Nanette Lepore: On Leaving Her Mark

Paradigm Shifters is a series of interviews with a select group of men and women from eclectic walks of life. It will highlight real-life insight on how they have been able to turn weakness into strength. Each interview is the naked truth about breakdowns that inspired breakthroughs. These men and women have experienced internal changes, which make them quintessential Paradigm Shifters.

Everything I have ever done has been focused on this underlying theme of shifting the paradigm because "what we think determines what we feel and what we feel determines what we do." Hence why Seven Bar Foundation and Empowered by You takes lingerie, which has traditionally been seen merely as a tool of seduction, and makes it a tool of empowerment.

I hope after reading these stories you will look at your own situations, struggles and accomplishments through a different lens and, at the very least, be better equipped to change your own paradigm. At the end of the day, we are our own Alchemists turning the silver we were born with into the gold we are destined to become.

Nanette Lepore - American Fashion Designer based in New York

What was it like emerging as a designer in the late 80's and early 90's and how have you seen the industry evolve over the past 20 years?
It was very much an adventure. We had a lot of wonderful days and we had some bad days, but when I look back on it, I was a pioneer in the contemporary market in America. When I started, there were just a handful of designers and so much opportunity. There were so many small factories within the garment center to help you get your work done and so many experts for us to absorb information from. It was a wide-open field. I would call buyers and they would come running down within a day or two. They were so excited for newness in American designers. It was a wonderful time.

What are new challenges you're facing as far as growing the business?
Keeping excitement around the brand and keeping brand integrity. We have a culture to our company that feels like family. We have fun times together. People who wear my clothing come up to me with stories about where they wore my clothes and how meaningful it was to them. My name and brand reminds people of a happy time--their first date, a big party, or a wedding reception. When you have a great memory, you remember what you were wearing, so I've managed to stay with a lot of women in their lives.

You had a daughter at 38. There are superwomen who are able to build their careers and start a family and there are women who can't do it all at once and feel like they have to choose. If given the opportunity, would you do anything differently or do you have any advice that you could give looking back?
Not everyone wants to be a mother, but if that's a desire you have, it's something you have to confront earlier rather than later. I was worried about living in a small apartment and paying tuition for a school. Could I afford a child? I was building a business and working really long hours, so I put off what I should've started no later than 35. I used to tell everyone, you have to start by the time you're 34, because for me I didn't even start trying until I was 37. I had five miscarriages and it was really sad. Everyone just assumes that they're above problems of fertility until you start getting into it and start dealing with it. It can be really disheartening. You can manage more than you think. You manage your time better because you have to. You're forced to allot your time thoughtfully. I was lucky. I was able to bring her to work. I had a lot of conveniences that not every mom has. She was here with me, so even though I was working long hours, I didn't feel a separation.

What type of role model do you aspire to be for your daughter and other young women?
I'd like them to approach things without fear. Don't hold yourself back, follow your dreams, and push forward. The key thing is to have friends, family, and fun with what you're doing. I would love to make sure my daughter has a tight family and knows how to have fun. Even though you're going to work everyday and you work hard you still have to cut out those times in life where your real memories are created. I have always worked really hard, but I've always balanced it with a lot of friends and family around me and I feel really happy doing that. It's warm and welcoming. I like to impress that on young women. You have to balance your expectations within yourself so you don't beat yourself up when things go wrong and you don't get too ahead of yourself when things go well. I always try to balance my expectations so it's realistic.

Has there been a shift in perspective for you in your life?
One big thing was realizing that NYC factories and manufacturing were at risk and taking on the role of raising awareness. We have craftsmen here in New York and we need to protect those factories so we can have American manufacturing by skilled craftsmen. Factories were in need and they didn't have a voice. Factory owners and button suppliers would come into the office and thank me for what myself and my company has done. The paradigm shift I've seen was in the way I see people shop; they're making purposeful purchases that they feel good about.

What kind of legacy do you wish to leave behind?
I want everyone to remember we always had a really good time. I hope people will remember that I made beautiful clothing. I really hope I made a mark in the world of design and I'm remembered for my workmanship and for being someone great to work with and for having a great company culture and for having been able to build a big American business with a $5,000 loan.

What you really take away when talking with Nanette is how much she really cares. The love she puts into everything she does is so apparent its infectious. She has that special ability to leave a positive and lasting impression everywhere she goes. I have been shifted.