#72. Argent makes smart workwear for women. We talk with co-founder Eleanor Turner about creating function-driven and aesthetically-minded womenswear—traits that men’s clothing has prioritized for decades—and building a community that empowers women. The Loose Threads Podcast features in-depth discussions with leaders across the rapidly changing consumer economy.

Check out the full transcript below.

Richie: [00:00:07] Welcome to the 72nd episode of the Loose Threads podcast, a show about the rapidly changing consumer economy. This episode is brought to you by Loose Threads Membership, which gives you actionable analysis, insights and events that drive growth, and Loose Threads Espresso, your energizing and high-pressure filter for consumer news—in context. We also have a newsletter that features the latest open letters to CEOs, podcasts with industry leaders and news from Loose Threads. Check it all out at Loose Threads.com.

Richie: [00:00:35] Joining me today is Eleanor Turner, a co-founder of Argent, a brand that makes smart workwear for women. Ellen and her co-founder Sali started the company to close the gap in functional clothing women could wear to work, heavily investing in fabric, function and aesthetics—something that men’s clothing has prioritized for decades.

Eleanor: [00:00:52] Even in fashion still today, most of these companies are being led by men and so the initiative for functional women’s clothing just isn’t a priority.

Richie: [00:01:05] Yet, Argent hasn’t stopped there as it opens up retail that also serves to empower women and provide a space for community building. Here is my talk with Eleanor Turner.

Richie: [00:01:18] So why don’t we start. Just talk a bit about your background and then we can work our way up to this brand existing.

Eleanor: [00:01:24] I went to Savannah College of Art and Design to study fashion and I spent four years there with the goal of moving to New York after that. I graduated in 2008 and so that was sort of a complicated year. It was the recession and everything sort of fell off a cliff and the industry was hurting. So I moved up here and had to just be really scrappy with how to get my foot in the door somewhere. I had a friend from a previous internship who was the men’s PR manager at Tommy Hilfiger Collection and he was like, “Hey, why don’t you just come work in the PR closet while you network and while you look for jobs?” And so I thought, “Okay, well that sounds fun. I don’t really know much about PR so why don’t I go do that?” I was in there for, probably, a couple months before I got a freelance position at Isaac Mizrahi Atelier where I was helping to build the royal family of Saudi Arabia’s wedding garments. That was such a change and such a fun experience and after that, actually, the PR Director from Tommy called me and he said, “Hey, I know you have a design background. Would you ever be interested in coming back to help relaunch the runway collection?” And so I said, “Yeah. That sounds cool.”

Eleanor: [00:02:44] And so I went back to Tommy and I worked as sort of this design, PR, marketing, show production liaison where I was able to go do fittings in Italy for all of the runway garments and then also be a part of PR initiatives and be on set for filming commercials. I don’t know if you remember the Hilfiger commercial but that was the very first set that I was on with Tommy Hilfiger and that was really cool. So I got to kind of see how everything worked together. Even though it was a really large company, it sort of did feel like a startup in a way. So I spent two years there and then I did some time at a menswear startup, actually, after that, for about nine months, where I was traveling pretty heavily to China. Then decided that I wasn’t really meant to be in China all that much and so, after that, I got a job at Tory Burch working in women’s design. It was beautiful. It was so inspiring and it was really cool to see this woman leading the company and making all these beautiful clothes and shoes and so that was really, really amazing. And then an opportunity opened up at J.Crew to go over to women’s design there and I had always revered J.Crew. I was a huge customer of J.Crew. In the industry, J.Crew is sort of the pinnacle of creative but still speaking to mass.

Richie: [00:04:10] Right.

Eleanor: [00:04:11] And it was a good opportunity. So I left and I went there for about two years and I was seeing things happen in the industry where maybe the writing was on the wall a little bit and was really thinking about next steps. And so that’s where I started exploring entrepreneurship as a path.

Richie: [00:04:31] Talk through ideas. Where did it come from? What was the first idea and then how did that develop into, okay, this is actually a thing we should go do and leave all of this work life behind.

