“Live with purpose. Dress with ease.”
MM.LaFleur is revolutionizing the world of women’s work wear, with their groundbreaking business model and designs based on feedback from real women. Recently featured in the Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine, MM.LaFleur is making a big splash in the world of corporate fashion.
Read on for game changing advice on how to look chic with minimal effort every single day, and to hear about how CEO Sarah LaFleur created a unique business by tapping into a widespread need, neglected by the fashion industry. Also, the MM.LaFleur Pop-up shop is in San Francisco until August 17, 2015!
MM.LaFleur: the details
Boasting designs by the talented Miyako Nakamura (former head designer of Zac Posen), the MM.LaFleur line features dresses, skirts, blouses, knitwear, accessories and jewelry. A selection of items are sent to the customer in a “Bento Box” (see below), which are hand-picked for her based on preferences determined by a few quick questions answered online.
With free shipping both ways, she has four days to try on the items and send back anything she doesn’t love. From there, her stylist stays in touch with her to make occasional recommendations and help her refresh her wardrobe whenever she wishes. MM.LaFleur pieces are available in sizes 0-16 and XS-XL.
How MM.LaFleur is revolutionizing work wear
The design of each piece is perfected based on the fit notes of hundreds of real women, of all shapes and sizes. The shapes are classic and chic, but feature unexpected twists like flattering, angular cap sleeves or a high-low cut on a blouse. Every detail is purposeful, and all items are put through real-world fit tests.
MM.LaFleur‘s pieces take a woman from day to night, and feature high quality fabrics from Italy and Japan that are soft and airy but hold a beautiful shape. The pieces are all ethically produced, and many are machine washable. Genius! Shop all the looks here.
Sarah LaFleur, CEO on personal style and entrepreneurship
Attentive, warm, and exuding an approachable intelligence, CEO Sarah LaFleur is exactly who you would expect to be the force behind this unique brand. Her experience working in finance and consulting, as well as her time spent living and working in both New York and Japan has inspired many elements of MM.LaFleur.
We sat down to discuss everything from how she crafted the concept for MM.LaFleur, to the taking the leap into entrepreneurship.
Inspiration and mission for MM.LaFleur
(Jill) I read that your Mom was an inspiration to you in creating MM.LaFleur, can you tell me more about that?
(Sarah) The aspect of my Mom’s style that I wanted to communicate through MM.LaFleur is that she really cares when it comes to dressing for work. In some ways she looks effortless, but often the most effortless looks are the ones that you’ve put a lot of thought into.
We tend to see women putting time and effort into what they wear out at night or on the weekends, without putting that same energy into their work wardrobe. We wanted MM.LaFleur to tap into the psychology behind what drives women to try when it comes to a night out, and bring that to the workplace. There is nothing superficial about it; looking good makes you feel good, it lifts you and the others around you up. Clothes can do great things for the person who is wearing them.
Having something to throw on is one thing, but what if we could make that piece something they could throw on and feel amazing in every time? I believe clothes are intimately connected with the feeling you have about yourself that day, and the image you’re projecting.
Listening to customers
(Jill) I couldn’t agree more with the instance of putting in effort at night but not for work – I see it too. I think you’ve articulated a very common phenomenon! You mentioned that your designer, Miyako, incorporates customer feedback into the designs. How do you go about collecting the feedback?
(Sarah) Our customers are really vocal about the product and we love it. Some will even type up notes and staple it to their return form! Its standard practice in consumer goods design to get thousands of people to give feedback before a product is released, so it’s surprising this doesn’t happen in fashion. We’re changing that – one of our dresses is named the Lydia 4.0 because it’s on its fourth iteration!
How MM.LaFleur delivers the perfect fit for anyone
(Jill) As I often lament on the blog, I have a distinctly straight shape and often have to tailor my dresses. How do you design your dresses so they can work for any body type?
(Sarah) With the way our dresses are shaped and the fabric that we use, we’re confident that they will fit many different body types. The beauty of the Bento Box, is that once our customer tells us a little bit about her body type, we are positive we can find a MM.LaFleur outfit that works for her.
The Bento completely eliminates the frustration of going into the fitting room with a bunch of dresses and not knowing if any will fit. We tell our customer what to put on that will make her look and feel fabulous, and she doesn’t have to agonize over it.
[It’s true – every single one of their dresses worked for me!]
A personal uniform: how to make great style effortless
(Jill) I seemed to have noticed that women give up on fashion at a certain point in their lives, for different reasons. Sometimes it’s from being busy with work and a family, or even from living in a super casual city like San Francisco. What is your take on counteracting that?
