Gurjot New York's CEO and Creative Director talks to TheLadders about her line of luxury women’s business wear and her passion to see women excel in the workplace.
What prompted you to start Gurjot New York?
Our mission is to advance women in the workplace by dressing them impeccably. Back in 2009 when I was thinking about starting a business, the idea of creating the power suit for women really stuck with me. I’d had a great career in management consulting and always struggled with finding the right suit fit and look. Also, I had sewn my whole life, so I felt it would be amazing to raise my personal interest in sewing to a professional level and really have an impact on the lives of women professionals. I went to FIT for a year to learn the industry and make contacts, and in July of 2010 I launched my Custom Collection, followed by a ready-to-wear collection.
One of your goals is to help professional women succeed and excel in the workplace. How does clothing play a role in this success?
Clothing plays two roles in the corporate world: It affects how people think of you, and it impacts how you feel about yourself. We try to have maximum impact on both fronts for our clients. In terms of impressions, we want others to look at our clients and think, "wow, she has it together." For our client, we know when her clothes are made from luxurious materials and fit her perfectly, she is going to feel like a million bucks. And when you feel that way, you can accomplish anything.
During KPMG’s KNOW Fashion Event, “What Suits You?,” you mentioned that women need to create a legacy of helping their protégés “dress the part” for management. Can you elaborate on this concept?
In working with my tailors in New York, I've noticed that men have a natural legacy they can tap into where the boss takes his staff to his own tailor and says, "these guys are managing important clients for me--please clean them up--the first suit is on me." And instantly these men are introduced to the world of tailored suiting and are informally guided by their tailors. It's a wonderful legacy that doesn't exist for corporate women. At Gurjot New York we are creating this legacy by having a safe place (our showroom) where women can come and ask all the questions they have about dressing, share all the challenges they have faced, and come away with clothing that makes them feel confident, polished, and able to achieve anything.
Unfortunately, not all trends surfacing at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week will be appropriate for the workplace. How can professionals incorporate some of these fashion trends into their professional wardrobes without damaging their professional brand?
It is altogether possible to stay on-trend while still looking professional. The key is to know what style of dressing really represents your personal brand, and which pieces you can switch in and out. For example, in our collections the skirts, pants and jackets are staples that are meant to last forever. But each season we add on-trend colors with our silk shells and scarves. A great way for women to incorporate trends is through accessories and use of color. How far you can go with a trend really depends on the industry you are in. My clients in finance tend to stay neutral with their clothing but on-trend with their handbags. My clients in marketing can play a lot more with color and mixing pieces to match a particular trend.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered while starting your own business?
I had been an entrepreneur before (with my own consulting business), so I was comfortable with the idea of being on my own and slowly building something from nothing. I was excited about creating an actual product and selling it, but was new to the business of fashion. It was very different from the consulting world. In fashion few people take a new designer seriously, or really even give you the time of day from anyone you need to grow your business. I found I had to demonstrate credibility and be very tenacious about getting what I needed. The key was to not take no for an answer and just keep showing up. I'm happy to say that today we have very strong supplier relationships.
You’ve reinvented yourself more than once, making the transition from high-powered executive to stay-at-home mom to entrepreneur and fashion designer. What advice would you give to someone who wants to transition to a new field?
I focused on taking baby steps in the direction I wanted to go. I find there are always nay-sayers who question your abilities or qualifications, often because they can't imagine themselves making such a big change. It's also easy to get overwhelmed by the big picture of getting there. It's important to listen to your instinct and pursue your dreams, and be sure to celebrate small victories along the way. Use those touch points as evidence that you have made progress and that you will continue to do so. In the end you'll find that the people who questioned you all fall in line once you are there--so there is no reason to worry about their views to begin with.
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