Eleanor: [00:04:41] I mean I would start sort of a little bit before that. So I, actually, was looking to revive one of my great grandfather’s companies. So he was actually in fashion and he had five different lines of clothing. Some were workwear for the government, overalls for the railroad employees and others were lines of ready-to-wear. And so I was actually looking at writing a business plan around reviving one of those, had started to do so. A friend of mine called me one day and she was like, “Hey, I have this friend who wants to start a line of women’s work apparel. Could you at least talk to her on the phone for half an hour or something?” And I said, “Sure. Why not? Always down to have a conversation.” And so Sally and I spoke in November of 2014 and she said exactly that. “I want to start a line of women’s work apparel.” And I thought, “Okay, good luck to you! Have fun!” Because, being in fashion, you got a lot of people who want to try and start fashion companies. So I didn’t know, really, whether to take her seriously or not. But we kept in touch and, as I started developing my thing and she was doing the same, we just kept in touch. She actually flew to New York that winter and we met in person and we really hit it off. It’s funny. I was trying to convince her to do my thing. She was trying to convince me to do this. And she said, “Look, just come shopping with me and let me at least show you the state of women’s work apparel.” And so we went and I was horrified at the options out there. It was really bleak and it was really boring and it didn’t fit well and there was just no life there.

Eleanor: [00:06:32] And so it was sort of in that experience that I thought, “Man, there’s a huge opportunity here to turn this category on its head and have fun with it and speak to a new generation of working females and, not only that, but to do something more with the clothing. Because I think, for me, being in fashion for ten years, you see lines of clothes come out every day. I thought, “We have to make this special. We have to do something more with it.” I started talking to Sally about her day and what that looked like and it was like, “I’m running around and I have pencils and pens and my laptop and computer and phone and all of these things.” And she’s talking about shoving pens and pencils in her pockets and I thought about that too, from my own personal experience, how annoyed I was every day, as a creative, having earphones in but my phone would sit on the desk and then I’d get up to go get something from the printer and the phone would fly off. You couldn’t put it in your back pocket or you’d sit on it.

Richie: [00:07:34] There were no AirPods.

Eleanor: [00:07:35] Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So it really started there and it started with problem solving for those issues. The first thing that I put into these clothes was a pocket for your iPhone with a mesh window so that you could see it and you could also touch it through there, see who’s calling, what song is playing, etc. And then that really was the lightbulb. It was like, okay, this could be function-led design. This could be engineering solutions for women into clothes and it sort of just iterated from there and it was like, “Oh my god, what else can I do?” So, with my time at Tommy, we had worked with a lot of stylists for the shows and one in particular would come in and put rubber bands around the women’s forearms to keep their silk shirts’ cuffs up as they walked down the runway. I thought, “That’s such a cool trick. It’s such a cool stylist trick. I’m just gonna build it into the clothes.” So that’s one of the things that we actually have patented is a band that is sewn into a channel of each shirt cuff so that when you push it up on your forearm it actually stays and so on and so on. From there, it’s taken off and now it’s to the point where we get emails from our customers saying, “Hey, can you solve this for me? And so we try to solve those things.”

Richie: [00:09:02] So I guess I want to zoom out to start and talk about just the integration of function in this. There has been functional clothing for men for a very long time and it, generally, starts there. Why do you think it happened, which I’m guessing is somewhat of an obvious answer, but also why [did] it [persist] for so long? And why did it take until now, or [why did it take] you all in this time, to start to marginally rebalance that very unbalanced scale?

Eleanor: [00:09:27] It has existed. Functionality has existed in men’s clothing. You have pockets in your blazers and—

Richie: [00:09:31] Right, I was gonna ask before. How much of this is driven by most women’s pants not having pockets?

Eleanor: [00:09:36] Right. Well, yeah, a lot of it. Even now, when we tell the story to men, sometimes, most of them look at us like we’re crazy because they’re like, “You mean to tell me that women don’t get pockets in their clothing?” And so the answer is yes. To be honest with you, I think the reason for it is that, historically, women have been looked at as feminine, decorated. They’re wearing a version of whatever femininity is supposed to be.

Richie: [00:10:08] Right. Anything but function.

