“Crack the code. Take the stage. Rewrite the rules.”

Inspirational text adorns the walls of MMLaFleur’s Upper West Side showroom, overlooking light-washed wood floors, warmly lit sofas and coffee tables (full of reading material) and, of course, wrap dresses from the womenswear label’s latest collection and twill pants. They were also the beginning of the motto for the interior of the “Bento Box”, putting MMLaFleur on the fashion map for working women.

CEO and founder Sarah LaFleur launched the company in 2013, hoping to appeal to busy women who are struggling to present themselves in some way and gain credibility among their peers. “Clothing is a very, very powerful way not only to let others see you in that light, but to make yourself see yourself in that light,” she says. wealth. “The feeling of wearing something—you’re unstoppable. That’s a lot of what I want to convey.”

In 2014, she launched what many online retail startups targeting millennials were doing at the time — a subscription service. The Bento Box is designed to act as a professional shopper for busy women, with five coordinated items tailored to each customer based on a questionnaire they fill out.Although it has since been discontinued, it helped them eventually take off – and by 2016, the company was picking up the pace to introduce $30 million in revenue The company began opening brick-and-mortar stores in New York and San Francisco.

MMLaFleur’s showroom on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Supplied by MMLaFleur

But the pandemic has proven to be a rough ride for a brand that caters to the working woman who, like so many businesses, is now facing work from the couch in loungewear.company implement layoffs (twice) and close the shop.Sales fell more than 50% in 2020, company rep says wealth.

But on its 10th anniversary, the brand is slowly getting back on track. The company claimed it had achieved significant growth in the last fiscal year, but declined to provide specific figures because it is privately held. The company said its growth target for this year is 35%. LaFleur said it was an “existent moment” for the company. After a brief, unsuccessful attempt at sweatpants, she has an influential business lesson – “stick to what you know”She’s found her way back with a mix of casual and classic business attire, and the concept of “mullet dressing,” as she puts it, has invaded the workplace.

Turn and collaborate to realize the vision

In her twenties, as a consultant to Bain & Company, LaFleur felt a “huge shift”: After years of feeling insecure, she finally realized her strengths, which gave her the courage to pursue entrepreneurship. confidence. She quit her job at 28 and launched her label two years later with her own money (she later raised funds from friends and family).

But Lafleur, 39, had no previous curiosity in fashion design, and was more interested in leadership and empowerment. All she really cares about is presenting herself professionally and gaining credibility – and fashion is just one way to do that.The “poorly cut, ill-fitting clothes” she used to wear didn’t make her feel powerful, and she Written for M-DashMMLaFleur’s online magazine, adds that her real drive to start her label was “to eliminate ill-fitting suits once and for all and create a collection of beautiful and professional dresses.”

Luckily, a headhunter introduced her to Miyako Nakamura, who studied fashion design in college and worked with designers like Zac Posen and Jason Wu. freelance. “Sarah has a background in finance and doesn’t know many people in the (fashion) industry,” Nakamura said Tell Marie Claire 2020. “I remember the headhunter saying, ‘You’re going to really love this woman, you’re going to hit it off.'”

She quickly became the brand co-founder and chief creative officer LaFleur needed, making her the “mastermind” of the brand’s aesthetics, tailoring and presentation—focusing on office function rather than high fashion art. “[Nakamura]sees fashion as an art form; I see it as a means to an end, a tool,” says Lafleur.

At that time, few fabric companies were willing to cooperate with young fashion companies, and they lean on Nakamura’s industry contacts. In the summer of 2012, they tested the market with a pre-release collection they called “Seven Perfect Workwear.” By December of that year, they had kicked off the competition, selling ten garments from their first collection directly to consumers.

In the years since, they’ve grown from their “Bento Box” subscription service, which was discontinued in 2019, to monthly curated capsules, each filled with an “inspiring woman” community partner. Their pieces average $325 each and range from WonderTex dresses (made from recycled water bottles) to sharkskin skirts. LaFleur Earns Record High February 2020 Earnings Tell Axios. Then comes the hardest part.

Rebuilding “Power Leisure”

When the pandemic hit and workwear was the last thing on people’s minds, Lafleur and Nakamura, and their entire industry, ground to a halt.In the dark days before a 2020 vaccine, McKinsey expected Profits across the fashion industry are set to drop 93% year-over-year, and to hell with sales of sweatpants.

MMLaFleur put together a small investment round June 2020. But things remain uncertain. Lafleur had to close all stores and showrooms and lay off all store employees. Sales in 2021 are similarly lackluster, which means more layoffs and an even more dire rethinking of what brands mean and value.

“I was trying to think about what is the purpose of MM LaFleur and will it flourish if what we were doing was primarily dressing women who went to the office,” LaFleur says, who was trying to reinvent the brand identity she’d honed while also caring for three newborns. “We really realized our business wasn’t creating professional clothing. Our job was to dress.”

“Working women are our customers,” she added. “So our clothing may change, our product may change, but our customers won’t.”

Once a vaccine becomes widely available, consumers will return to store shelves in droves. A company spokesperson previously said that total monthly office clothing searches on shopping app LTK were up 166% compared to October 2020 wealth. But shoppers have changed the way they dress. According to the NPD Group, business casual wear will drop from 42% in 2020 to 37% in 2022, losing share to “casual” workwear, which grew from 32% to 40%, mainly It is an item such as jeans and sneakers.

MMLaFleur’s Upper East Side retail store.

Supplied by MMLaFleur

A hybrid wardrobe was taking shape, and Lafleur found a way to create what was becoming a “power casual” dress code—like slacks and a T-shirt.She sees it as the “new career” dress code, which she defines as one class higher Very Leisure and lower level Business Casual – caters to customers who are unsure how to dress after changing jobs or seeing workplaces become more casual during the pandemic.

An important hallmark of the exterior is its versatility. “If you put on a jacket, you suddenly look like you’re ready to go to work, but if you take it off, you’re probably ready to play with your kids, or go out for a drink with your girlfriend. A glass,” LaFleur explained, acknowledging that some companies are still in the smart smart or smart casual camp.

what will bloom next

Capturing the power of leisure — and her willingness to let go of earlier expectations and assumptions — has proven key to LaFleur’s resurgence. By the end of 2022, the brand’s revenue has recovered to 89% of pre-pandemic levels, Axios The report said. They have reopened some closed stores and are launching new ones, having opened their first hybrid store in Chicago and plan to open another in Boston by the end of the year (four stores and six locations in total, including display room).

The brand also just announced a partnership with the New York Liberty WNBA team, with roadshows planned at every retail store throughout the fall.also on the horizon: Step up efforts to become carbon neutral, donate 10% of annual profits to organizations promoting women’s success, and roll out a comprehensive living wage scheme by the end of the year.

That’s too much to ask for a company that Lafleur fears will fail during the pandemic. But, having learned the hard way, she is unafraid of the challenge. It’s this openness to maintaining a single focus and transition that Lafleur recommends to aspiring entrepreneurs (or anyone considering a major transformation).

“The more invested you are in what you’re doing now, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to figure out if it’s something you want to do, or if you want to go in a different direction and do something else,” she said wealth. Her many early careers—consulting, nonprofits, private equity, and finally fashion—give her the money to say it with confidence. In every role, she says, she “always puts in 120 percent and really tries to see if that’s what I want to do with my life.”

In her showroom, on the drawing board, Lafleur worked to reveal what working women need next, and she found the answer.

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