championing the cause of working women. By creating wardrobe essentials for women to dress in a manner that reflects their boundless potential, both MM.LaFleur and Citizen’s Mark are working to get more women at the conference table, where they can focus on world changing work.
By outfitting women for professional success, LaFleur and Salim are part of a larger global trend of women who are breaking important barriers in their fields. Danish design house Georg Jensen celebrates women who are embracing bold authenticity while paving their own paths to success. Watch award-winning film director Susanne Bier, world champion welterweight boxer Cecilia Brækhus, award-winning comedian Sarah Kendall, professional motocross rider Behnaz Shafiei, and the world’s best female chef Dominique Crenn in the inspiring short film below. Georg Jensen celebrates these inspiring pathbreakers along with women everywhere who believe that “you can never be too much you.”