Eleanor: [00:10:09] Right. I don’t think it’s been an initiative in women’s clothing. I also think that, even in fashion still today, most of these companies are being led by men and so the initiative for functional women’s clothing just isn’t a priority, even if it has been talked about. It’s interesting. I actually read an article, not long ago, about, even when fashion writers write about female designers versus male designers, there’s a difference in vocabulary used to describe them. Females are oftentimes referred to as functional, practical. Male designers are genius and creative. It’s an interesting thing. I think that the reason why it’s so important now is because there’s a lot of females entering the workforce and it’s important to streamline the process of getting dressed for work and clothing in general, around the workplace, because they have more important things to focus on. I don’t think that it’s been, necessarily, looked at this closely. It just feels like the right time.

Richie: [00:11:21] So you had these insights. You had these conversations. At what moment did you say, “Okay, let’s actually go do this and I’m gonna leave that other business plan behind?” And what were the first things that got worked on? When was this also?

Eleanor: [00:11:32] Yeah. This was 2015. Sally had left her job at Cisco. I left J.Crew. We had had several conversations leading up to the decision that I was going to leave my job. She had already left Cisco, I think, in January of 2015. It was the right moment. I could feel it coming as well. I could feel the women’s conversation and we could both feel it as the right time to do this. And so we did it. We took the leap of faith. We started raising money. I started working on product development and we went for it.

Richie: [00:12:14] How’d the money raising go?

Eleanor: [00:12:15] You know what? It’s funny. We raised some of our angel round without even having product. It was just sketches at that point. And we found awesome people that believed in us and the vision for the company.

Eleanor: [00:12:15] You know what? It’s funny. We raised some of our angel round without even having product. It was just sketches at that point. And we found awesome people that believed in us and the vision for the company. That was really fortunate. We really have found these supportive individuals [who] have been great advisors. And I would say that money raising as a female—and [when] you’re raising money for a product that is female-focused—is hard. And I know this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this. It’s incredibly hard to try and explain why women deserve pockets. Which is right—you’re shaking your head at me and—

Richie: [00:12:58] And rolling my eyes.

Eleanor: [00:12:59] Right, and rolling your eyes. I mean, one of the biggest VCs in the country told us that utility doesn’t belong in women’s clothing. And since we’ve had—

Richie: [00:13:09] Proof to the contrary.

Eleanor: [00:13:11] Yes! Proof to the contrary. And we’ve had working women wearing it and being really excited about it ever since then, so I would say that that is proof enough. But yeah, so, it’s tough, but it’s good.

Richie: [00:13:21] Ok, so you started raising money. Just had sketches.

Eleanor: [00:13:26] Yes, just had sketches. I was working on development. It felt like enough of an idea that we could definitely get traction on and so I was working on developing the product and Sally was doing a lot of the money raising and we would meet in the middle. Because she’s based in San Francisco.

Richie: [00:13:42] Ok. Still?

Eleanor: [00:13:43] Yeah, and I’m here.

Richie: [00:13:44] How is that?

Eleanor: [00:13:44] Good. It’s great, yeah.

Richie: [00:13:47] Do you travel a lot?

Eleanor: [00:13:48] Yeah, we both do. And so, I was really focused on finding the right manufacturers, finding the right fabrics because fabrics are a huge thing when you’re designing clothing—it’s really all about the fabric, because that is your foundation. And so, I was focused on that and I was sourcing a ton and we were sampling and wear-testing and the first iteration of that iPhone pocket—it looked nothing like what it was, like what it is today. And so it really developed. It took a life of its own because the more things that I thought about, the more I could solve. And so it was like we made a jumpsuit that you don’t have to take the whole thing off to use the restroom, which maybe doesn’t seem novel to you, but—

Richie: [00:14:35] No, no, it seems like a good thing.

Eleanor: [00:14:36] But yeah, I mean the biggest complaint about women wearing jumpsuits is getting naked in a bathroom and who wants to do that at work? So you’re discouraging women who work from wearing this cool trendy piece just simply because it’s uncomfortable and takes a lot of time in the bathroom. We developed a bunch of our first styles.

Richie: [00:14:57] Yeah, talk about how you’ve kind of landed on—where did you start and how did you choose those pieces and so forth?

