Although female consumers fuel the fashion industry, they are not often represented in the top-level management of many labels, with a majority of fashion houses being headed by male CEOs. To spotlight the leadership of women in the industry, The Powerhouse Women in Fashion panel held Tuesday evening featured five entrepreneurial women who have defied the odds to become founders and CEOs of their own companies.
Hosted by Fashion@Brown, the panel included Daniella Pierson, who founded The Newsette newsletter for women as a college sophomore. The panel also featured Sandra Campos, CEO of the iconic fashion brand Diane von Furstenberg, and Liz Lange ’88, who created the first fashion-forward maternity brand for women and has styled pregnant celebrities including Reese Witherspon and Cate Blanchette. They were joined by Brittany Lo, CEO and founder of Beautini, and Sterling McDavid, co-CEO and co-founder of Burnett New York.
The theme of the event was “#InCharge,” a movement started by DVF that promotes personal commitment and respecting and trusting one’s own character as the core of one’s strength. “It’s not about being in charge of people, it’s about being in charge of yourself,” Campos said. “It’s about being in charge of your decisions, your role and how you support other women.”
The five panelists discussed their own career paths and the leadership, ambition and mental strength that helped them ascend to their current positions as powerful women in the fashion industry. Campos said that “I always worked for men. I always had male CEOs, and I never thought it was a problem (because) I was always trying to compete with them” and aspire to reach their position.
McDavid, who started her career on as the only woman on a 15-person team at Goldman Sachs, said that she originally felt she needed to “be like the guys” in order to have success in the workplace. Ultimately, McDavid realized that “one of the best things I could do to inspire and empower other women is to go off and do my own thing and show them that I can do it.”
The panel also discussed the evolution and changes of the fashion industry in the last 20 years. Campos said that the biggest game changers in recent years have been technology and social media. “Ten years ago there was no Instagram. There wasn’t such an influx of influencers who really impacted fashion,” she said. “It’s a very evolving business because it’s very subjective” and transforms in response to consumer behavior shifts. Campos added that unlike in the past, consumers today are drawn to authentic companies with real purposes and missions.
Despite the disruptions from within the fashion landscape over the past two decades, Lange commented that the industry is still very much about delivering “the right” product. “At the end of the day, it’s about clothes that make you feel good and make you feel like you look good,” she said.
Lange also gave her alma mater audience words of advice as budding entrepreneurs. “Before anyone does anything new, nobody thinks it’s a good idea,” she said, encouraging the audience members to trust their entrepreneurial sense to “see the invisible” of what is missing in the market.
To uphold one’s confidence in their brand, Lange also advised the audience to “keep their blinders on” to the noise of competitors.
The panel also addressed students on the brink of graduation who are uncertain about their future career paths. “If you’re thinking about starting your own business, if you don’t feel like you would die if you saw someone else doing something similar, then you know (the business is not for you). If you don’t feel a thousand percent sure, I would strongly encourage you to get experience in other places,” said Lo, who gave up a corporate offer from L’Oreal after graduation to pursue her own beauty company.
Anna Marx ’20 wrote in an email to The Herald that the “witty and endearing” panelists of the event sparked great conversation that empowered women who are interested in entrepreneurship and the fashion industry. However, Marx wrote that the talk could have engaged in deeper discourse on racial, ethnic, body type and class diversity within the industry. “Frankly, the industry is incredibly difficult to tap into if you do not look a certain way or have access to an elite network and wealth,” she wrote. “This is a topic that seems relevant to a discussion on gender diversity in fashion but was never mentioned during this panel.”