NEW YORK — Empowerment was very much top-of-mind with panelists at Wednesday’s Dress for Success breakfast, but the upside of failure and the need for off-line time also factored into the equation.
Led by NBC’s Erica Hill and at times drawing on their own highs and lows, Norma Kamali, BaubleBar cofounder Daniella Yacobovsky and Equinox’s president Sarah Robb O’Hagan discussed women’s evolving role in the workplace. They also discussed how women are increasingly more interested in wellness and fitness activities as a confidence builder as opposed to looking a certain way.
Kamali is at work on a wellness collection to be unveiled this spring, which is not necessarily beauty. She said her company’s biannual NK University outing includes a three-day-in-a-row fitness challenge, which winds up helping some staffers to exercise on a regular basis. As for how the motivation to be healthy has changed, she said, “Fashion is one of the biggest objectifiers of women and I apologize for that for my industry. I think that we have made women feel that if they’re not thin enough, rich enough or pretty enough, they’re not good enough. And fashion is very different today. And we’re all working very differently because of all you.
“Clothes have to be smart, they have to function for you. We have to take care of them easily so that you don’t have to pay a dry cleaner. You have to have clothes that are going to work for you, to be practical for you and to still be fun,” Kamali said at the Rainbow Room event. “If you’re fit, you’re taking care of yourself emotionally and spiritually, that is the key to looking gorgeous and having a story that is your story and not somebody else’s.”
To encourage people to break free from stereotypes and expectations in order to excel in the workforce, O’Hagan is penning “Extreme You,” a Harper Collins book that will be published next year. “In some of these companies, there is this incredible pressure to fit into the culture that exists. But that is not where innovation comes from. When you bring yourself, everything, the warts and all, the failures — the Sarah-got-fired-twice-before-she-got-to-Gatorade type stories — you have so much more confidence. And you then push a little bit more with the ideas that you bring to the table,” she said. “People get nervous thinking the boss wants me to do this.…The boss wants you to succeed, to drive the business forward.”
While Equinox always has an eye out to acquire start-ups in the health and fitness space, immediate plans include expanding into hotels and investing in its own e-commerce. Yabu Pushelberg is designing its first hotel set for a 2018 opening in Hudson Yards, followed by one in Los Angeles in 2019. O’Hagan, who previously worked at Nike, said Equinox will focus on its 77 shops and e-commerce rather than launch a signature collection. “It’s just such a cluttered landscape right now. There are so many brands that are trying to get at that,” she said. “We think we play a better role in helping to identify which are the good ones, curating the right assortment and selling them in our own retail. E-commerce is something we’re definitely going to look at investing more heavily into.”
Addressing the increasing need to power down, Hill said, “How many times have you opened your inbox and just select everything and press delete?” As a start-up founder, Yacobovsky readily said not thinking about work can be challenging. Even her “very flexible work schedule” allows for the occasional dinner break at 7 p.m. She said, “My mind is 24/7 thinking about BaubleBar. It is not uncommon for me to wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning and say, ‘Oh my God, I have an idea.'”
The same could be said for her co-ceo Amy Jain. “When she gave birth to her first child seven weeks ago, I got a text message from her husband saying she had gone into labor and 45 minutes later I got a text message from Amy about an idea she had had,” said Yacobovsky.
To help employees unwind, the company has a pre-imposed vacation week at the end of December. “We want people to take a break, to power down, be with family, friends and loved ones, to lie on the beach, to go skiing, to just sit in your room and stare at a wall and not be bothered,” she said.
As for avoiding the b-word that sometimes accompanies a women’s success, O’Hagan said, “First of all, I almost had to go to like Competitors Anonymous. I used to be in denial but I finally realized I’m in a competition with myself. It doesn’t occur to me that there are other people around me that I’m competing with. It’s all about what I want to do and how I’m going to get there. I’ve been in the sports industry for so long that I don’t know if that brings out a tomboyish side which may avoid the b-word you are talking about. To me, it’s all about we’re in for the win and the team is in for the win.”