Eleanor: [00:15:03] Yes. So my background’s in knits and sweaters actually. I have some experience in menswear and tailored pieces. But I also grew up riding horses and so I wore blazers, showings. That’s what you have to wear. So I have an appreciation for tailored pieces and I’ve always been a blazer-wearer. It felt right to sort of address suiting needs and separates and suiting separates and what does that look like? And I had been talking to friends of mine who had designed suiting elsewhere and getting their thoughts on, “How do you guys approach this? What does this look like for you within these big companies?” They all kind of said to me, “Yeah, we don’t really look at that. We just get a merchandising plan and we just repeat styles in a new fabric and call it a day.” So I knew that there was a huge opportunity there to have fun with suiting separates and make it about these pieces that interlocked and worked together but could also be worn as suiting.

Eleanor: [00:16:05] So I started there. I found, through researching and vintage, pulling out styles from my own closet—I found pieces that worked and felt flattering for lots of different body types. I also started talking to Sally and the women that she knew and talking to them about what they felt was missing in their closets. They kept saying, “I just want something that flatters me but feels cool and doesn’t make me feel like I’m 50 because I’m not. I’m 28″—or whatever we were when we started this. So I knew that it had to be edgy. I knew that it had to be an interesting proportion. We really started with the crossover blazer which is our hero piece. I also started putting it into non-traditional fabrics. Traditionally, this category uses lightweight suiting. It’s like tropical wool. But I saw there was an opportunity to change that too and so we put it in this cotton blend that felt a little bit more casual and felt like you could wear it back to your denim. It just didn’t feel as formal. We really started there and we built some styles back to it. We kept it really tight. I remember Tommy Hilfiger was actually an advisor and we showed him the line and he’s like, “We just need to make sure the line is tight.” And then he looked back through it and he goes, “The line is tight.”

Richie: [00:17:36] How many pieces was it?

Eleanor: [00:17:38] I think it was about twelve styles.

Richie: [00:17:41] Which is significant.

Eleanor: [00:17:42] Yeah. We had two blouses, a little shell, a few pairs of pants and a couple of blazers and a vest. And that’s where we started. It felt like a really, super tight but well-rounded collection to release as our core basics program. The plan was, from there, to keep building on top of that and not, necessarily, do this season-by-season collection that a lot of designers drop twice a year, but to look at it from the perspective of, if she’s coming to buy this season and she’s coming back next season, how are these gonna work together? And how is this gonna be styled, season over season? So that’s what we’ve done is we’ve really just built on that core collection and we’ve grown it and we’ve made the colors interlock so that it all grows together and they’ve been really excited about it.

Richie: [00:18:45] Talk about how you planned the launch out and then how did that go when it happened?

Eleanor: [00:18:50] We actually did a soft launch at a women’s conference. We do a lot of that. We pop up at women’s conferences because we see the value in being there physically with the product. We didn’t really announce it. We had pretty much no social media, no marketing. We showed up there and we were excited because, typically, at these women’s conferences, the vendor section is, in a nice way, uninspiring. What was really exciting, for me, was to design an experience that felt elevated in that space and colorful and exciting. So we actually worked with a couple of friends of ours in the city who ran an interiors firm to design this really cool, beautiful experience for these women’s conferences. So we had just gotten that in and we unloaded, we set up, and, really all we had to do was show the women the interiors of the clothes. We showed them the back credit card pockets in the pants. We showed them the I.D. loop where they could put their corporate I.D. We showed them all of the blazer pockets and we talked about the functional fabrics and how it was made in the USA. It was a really big day for us. It was our first day and it was a big day. That was really exciting.

Eleanor: [00:20:17] And then we went on to a more formal launch in June of 2016 which is what we refer to as our “official launch.” That was in San Francisco. We tried to promote the event as a community event. We invited friends and family and all of these people and we had so many people show up and support for that event and that was really cool. The interesting thing that we do with our events that’s more than just the clothes is we actually offer an educational component to them. So, at that particular launch event, we were offering career coaching. So people could come in and they could talk about the future of their career and have a resource to look at their resume or edit their LinkedIn page. It really was important to us, as a brand, to offer more than just product, to offer every tool that you could ever need to take your seat at the table, essentially.

Richie: [00:21:20] No, that’s super cool. It creates a purpose behind it more than just “Please buy this stuff.”

Eleanor: [00:21:25] Yes, exactly.

Richie: [00:21:27] So we’re in 2016 now. Talk about the rest of that year in terms of growth, product offerings evolving, what happened across the year of note.

