SAN FRANCISCO — In the tech world, male executives are forgiven for adopting a sartorial uniform of T-shirts, hoodies and jeans, but what do the women wear?
It was a quandary that Sali Christeson solved with a blazer in place of the ubiquitous casualwear while she worked as a manager of cloud services at Cisco Systems here. But, she said, she knew there had to be a better way.
So, as Silicon Valley has bred its denizens to do, she started a company to solve that “pain point.” Enter Argent, a clothing brand that’s as much a literal meeting of the minds as it is a conceptual one.
Christeson, as chief executive officer, is still based in the belly of the beast — the San Francisco Bay Area — while she tapped Eleanor Turner as the company’s New York-based chief creative officer.
The result is a collection of tailored, professional layering pieces that match the powerful ethos of the female executives for whom “leaning in” is both a concept ignited by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and a professional parlor game.
“The women we know who crush their careers are bold and powerful,” said Turner, who described a stark contrast between that and the “wispy, romantic” offerings from many go-to brands for work apparel. “It was not only an opportunity to innovate the clothing, but to speak differently in our branding, to have a different attitude and approach to it,” Turner said.
Turner, a designer, had spent time at brands like Tory Burch, J. Crew and Tommy Hilfiger. The founders reached out to Hilfiger, who has since become an adviser to the brand. Christeson said he understood the concept “within two minutes” of talking about it, before even seeing samples.
“As busy as he is, he’s been quite incredible,” Christeson said. “He just gets it.”
For Turner, it took a little convincing.
“When Sali and I first started talking about this, she came to me and said she wanted to start a women’s line of work apparel, and I thought, ‘gross — how boring,’” Turner said. “’Workwear’ is a dirty word in fashion.” It wasn’t until the two went shopping together in San Francisco that Turner became excited about the concept.
“I was horrified,” she said, “because the sales associates didn’t even ask you what you did,” Turner said. “They reached for the nearest gray suit and aged you 30 years in the process.”
The Argent mix emphasizes cropped pantsuits, with details designed for the modern workplace, including pockets for cell phones and headphones, and loops for I.D. badges. A blazer and trouser are made with Coolmax bi-stretch suiting fabric. Prices are comparable to competitors such as J. Crew and Banana Republic; an Argent T-shirt is $52 and the Smart Cuff blazer is $330. Turner wants to do a biannual collection.
Argent has attracted high-powered local bigwigs to be advocates for the brand. Among them are former Pinterest software engineer (and diversity advocate) Tracy Chou, Hooked founder Prerna Gupta, Google experience designer Brynn Evans and Future Justice Fund founder Kaitlyn Trigger.
The two recognize that not many tech campuses call for a full suit on an average Wednesday, so to that end, they’ve engineered a 1 through 4 ranking system to indicate formality. They’ve linked up with Pinterest to provide styling inspiration.
For now, Argent is sold online and at pop-up events and visits to corporate campuses. Worth noting: Men’s wear brands have made a habit of visiting corporate hubs in the hopes of outfitting their ostensibly male employees with items like bespoke suiting or fitted shirts.
Early events, Christeson said, have garnered and enthusiastic response from female employees. At a recent event in San Francisco, they unveiled a “mobile retail experience” that is well suited for temporary browsing and try-ons. Eventually, she hopes to extend into a brick-and-mortar presence, and to move beyond the Bay Area’s clientele.
“We want to continue to enhance the working woman’s life,” she said of an event that included career coaching. “We want to offer tools that make it easier, and awareness that we’re all going through it together.”