A professed fashion lover, Kristi Henderson, director of special projects and partnerships at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, is also a cofounder of the Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network.
Henderson relocated to Los Angeles in April and telecommutes to Planned Parenthood’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C., and media headquarters in New York. Earlier she worked out of both those offices. “With every project and campaign I worked on, I kind of lived in the cloud,” said the 40-year-old Henderson. “I spent so much time in L.A. with the entertainment and influencer work, it didn’t make sense to incur the expense of living in New York.”
Henderson has been with Planned Parenthood for five years in a full-time capacity. She is responsible for celebrity and influencer engagement, specifically as it relates to communities of color and young people. She also works with brand partnerships, such as those with BET, American Black Film Festival and Essence Festival.
WWD: How do you dress now for work versus 10-15 years ago?
Kristi Henderson: I started with Weber Shandwick, a huge PR firm in New York, and clients were Microsoft, American Airlines and Ocean Spray. Not to date myself, that was the time of full suit and stockings and typically heels all the time. Moving through the entertainment and nonprofit sector, it’s really transitioned and I’m most comfortable in jeans and a blazer and some really cute shoes that could range between really cute sneakers that were hot or heels that were hot. Oftentimes, the shoe choice depends on what my external meetings look like. Internally, we’re pretty comfortable, but still trying to bring in a bit of personality and pizzazz at the same time. If I have an agency or external meeting, I always have heels in my bag to slip into, but I am not a heel girl. I will go into meetings in my cutest pair of heels and the minute you get around the corner or before you hop on the train, I’m in my favorite pair of Gucci sandals or my Rihanna-Puma flip-flops that I am loving.
WWD: Is that typical of the atmosphere at Planned Parenthood?
K.H.: Planned Parenthood not only encourages our patients and providers to show up as their authentic self, our office really reflects that. Some days in New York, I may wear sweatpants and heels and a blazer, and other days, if we’re burning the midnight oil and have rallies the next day, we literally may wear a Planned Parenthood hoodie and a cute pair of jeans that are rolled at the end with a cute pair of sneakers because we’re in the street.
I think I may have shaved one side of my head while I was at Planned Parenthood, with no problems. I think I had red hair, too. It had to be acceptable in a pitch meeting or a partnership meeting or on camera. I bring my best self when I’m the most comfortable in my appearance. Right now I have clear nails that have metallic gold at the end. If I put on a white suit it works really well. I feel you do better work when you’re comfortable and expressive. I’m originally from North Carolina, and if it’s a North Carolina meeting with the NAACP, you don’t get the liberty of coming though in your most glamorous New York self. It’s important to be aware of the environment that you’re in and respectful of the company.
WWD: What’s been the catalyst or catalysts driving changing dress norms in your industry?
K.H.: I think working from home is a huge piece of that puzzle. Technology has come in and made things accessible from everywhere. If we’re doing a Skype call or team meeting over the Internet, I’ll wear a nice shirt and hair and makeup done from the waist up, but I may have my sweatpants on that I wear every day.
WWD: Who or what is the biggest influence on what you put on for work?
K.H.: What makes me feel good. I think it’s less about the name attached to it, or less about the trend that’s sweeping the nation, but that plays into everything we do. I’m moving around all day, whether it’s phone calls to meetings to staffing talent, and I really want to be comfortable but look nice and feel good about myself at the same time.
WWD: Are there any items in your profession that are off limits or should be?
K.H.: Short shorts are definitely off limits. I think the trend of ripped jeans or clothes with holes in them is a tricky situation. I can definitely do ripped jeans with heels and a blazer on a Friday. I don’t know if I would necessarily be comfortable taking that into an external meeting. Of course we don’t do the crop top or the midriff showing.
WWD: How do you shop for work clothes? Is it a pleasure or a chore?
K.H.: It’s a chore. I love online shopping because my time is so limited. Because it’s great to get it to my door and if it doesn’t work I can immediately send it back. But there are times I enjoy going to the store and looking through the racks. I am mostly an online shopper.
WWD: Does what you wear affect your work in a substantial way?
K.H.: I think it does. I think there are many different ways to fit in and be comfortable. Most important, it’s leading with your character and personality and ability to get the job done. It would be really weird to show up to a Mary J. Blige Facebook Live stream with stockings and heels. You would be accepted, but you’d get the “What’s happening here?” I wish I can wear purple hair effortlessly. There are people who show up in meetings with amazing cuts and light, purple-tinted hair. They are professional as you can ever imagine. If I showed up like that, it wouldn’t work so well. I work with a lot of people who are very conservative. At Planned Parenthood, which is 100 years [old], we really look like a mix of any- and everything you can think of. That feels great to me. I don’t think I’d want to work at a place where everyone dressed like me and everyone had the exact same style and fashion. It wouldn’t speak to the difference in opinions and perspectives that’s so important in getting this work done.
WWD: Do you follow fashion trends or prefer to stay true to your style or your profession’s codes?
K.H.: Definitely not to the profession’s codes. When you’re in a space of advocacy and social justice, one of the things we don’t adhere to are rules and norms. It’s my job to wake up and push those rules and push the norms. I would not call myself a super-trendy fashion girl; I do admire the fashion industry and the trends.
WWD: Given a choice, would you dress more formal or more casual?
K.H.: Given a choice, I would probably dress more casually. I do love a good Grammy weekend, I do love Oscars weekend. I do love BET Awards when you do have to dress up and put on a more formal outfit. I love sequins and love the sparkle and the shine. I love getting my hair and makeup done. I love getting my nails done.
WWD: What’s your favorite purchase of the last few months and why?
K.H.: My favorite purchase was the Rihanna flip-flops. They’re so easy to slip in because they have the fur across the front and they look great with everything. I also respect and admire Rihanna as an artist. I wouldn’t have on an Ivanka sandal. I try to stay true to my beliefs and my character through my fashion purchases as well.
WWD: Is there much overlap between work and off-duty clothes?
K.H.: No, because I think being in the space of advocacy and entertainment, we don’t know the 9-to-5 world. It really spills over to your weekend activities and your evening activities if they’re dinners. The women and the men I work with I really like. You end up working with some amazing people. My off times are going to the Mary J. Blige concert or the Kanye concert. It’s an extension of the work that I do.