Female Stylists and Execs Talk Leadership, Money and Power Dressing

Courtesy of Araya Diaz/What Goes Around Comes Around
Erica Cloud, Tara Swennen and Anine Bing

"Men talk about making money as sport, it’s what they do… We as women have had these amazing things that have happened over the last couple years (#MeToo and momentum around inclusivity and changing the landscape of what corporate America looks like) but that has to be hand in hand with talking about business and money!" says Raina Penchansky, CEO of Digital Brand Architects.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the luxury vintage retailer What Comes Around Goes Around hosted a "power panel" discussion on female leadership at its Beverly Hills outpost this week. Lead by journalist and brand consultant Melissa Magsaysay, the lineup included Hollywood stylists Erica Cloud and Tara Swennen, founder-CEO of La Fleur Bouquets (and former Extreme Makeover producer) Hagar Elaziz, L.A.-based fashion designer Anine Bing, CEO of social influencer marketing agency Digital Brand Architects Raina Penchansky, founder of direct-to-consumer jewelry company The Last Line Shelley Gibbs Sanders, and journalist-turned-fashion consultant Marcy Medina. Here are the takeaways.

On money... 
"Men talk about making money as sport, it’s what they do…We as women have had these amazing things that have happened over the last couple years (#MeToo and momentum around inclusivity and changing the landscape of what corporate America looks like) but that has to be hand in hand with talking about business and money!" says Penchansky, noting that 96 percent of her employees are female. "For me, talking about money always feels a little bit taboo. But I think the biggest barrier for women in business today is not being transparent enough and not having conversations with each other about how do we make money together…Money is the way that the conversation changes because it’s where the power lies."

On motivation...
"For me, it’s always been about making women feel great about themselves," says Swennen, whose clients include Allison Janney and Kristen Stewart. "It’s actually less about fashion for me than it is that."

On empowering other women.. 
"Instead of having somebody do the things that you don’t want to do, it’s [about] teaching them how to do every step along the way so they can eventually be their own boss," says Elaziz, who offers an hour every Friday for employees to come into her office to ask questions and request resources. "My definition of success is putting someone else in the position to be successful."

"Obviously we want to succeed, but fashion is not the most inclusive of businesses and people tend to work out of a place of fear, which drives me crazy," says Swennen. "So for me it really is important to pass on the knowledge…As women, we connect, we nurture, that’s the whole point of it. So ‘lift everyone up with you as you go’ should be everyone’s motto, I hope."

"We all have such networks, so instead of just taking the job, think, ‘Wait, how can I pull in three friends?’" says Medina. "You need a photographer, a producer, a videographer, so I’m going to ask other female friends to do this with me. There’s no reason you can’t all share in a piece of the pie."

On work-life balance...
"There’s no such thing as perfection," says Penchansky. "And I think for any woman out there who is working and has children, I can’t think of anything better than having your child understand your commitment to and passion for something. I think it’s a lot about that communication as opposed to ‘I juggle it all’ because that just doesn’t exist. It’s not real life."

On power dressing...
"As I get older, it’s more about the attitude than the actual garments," says Swennen. "I have no problem running to Bed Bath & Beyond in the grossest athleisure, but I still feel great, because I’ve come to that point in my life where I’m cool with it. For me, I feel my best when I’m comfortable and I’m rocking what I need to wear to get the job done. And that’s come with age and not wanting to wear heels to everything I go to and [being able to] get dirty with my kid and play in the mud."

For Cloud, who works with Kacey Musgraves and Busy Philipps, it’s "having that one go-to piece that makes you feel good —mine is a perfect pair of jeans (vintage Levis) — and lipstick."

"I built my company to create those effortless easy pieces that you can [wear to] drop off your kids and go to a board meeting and go out to dinner with your girlfriends at night," says Bing. "I try to design pieces that women will feel empowered in. So to me, power dressing is about staying true to your own self. I feel my best when I dress in pieces I feel comfortable in, and those might be not be the same pieces for you. For me, it's a blazer, a T-shirt, a pair of jeans and heels."

On best advice... 
"There’s no job that’s too small," says Cloud. "Try to say ‘yes’ as much as you can, because your work ethic is what shows more than what’s on your résumé. I’ve hired people who have no experience but they work really hard. And that’s how I ended up where I am. I'm not going to ask someone to do something that I myself would not do."

"Stay humble," says Swennen. "Keep your work ethic in line. Everything has changed so much with social media. I don’t appreciate young kids who come in and flaunt it all over the place. When you earn it, it’s great. But I don’t need to shout it from the mountaintops that I’ve succeeded. I think it’s more important to just keep on keeping on. The hustle continues. It doesn’t matter if you’re twenty years in, you’re still getting down and dirty in your 40s and 50s."

"Build a good network," notes Bing, who built her business out of a garage into a team of 65 people with ten global stores in seven years. "Be nice to people around you. Help others. They will come back and help you."

Says, Elaziz, "Know your price, know your worth, and stick up for it."