Eleanor: [00:21:37] Yeah, so we had launched that spring season and right away, you know with clothing lead times, that you have to go ahead and design the next season. We launched and we put up social media and we got on our game in that way and then I was off and running designing a new collection. I had always been dying to try this reversible suit idea. My pattern makers almost killed me, even at hearing the idea, because it’s so complicated. You’re talking about seaming that has to be hidden from the front and the back and making it all clean.

Richie: [00:22:15] Talk about the purpose of it.

Eleanor: [00:22:16] So the purpose of that was two-in-one. Our brand is all about adding value into clothing. The reason behind the reversible suit was that it was two-in-one. It was a suit that would travel well and pack lightly and give you two options for one thing. And so we started to develop that for fall ’16 and that was really going to be the hero piece and we got it there and we got it to launch.

Richie: [00:22:44] How many samples did you do?

Eleanor: [00:22:46] I want to say, for that one, probably seven.

Richie: [00:22:47] That’s not bad.

Eleanor: [00:22:49] It’s not bad but we had to make some concessions. But it was worth it and we got it and it was amazing and they just loved it. And then, skipping ahead a little bit, we did another one last fall that was completely single layer. We’re just improving. We’re just taking these ideas and improving.

Richie: [00:23:06] Was it double-faced or something?

Eleanor: [00:23:09] Yeah, double-faced fabric. Yeah.

Richie: [00:23:10] Very cool.

Eleanor: [00:23:10] And the pants were also reversible. So the pants were pull-on with an elasticated back waistband so that you could pull them on on one side and then just flip them inside out not have to deal with the zipper.

Richie: [00:23:24] Most clothing today is equally functional, assuming, for most things, it stays up and on your body. Generally, it’s not a game of function. It’s just a game of aesthetics or something like that. From the marketing, the messaging side, how do you sell function without not selling everything else? It often can seem like it’s intention which is, either you have purely functional, ugly stuff, or you have very aesthetically pleasing, averagely functional. It seems to be right in the middle. It’s a very hard balance to strike.

Eleanor: [00:23:53] Yeah, and thanks for asking that because it’s a good point to make. For us, it’s so important to keep the aesthetic interesting and elevated.

Richie: [00:24:02] And it’s really colorful.

Eleanor: [00:24:04] It is, yeah. There are brands that have tried to do this thing before and I think that it’s not as successful just because it doesn’t speak to this woman. My background is in design for J.Crew and Tory Burch. I have an aesthetic that you can see it in Argent now. It was so important that we didn’t sacrifice that for the function and hiding the function within beautiful clothing. I think it speaks for itself in our imagery, right? But, when you see the imagery and then you read the line “functional workwear,” it’s sort of surprising, right? It makes you want to dive deeper.

Richie: [00:24:48] Right, t’s not on the surface.

Eleanor: [00:24:50] That’s right. It’s funny. To me, I live in it and I see it all the time and every day and it’s so obvious to me but it’s not obvious to everyone else that we do put that aesthetic first. And we make sure that every function we are designing into is just as beautiful as what it’s living inside. So whether it’s the iPhone pocket with the heat seal tape and the mesh window, all of those colors need to work together and be fun and exciting and beautiful, just as the body of the jacket might be.

Richie: [00:25:24] So you mentioned before about the elastic band—that you had patented that and stuff. A lot of function and design, there traditionally are very few design protections in fashion and apparel and so forth.

Eleanor: [00:25:33] Yes.

Richie: [00:25:35] And so, what’s the general strategy? What can we do that is new and good before someone else can do it? And how do you think about defensibility along the lines of such a function-based brand?

Eleanor: [00:25:45] There are two patents that you can get. It’s design and utility. So we look at that in those ways. So what can we design patent and what can we do a patent for the utility of? And so some of our patents are for utility and some are for the design. The elastic band—that is for the design. We know that there’s nothing else like that out there. I think that that’s the thing, is that we do the research. I’ll design it, we’ll do a few iterations on it and then we’ll look and see, okay, well what is out there now and is it worth putting a patent around that particular design? Not everything is worth it, right. In design, it’s hard. You can’t really patent a pattern. There are too many nuances to be able to do that. You can’t really put a patent on like a wool elastane like I’m wearing today. You know what I mean? So we have to be smart about it and we are really looking at the white space. It’s where there’s nothing that exists that I think is sort of the strategy for us in patenting and IP protection. We’re trying to do some different things. It doesn’t always work but when it does we do take a look—”Okay, is this something that we could potentially protect?”

