Sathya Balakumar and Heather Green work in the bridal industry, so calling them a match made in heaven may be playing on a pun, but it couldn’t be more accurate. The two refer to themselves as the “Lakum Duo,” because their vision for the brand is the same: they are set on establishing a high-fashion company that infuses heritage with modernity, without the intimidation factor that often follows couture.
SWAAY sat down with the Lakum founders to talk about their latest collection, setting out on their own and what designing for the “non-traditional” bride means to them.
What is your inspiration for this new collection, Elemental 2.0?
Sathya Balakumar: “Our story is about sleek, clean silhouettes, and then we pepper them with beautiful embroideries. For this collection, I wanted to go back to the techniques, the tailoring, the structure, very simple, sophisticated foundation pieces and then build off of that. The elemental pieces of the collection are the basic pieces that we grow from, and those are the silhouettes that last for a lifetime.”
Heather Green: “We built off our original Elemental collection, and a lot of it was actually inspired by the brides that are coming into the store. We get to be educated on the floor by the women shopping from us.”
Lakum founders, Heather Green and Sathya Balakumar, at their Elemental 2.0 launch party.
What sets Lakum apart from other bridal boutiques?
HG: “We come from high fashion. I think that's clear in our direction and the way that we approach everything. We don't approach it from the bridal world. We will still do markets, we are still going to show October. We did a runway show last year and it was cool, it was an introduction for us, but what really makes Lakum is the two of us."
SB: “Some of the more traditional boutiques are like a factory. You’re in and out in 60 minutes, barely see the whole collection. It's a very unemotional experience.”
HG: “Our role in this world is to create beautiful gowns or pieces that make you feel beautiful and like your best self. That’s what we strive for.”
How did you develop the concept for your brand?
HG: “When we came together to create Lakum, we knew we wanted to do something in bridal, but in a way that would shake up the industry and cater to the modern woman. We spoke to friends and friends of friends who had been recently married to find out about their shopping experience, and how they selected their wedding gown. In essence, what we discovered is that most women selected a look they thought they SHOULD wear as opposed to a look that allowed them to feel like themselves while walking down the aisle. We created Lakum to give the woman who is utterly self aware the opportunity to be her authentic self on her wedding day and throughout her entire wedding weekend.”
What inspired you to start your own brand, and what continues to drive you?
HG: “I worked at Marni and then I went on to work at Miguelina, and for me it wasn't the right fit. I ended up turning into a corporate sales person. I originally worked for small brands where there was creativity, actual communication and relationships with the people I was working with. So now, the stores that carry us are our friends. We get to build this relationship and have this be our shared vision. We just want to do this for us. Once we decided that, which was around year two and a half, we opened the store. We’ve been here about a year and a half now. We decided that we’re going to work one-on-one and that’s the feedback that we’re going to listen to, instead of anyone else. It’s hard, going out on your own. It’s a big deal. But we have a lot of gratitude. We call ourselves the Lakum duo because even though we're different in many ways, the vision for the brand is exactly the same.”
Where were you located before your Brooklyn showroom?
HG: “We've actually always been in Brooklyn. Our origins are in Cobble Hill, but prior to this space, we were located just down the street. When we began to get requests from brides from across the country to come and make appointments with us to shop the line, we realized we needed a true retail location. We were so fortunate to find this gorgeous loft space with a roof deck just a few blocks away. So we now have a Lakum Boutique, the first of many we hope.”
Did you have any challenges finding investors for your very first collection?
HG: “We know how to stretch a penny and relied solely on our own financing as well as small gift from our family to create the first collection. We are one of the small businesses out there who can say we are fully owned by the founders.”
What makes a Lakum bride?
SB: “It’s the modern bride. She’s in control of this, it's now her vision. It's not like the industry or society telling her that she needs to wear a long, traditional, corseted white gown. She wants to wear something that’s gorgeous and beautifully made that she can wear again and again.”
HG: “Yes! Totally her. We have plenty of city hall brides, same-sex brides, women who just don’t want to wear dresses. Separates have been a huge part of our business. Now, it’s 50/50 between gowns and separates. We have some beautiful suiting, and it’s becoming one of the hottest things we have…We never know what our brides are going to gravitate towards. For appointments, brides can bring as many people as they want, but what’s very cool is a lot of our brides come solo. She's utterly self-aware.”
SB: “She doesn’t need the feedback. She just knows what she wants.”
What are you working on next?
SB: “The next collection that I'm working on, the theme is 'non-linear.' The path to love is not a linear path, that’s what I’m envisioning. I'm trying to work out elements that go against the grain, whether that's going to be brought from texture or fabric. I always look at what’s working in the collection and I talk to Heather. It’s about marrying the concepts that I’m thinking about to what we need to enhance what we already have.”
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.