(Sarah) I think it’s all about putting in the time to create a personal uniform. To do this, you need to spend a little time with yourself, or flip through a magazine and think about a few pieces that really define your style. It just takes a bit of effort up front. It’s not just about money or shopping, it’s about using your brain to define your uniform first.
For example, a great fitting colorful shift dress with a black cardigan; if you start collecting items for your closet within that framework, it will take the decision making out of getting dressed in the morning.
[I couldn’t agree with this more. I also recommend being honest with yourself about what body parts you’d like to accentuate, and what colors and patterns make you feel good when choosing your uniform. Check out Wear to Work, written by Sarah and MM.LaFleur editor in chief Tory Hoen for a comprehensive guide to creating a personal uniform.]
Standing out in the workplace
(Jill) How do you think fashion comes into play in the corporate world, especially if you work in a male dominated field like finance?
(Sarah) I think that standing out (in a good way) is beneficial, because it makes people remember you. That said, if you are just starting out and learning, perhaps you don’t want to stand out as much. It might be when your training wheels come off, and it’s your moment to shine that you really want to show your personality with what you wear. It’s a personal choice.
Regardless, in my experience it’s always important to look put-together, I was one of the only women in my company when I worked in finance and taking pride in what I wore was definitely advantageous.
At the same time, not everyone will play by the wardrobe rules but we owe it to each other as women to not judge each other. Just because someone isn’t dressed impeccably it doesn’t mean they aren’t amazing at what they do.
Entrepreneurship: on taking the leap
(Jill) How did you take the leap into entrepreneurship? Did you put tons of research into it, or did you just put the basics in place and go for it?
(Sarah) It was definitely the latter, and even when I was hearing you talk about how you launched your blog [just diving in] I was like, oh she’s an entrepreneur! There are certain industries where that isn’t necessarily the best game plan, but people can only react to things that are in the physical world.
You can present an idea and have people ooh and aw over it, but ultimately true feedback only comes when you are able to produce something. I think the challenges came after. Every single thing needs to be thought about and corrected for after the fact. So I think you just go for it, to quote Nike, just do it.
How the idea for MM.LaFleur materialized
(Jill) Did you come up with this idea when you were working full time?
(Sarah) Yes, I was doing both portfolio work and deal work for the luxury company that my firm purchased; thinking about overall operations, marketing, pricing, and branding. I was like, this is awesome! I want to do my own version of that. Plus, I had this business idea from when I worked in consulting for better clothing for working women. So I decided to take the leap and go for it.
Leaving fear and the corporate world behind
(Jill) Do you think people need to have a lot of money saved up to take the leap and become entrepreneurs?
(Sarah) Not necessarily savings, but definitely a side job. Many corporate women thinking about becoming entrepreneurs have always had a plan, they went to college and got a job out of school, and they have been working on crafting their perfect resume. That was the hardest thing for me to let go of; that thought that if I needed to find another job, I would run into a lot of challenges.
But once I got over that fear I realized there are a lot of ways to make money. I tutored the SAT’s for the first two years that MM.LaFleur was in business. I could spend 9-5 on the business and 5-8 tutoring and I made enough money to cover my bills.
Whether you tutor, bartend, work at Starbucks, go do gigs on Task Rabbit, there are so many ways to make money. We are so lucky to live in an economy that is doing well for the most part, and have those opportunities. Don’t think that just because you spent 5 years in a corporate job, that’s the only path that is available to you. I think that’s it, that’s all you have to secure.
(Jill) It’s definitely a security thing; I think that would be the biggest issue for me too. Thank you Sarah, this has been so inspirational!
[Raising capital and initial investment might require savings, but it depends on the business. You often don’t need much to get started, and you can raise funding after the fact.]
What will you do in your MM?
MM.LaFleur Pop-up Shop: Don’t forget to check it out this weekend!
Dryansky Gallery – 2120 Union Street
San Francisco, CA 94123
Open from 11am-7pm with reservations recommended but not necessary, and refreshments served!
MM.LaFleur New York City showroom:
611 Broadway, suite 405
New York, NY 10012
I also recommend checking out the MM.LaFleur blog, The M Dash for relevant articles for working women:
I love this post on how harnessing creativity outside of work and pursuing pleasure can help us in our professional lives.
Do you have a personal uniform? What is it? I would love to hear in the comments! XOX Jill