Richie: [00:27:01] So yeah. Talk through last year and how—was it year three?

Eleanor: [00:27:05] No. We’re a year and ten months old right now.

Richie: [00:27:09] That’s it? Okay. So talk through year one. One to two.

Eleanor: [00:27:11] One to two. So 2017 was a really amazing year. We started off that year with fall. People were loving the reversible pieces. People were still getting to know us and they’re still getting to know us today. We were at a women’s conference in California, PBWC, and we got the opportunity to meet former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. We met her in a photo line and we basically opened up our blazers and said, “We make functional pantsuits.”

Richie: [00:27:44] Which is her—

Eleanor: [00:27:45] Yes, she’s the self-proclaimed pantsuit aficionado. And so her jaw kind of dropped and she’s like, “Oh my gosh, what is this and who are you and where can we find this amazing suiting or what have you?” And we kept in touch and she actually wore Argent for the first time May—I think it was like May 30th, 2017 to accept her award at the Planned Parenthood Gala as Champion of the Century. It was one of those moments where it’s just surreal. It’s such an honor. She’s been wearing it ever since, which has been amazing. And so 2017 started out with that. That was a bang. After that, Huma—she’s been wearing it and Gloria Steinem has been wearing the clothes and it feels like we are dressing powerful women now. It felt like validation, like the ultimate validation.

Eleanor: [00:28:42] So we were popping up at a lot of women’s conferences which was amazing. We launched a pop-up in D.C., which—we had first done that through a partnership with Shinola. They let us pop-up in their store in D.C. for a few months and that was so great. The reception was amazing to the D.C. market. We loved that community so much that we decided to stay and so we went into another space that was actually vacated by another brand. The real estate people came and said, “Hey, look it’s a dark space on a corner. We know you guys can activate it quite quickly. Would you be interested?” And it was beautiful—custom built out for retail space and they were giving us a really good deal and so we said, “sure.” And so we built it out and that’s where we are today in D.C. with a pop-up. Building that community around the D.C. market was really important for us because we knew that one of the biggest workwear brands in the U.S., that was their number one market. So it was important for us to get into D.C., meet all kinds of people and just get the brand out. That’s been, I think, one of the most supportive markets that we’ve seen to date.

Eleanor: [00:30:06] We’ve had a ton of events and we’ve had such support from the community there. We had a negotiation coaching event, actually, for launch and it was C-Suite executives on one side of the table and our attendees on the other and they would get four minutes with each coach. They would talk about vendor negotiation or salary negotiation or whatever questions that they had about negotiation. Yeah, D.C.’s been fun and we’ve thrown a number of events there. We actually are calling that pop-up a community center. So people are welcome to come and use it as event space, essentially. And we just actually had three events last week and we had one last night. And so that’s been really fun to see the community just sort of grow around our brand there. And we have plans to do it in other places. So, yeah, 2017 was really about getting out there physically. The women’s conferences and the pop-ups have been awesome. We actually go to office spaces too and we’ll pop up there. If somebody wants to host us in their office space, we’ll do that.

Eleanor: [00:31:11] It was also about developing, again, the collection. We knew that the reversible suit was a big hit in fall ’16\. And so we did a whole program of reversible pieces. So reversible top, pants, dress and blazer. That utility, again—that utility and the function of these pieces resonating a lot with our customer. We’re getting so much feedback too. Like, “Thank you so much for doing this” and “This is amazing. We’re really enjoying this.” But, also, we’re getting feedback about, “What else can you solve?” Not long ago, we had a customer write in who said, “Hey, I wear glasses and I’m not always wearing something that I can clean them on.” And she’s like, “Can you please do something about this?” And so we thought about it and we decided to make the exterior pocket bags of all of our blazers out of microfiber so that you can pull out the pocket bag, clean your glasses and shove it back into the pocket. It’s really been about creating that ecosystem of customer feedback and what are they liking and, if something’s not fitting quite right, how do we improve it and just listening. Because I think that’s really what building Argent has been about is solving problems, listening to those problems and talking about them and figuring out the solution for it.

