“How does Fashion & Design matter for company, product, career and your personal brand?”

I started my professional career at Duty Free Shops. After becoming one of the first employees at eLuxury.com, I moved on to the Paris headquarters to work at Christian Dior Couture.

My life had its glamorous moments: the private sales, the training tours to Louis Vuitton’s boutique on Rodeo Drive, running into Galliano at his atelier in Paris, visiting Harrods in London for the very first time, and receiving enough makeup for the rest of my life. But it has also involved a lot of pressure: making sure you always dressed in the current collection, on a very modest salary.

After about five years, I had a chat with my immediate supervisor, and asked her advice about growing my role. She looked at me and laughed, “Your name is Layla, you speak French with a foreign accent, and you are still carrying a handbag from two seasons ago – what do you think your chances are?”

Instead of buying a new designer bag, taking accent reduction courses, or changing my name, three months later, I moved to the U.S. to produce a book about the empowerment of women. While getting ready to present the project at the United Nations, my immediate manager came to my hotel room and saw me in a fabulous Fendi navy wool suit (that I had purchased at a private employee sale) and in a very upset tone said: “Layla, I AM the Director and you are only the Production Manager, why is it that all of your suits look nicer than mine?”

After that experience (which made me feel anything but empowered), I settled in Silicon Valley, gained a few (Ok a lot of)  extra pounds, and embraced motherhood. I began to care less and less about my appearance and personal brand. Working for tech companies such as Yahoo! where HR sends out an email to candidates encouraging them to dress casual for the interview, I figured it was best to lay low-key. My designer handbags were sold on eBay and replaced with the free bags I received in trade shows, and I basically gave up on hills after my daughter’s birth.

And then I started noticing the promotions passing me by. Although people praised me for work and often used me as an example to motivate others, they did not consider me for some of the promotions that were an obvious fit. Before leaving my last position, I finally built my courage up to ask for feedback from my manager, and she was kind enough to give me a candid answer:

“Show your confidence and remember to dress for the role you want – the one I know you are capable of! Perception is reality”.

That conversation, inspired me to organize this upcoming panel, and the first panelist I dared dream about having on the panel was Sheryl Sandberg.

How does Fashion & Design matter for company, product, career and your personal brand?

When I read “Lean In” , I gained new confidence in actually writing this blog post, and sharing my experience with previous employers on a public forum.  Reading her book made me feel confident and empowered. I finally forgave myself for what I had considered shortcoming (having cried at work, having put my daughter to bed without changing her to pajamas, etc). I realized if the world’s fifth most powerful woman struggles with the same challenges, then I might not be doing so bad.

Barbara Holzapfel the executive sponsor for SAP’s Business Women Network, did reach out to Sheryl, and she was kind enough to respond within five minutes letting us know she was unavailable for the occasion. Again talk about feeling empowered, I have worked with many celebrities before, and I was simply amazed at her kind and prompt response.

Although we will miss Sheryl, SAP Business Women Network will be welcoming a very distinguished panel, and we would love to include any questions you might have  from Tory Burch, eBay, Google, and Glam Media.

We hope you will attend, but if you are not able to, feel free to post your questions in the comments, and we’ll be sure to include them.

To add to the fun, we will have an interactive fashion show to which you can participate by downloading My Runway application, and you can view remotely.

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  1. Well spoken and well planned Layla! btw I totally disagree with your manager at CD… Layla is a fabulous name, and Paris fashion is – as you MUST know – filled with exotic personas. Your life took you here, not because you were not good enough, but because you exceeded the requirements. :)

  2. Your posts are so personal and easy to read. I feel like I know you a little better after reading each one. By the way, those “extra pounds” must have appeared in the last 10 days because when I saw you you looked amazing! In Sheena Iyengar’s “The Art of Choosing,” there are two stories you would appreciate. One is on p. 92 talking about the pressure to conform (Shame on that “Devil Wears Prada” chick!). The other is on pp. 143-151 exposing the rigging of the fashion industry. Keep writing and keep excelling!

  3. I second Jim here – your posts are indeed very personal. Having worked for and with women at multiple different levels in many industries (both filmmaking ad more traditional tech) it is interesting to observe the f**ked if you do, f**ked if you don’t problem with fashion/style/design/aesthetic appeal/fitness etc etc…

    Even women who I know who are professionally highly confident can suffer in perception if their superficial attributes are deemed to be lacking because they don’t get treated the same way. Of course if you brilliant at your job and you’re working in even a vaguely meritocratic environment – that makes a significant difference.

    But I think it’s an inescapable reality that (if we were to compare a person to an iphone for example) before you even get to the iphone you have to peel back the shrink wrap and open the wonderfully designed box with a minimalist instruction manual etc etc… in other words every product has a wrapper.

    In the professional context that can be your voice, your intellect, your attitude, your clothes, your hair, your sense of humor, your looks…but more often than not it’s a combination of all of the above.
    If a piece is particularly lacking – the others have to work that much harder to compensate.
    It might not be fair – but no one ever said it was supposed to be.

  4. Well written! I agree that dressing up for the specific role is true, but not specifically handbags.

  5. Venus Kalami says:

    I absolutely adored reading this story. It is true that you must dress for the job you want. I think sometimes we settle for a subpar representation of who we truly are just because of the environment we’re in whether it is a work or everyday environment. I think it’s best to dress not only for the job you want but for the life you want as well!

  6. I really enjoyed reading your blog and couldn’t agree with you more. Sometimes we need to find our way by traveling on different paths. :)

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