Welcome to my Interview Series! I will be featuring amazing female entrepreneurs & digital influencers that are breaking ground in their space. This week I am featuring Sarah LaFleur Co-founder of MM.LaFleur!
Finding clothes for work can always be a challenge. It was always important to me when I worked in Corporate America to look professional but also retain my own sense of style. A lot of women don't enjoy shopping for work or don't have the time beween work, family and life.
Sarah LaFleur is tackling all of these issues with her professional clothing start-up: MM.LaFleur! MM.LaFleur is a wardrobe solution for the professional woman. In this interview, Sarah is sharing what inspired her journey as a female founder, how she combats imposter syndrome and built her company.
MM.LaFleur is designed by Co-Founder and Creative Director Miyako Nakamura, the former head designer of Zac Posen and previously designed for Jason Wu. MM.LaFleur has already driven over $70 million dollars in sales and 70% of their customers are repeat buyers!
I had a chance to visit their pop-up store in Seattle and experience their styling session. Their stylist picked out a ton of different work wear styles for me to try. I absolutely loved the quality of the clothing and design.
They have a range of dresses, pants, suits, blazers, knitwear and accessories like shoes and purses. Individual pieces range from $110-$325. One of my favorite parts about MM.LaFleur is that they feature extended sizes. They really think about fashion for all women!
There are multiple ways to shop MM.LaFleur! You can shop online or they have multiple showroom locations around the US you can make personal styling appointments at to shop. Find a location: here! One of my favorite parts of their website is being able to filter to clothing that is machine washable!
M.M. LAFLEUR OFFER:
Sarah is generously offering my readers $50 gift to MM.LaFleur toward your purchase of $250 or more! This is for both new and returning customers and is valid through 12/31/19. Use the code: whitwanders50
Scroll down to read the Interview:
Thank You to Sarah for taking the time to answer all my questions.
WHITxWORK SERIES INTERVIEW
What inspired you to start M.M.LaFleur?
Early on in my career, I was working in management consulting and then in private equity, and buying work clothes that I didn't particularly love or find flattering. When I got home from a long day at the office, the last thing I wanted to do was browse for blazers online. There’s this myth that all women love to shop, which just isn’t the case.
My mother worked in high fashion throughout my childhood. She really opened my eyes to the power of costume and how much wearing the right clothes can not only change the way others see you but the way you feel about yourself each day. At 27, I quit my full time job to start M.M.LaFleur because I wanted to make women’s lives easier. Instead of considering getting dressed for work a chore, I wanted to reframe it as a secret weapon that can transform the way we feel.
How did you team up with Creative Director Miyako Nakamura?
When I started M.M., despite my mother’s background, I knew nothing about the business of fashion and quickly realized that I needed to hire experts. The first person I sought was an experienced designer to help bring my vision to life. I went to a headhunter (actually, I went to five), and most of them shut the door in my face, telling me they had “Calvin Klein on the other line.” But one took a chance on me and introduced me to Miyako, who had just left her job as the Design Director of Zac Posen. I convinced her to work with me by saying: “I don’t know much about fashion, but I’m not stupid. If there’s something I don’t know how to do, I will figure it out.” She became my Co-Founder and Creative Director, and is the best partner I could ask for.
How have you used Social Media to help build your Brand in the digital space?
M.M.LaFleur is a clothing brand, but it’s the community of women we’ve built over the years that really makes us who we are. In 2013, we launched The M Dash, a weekly newsletter featuring everything from career advice and personal profiles to styling tips. We touch on the complexities of dressing for work, but our goal has always been to tell more nuanced, truthful stories that celebrate today’s working woman. She’s not a singular, aspirational figure. She’s a complex, ever-evolving human. We want our content--whether it’s on our M Dash or Instagram feed--to reflect that. The M Dash’s subscriber list has grown to 1 million people, and every day we receive a number of emails expressing pure excitement and support for our featured “Woman of the Week.”
What advice do you have for someone looking to launch their own business or brand?
Starting a business takes much longer than you think. I have interns and MBA students thinking of starting a company and working on it during the summer holidays. Then they might say, ‘It’s not working out, so I’m interviewing for a banking job in the fall.’ You can’t get anything done in three months. Our short attention spans want things immediately, but businesses take time and nurturing. Give yourself at least a couple of years before making any sort of decision to call it quits.
Also, get a side hustle! When I left my private equity job to start M.M.LaFleur and my paycheck stopped coming in, I was terrified. So I started tutoring students for the SATs at night, which covered my expenses and allowed me to spend my daytime hours working on the business. Having a modest income stream meant I could build M.M.LaFleur at my own pace.
Do you ever experience imposter syndrome? How do you deal with that?
Absolutely -- as a female entrepreneur, the system is practically designed to give us imposter syndrome … in 2018, female founders only raised 2% of total VC money invested over the entire year! It’s mind boggling.
I’ve had many moments in my life when I didn’t feel I was smart or good enough. And when you feel that way, you lose confidence in your logic, your ability to reason, to think critically, to be creative. You lose heart. It’s a downward spiral. When this has happened in the past, I’ve been lucky to have mentors in my life who told me, “No Sarah, you’re smart.” When you believe you’re smart, your brain actually works better. You think more clearly. Today, I try to rely on myself to tell myself that. A tip: you need to put in the work to curtail the downward spiral. I think it’s called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in some circles, but you can’t just sit there and whimper when you’re feeling bad about yourself. Tell yourself, “You are smart. You are enough. You must do the thing that you think you cannot do.” (The last one is a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt!) It’s amazing what these three simple sentences can do.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A perfect morning for me starts with cuddling with my pup, Ruggles, a run on the Hudson River, a good cup of coffee, and scanning the news. I tackle big picture thinking and critical emails over breakfast, when my brain is at its best. Then I’ll head into the office and am usually in back-to-back meetings. If I find an extra 15 minutes during the day, I’ll go outside for a quick walk and call my family or friends. I like creating little moments each week to relax and celebrate: winding down with my husband and dog at night, drinks with my executive team every Wednesday, or jazz tunes with my grandmother every Sunday.
How do you define success for your business and clients?
At M.M.LaFleur, we like to say that when women succeed at work, the world is a better place. That’s certainly a lofty mission, but our specific contribution to women’s success is to help them look and feel their best by designing amazing clothes that are beautiful and stylish, but also incredibly easy and convenient. Working women have so many decisions to make and challenges to face on any given day—figuring out what to wear shouldn't be one of them! Did you know the average woman spends 15 more days per year getting ready than men? Can you imagine what you’d do if you had 15 extra days? Success for me is reaching as many working women as we can with our brand and helping our customers get out the door as quickly as possible. I want her to feel like she can conquer the world in her M.M., whatever the day might have in store.
What’s next for M.M.?
We’re looking for ways to reach even more women, both through new collections and ways to shop with us. We’re launching our first concept store, M.M. To Go, in Brookfield Place in NYC this fall, which will offer work essentials, like a blazer for that last minute client meeting, deodorant wipes after a sweaty commute and complimentary rosé starting at (approximately) 4:59pm when you’ve had a rough day. We also just debuted a new fall collection, “Up Up & Away,” that I’m really excited about. It’s our travel-friendly collection, with a packable “origami suit” that folds up into a little pouch!