Richie: [00:32:41] So, given this was such uncharted territory, there were so many problems to solve, how do you figure out where to start or where to spend your time on? Because I’m sure there are plenty of people where, maybe, ten people feel this is a really legitimate problem. But how do you use all of that input in a way and then filter it to actually understand where the larger problems are?

Eleanor: [00:33:00] You’d be surprised. We’ve kind of nailed the major ones. I think pockets was a huge pain point. We’re just keeping that as the biggest one and we’re iterating on that in ways. But, in the other ones, we will get feedback and we’ll talk about it and if it seems like it’s part of a larger thing then we will go and solve it. We try to solve things that sometimes we can’t yet. The tech isn’t there or the solution just isn’t quite there yet. But we always keep it in the back of our minds and we have developed patterns that weren’t successful then but where we’re sourcing the right factory that’s going to help us to achieve that. And so, sooner or later, we’ll get around to it when it makes sense. Yeah.

Richie: [00:33:50] As you took the brand offline, what were some of the lessons you learned or assumptions you had turned upside down about what that was like? Because, like most brands, you started online, right?

Eleanor: [00:33:59] Yes we did. We started with a website and we still, obviously, have that website. I think the challenges that we face is just that we’re small and we have to be really scrappy and we have to do what makes sense for the business. When you see how much the product is resonating in person, it’s really important that our customers are able to see, touch, feel, try it on, see the fit. It’s hard to achieve that online. It’s really hard to show that online, especially when you’re you cash constrained, you’re a startup and you’ve got to be super scrappy with all this. So we decided that it was going to be more important to roll out physical spaces and physical pop-ups and be more conscious of that and getting this consumer to see it in person and experience it in person and all of these little details in person. But, that said, we’re taking the things that we’re learning, in the dressing rooms, online. So we’re trying to create that ecosystem of communication between online and offline and figure out better ways of doing it online, figure out better ways of doing it offline and connecting the two. Because we have a lot of experience where we have customers who meet us in person and then will come back online.

Richie: [00:35:16] Given everything happening today around gender equality and female empowerment and all these things, how do you figure out where the brand sits, in terms of, do you consider it something overtly political? Do you try and stay out of that? How do you navigate the waters today in ways that reaches the audience you want to reach and accomplishes what you want to accomplish?

Eleanor: [00:35:39] Are we overtly political? No. We want people to be informed about the working environment for women and we want to support women and we want to empower women. I don’t think that that’s necessarily partisan or it shouldn’t be. Yes, we have to navigate it in ways but we just want to focus on empowering women. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, we just hope that you vote. It doesn’t matter who you vote for, we just want you to be able to take your seat at the table and we want you to have opportunity and we want you to have tools and we want you to have clothes that make you feel confident and we want you to have clothes that function for you so that you can focus on the more important things. That’s where we want to sit as a brand. We want to be your go-to resource because we realize that this is tricky. It’s nebulous. Even the question of “What do I even wear to work?” If you’re thinking about that all day, which many women do, “Am I wearing the right thing? Is this skirt too short? Am I showing my arms? Is this inappropriate?” That stuff runs through women’s minds all day and it shouldn’t be the thing that they’re thinking about. They should be thinking about how to crush their presentation or ask for a raise or even just the opportunity to be able to ask for a raise. So that’s what it’s about. It’s not about politics. It’s about empowering women in general.

Richie: [00:37:03] Is it important for guys to understand what you’re doing and, if so, how do you go about accomplishing that?

Eleanor: [00:37:07] It’s so important for guys to understand. We don’t live in a female-only world. So we actually invite men to our events. We had a headshot event last week in D.C. and we had a bunch of guys taking headshots there. Because it’s so important to share this conversation, not only among women but among their male counterparts. We aren’t going to get anywhere if we don’t talk about it between the sexes. I know that this is similar with my co-founder, we’ve both had male mentors that propelled us forward. I think that more men sort of need to be privy to the conversation in order to propel more women forward. For Argent, it’s so important that we include men. We tell anybody that comes to our events, “Bring your boyfriend, bring your husband.” We have, in a lot of our educational value adds to these events, we have male coaches, because it’s important to include everyone. That’s the future. The future is everyone.

Richie: [00:38:15] What’s the cheapest and most expensive lesson you’ve learned building the brand?

Eleanor: [00:38:19] That’s a good question. Cheapest lesson—actually, let’s start with most expensive. That’s easier. Don’t pay upfront for vendor services. We didn’t pay all of it but we paid 50% on something that an Italian vendor ran away with and just never, never delivered on. It wasn’t too expensive but that was an expensive mistake.

Richie: [00:38:42] Expensive enough.

Eleanor: [00:38:45] Yep, expensive enough. Cheapest one—you just have to be steadfast in what your vision is and you can’t let others’ opinions pollute that and you have to really stay strong. Yeah.

Richie: [00:38:55] What about cheapest in terms of having founders not in the same city? For making that work?

Eleanor: [00:39:00] FaceTime. FaceTime.

Richie: [00:39:03] It’s a data plan.

Eleanor: [00:39:06] Yeah. FaceTime, a data plan and just communication.

Richie: [00:39:07] Would you rather have it in person or no?

Eleanor: [00:39:13] Yes and no. I think it would be awesome to have Sally here every day because we spend a lot of time on the phone. But, at the same time, she has a network in San Francisco and I have a network here in New York and and we also are very different parts of the business. She’s the business. I’m the creative. We touch base in the middle and then we just run. So I feel like, in a lot of ways, it’s great. We’re building these networks simultaneously whereas, if we were in the same city, we wouldn’t be able to do that as quickly.

Richie: [00:39:41] How big do you want this to get?

Eleanor: [00:39:44] Big.

Richie: [00:39:46] What does that mean?

Eleanor: [00:39:47] I mean, I think we want to be the go-to resource for your work apparel needs. We see ourselves as growing to be that big and to be a place where you can come to ask questions or learn, but also get styling help and figure out how to navigate dress codes of the incredibly nebulous working environments today. It’s changing, it’s becoming more casual. What does that mean? We want to be that resource for every woman.

Richie: [00:40:15] Yeah. So I guess, implicit in that is how broadly do you define work? Because what about females who are in the trades or policemen? Because, right now, it’s for office dwellers. Is that fair to say?

Eleanor: [00:40:26] Sure, that’s fine.

Richie: [00:40:28] How broad do you get?

Eleanor: [00:40:30] I mean we’re certainly not going to be making police uniforms. But what about the in-betweens, like when you graduate from a uniform? What about the women who are here at Neue House and who maybe don’t work in a traditional office space but they’re still going to work? I mean we are the casual, we are the formal and the in-between and the separates and the mixing and we want to work it out so that it’s not such a puzzle, I think. We aren’t really defining it as, “Oh, you have to be a lawyer or a banker, whatever, you have to wear a suit.” We are not just a suiting company. We are way more than that. We want to encourage people to be casual and comfortable but also appropriate. I think it can be a broad thing but not as broad actual workwear uniforms.

Richie: [00:41:27] Yeah. And then, as you look forward next one, two, three years, what’s on the horizon and what are you most excited about?

Eleanor: [00:41:34] I’m just really excited about growing and getting out there because we are planning on expanding our pop-up model and opening new spaces and, whether that be short or long term, just testing things out and getting more customer feedback. That’s so informative for me, is getting on the the retail level and really hearing from customers and talking to them. I’m super, super excited about that. I think three years out we’re growing and we’re doing things differently. Sally and I talk about a lot of things that we’d love to conquer and solve and, not only from a product perspective, but just a brand perspective and how can we help this woman? We’re super excited about all of the opportunity that exists right now.

Richie: [00:42:24] All righty. Thanks much for talking.

Eleanor: [00:42:26] Thanks.

Richie: [00:42:30] Thanks for listening to the Loose Threads Podcast. You can read full transcripts of the podcast and join the newsletter at LooseThreads.com. Feel free to leave review on iTunes. We always appreciate it. And thanks to George Drake Jr. for editing this episode. We have a great roster of upcoming guests including Natalie Mackey of Winky Lux, Gabby Slome of Ollie and Jeff Denby of The Renewal Workshop. Thanks for listening and talk to you soon.