Advancing from online sales to a fully operational Tribecca showroom in three years, sisters Neely and Chloe Burch operate their accessories line, Neely and Chloe, with the vitality and style of quintessential up-and-coming New York women. When the Burch sisters set out to create a luxury leather goods and accessories brand in 2015, they were striving fill a market gap that they were frustrated with.
And yes, they are Tory Burch's nieces.
Photo by Bridget Badore | @bridgetbadore
“I think Tory is very inspiring for the way that she reached the customer and spoke with them. So I think if we can get a little bit of that, it would be great," says Chloe Burch.
Getting into the Family Business
Growing up in the Burch household was what any outsider may already expect from the famed name. The girls flourished from design and aesthetic inspiration. Outside of their aunt's success, their father began his career within the fashion industry.
“I think that fashion has always been in our family. Our dad was in the fashion industry for a very long time, he started a women and children's knitwear business. My mom worked at the company as well and that's where they met," Chloe explains. “Our cousins have a company called Trademark, which is an amazing accessories brand as well. And then obviously we have our aunt, who is so helpful and so supportive of everything that we do."
Neely remembers sitting around the dinner table talking about design and aesthetic with her parents, and whether it was art or clothes, “it was something that my father in particular knows a lot more about more than your average dad," she jokes.
Without a doubt, the sisters' childhood influenced their determination to create their own brand. Neely and Chloe are born and bred fashion industry darlings, with fingers on the pulse of their millennial target audience.
“I think that it's something that we've felt, as consumers. You want to know more and you want to know why the brand came to be, and there's not always a great answer for that other than its an austere aesthetic or this concept," says Neely. “We've really worked to create a brand that allows our audience to connect with us in a way that feels really approachable, that's something we've tried to integrate into our brand as a whole."
A Millennial's Proclivity for Minimalism
When Neely and Chloe imagined an accessories brand, they imagined one for themselves. Their brand emulates what they believed was missing in the marketplace, something that sits between luxury and fast fashion.
“I think a lot of it just comes from being millennial women, being young women shoppers and feeling frustrated by the fact that the options at hand were skipping the Ubers or bringing your lunch to work so you could buy something that really you couldn't afford that felt elevated and sophisticated and made you feel special," says Neely. “Or the options were buying fast fashion that didn't last or something that felt mass produced or over consumed."
Scrolling through the Neely and Chloe website allows for an experience that is a comparatively bare alternative to brands like Coach and Michael Michael Kors, who's purses lie within a similar price range. The massive difference is that Neely and Chloe accessories exist sans massive logos, labels or signature patterns.
One of Neely and Chloe's best-selling bags, No. 19 The Mini Lady Bag. Photo Courtesy of Neely and Chloe
According to Chloe, the brand emphasizes customization on all of their products, and with customization comes the ability for consumers to view the products as an extension of themselves.
“What our hope was, and what this has really allowed for, was for women to leave our store or our website with their bag feeling more about them than it does about us," says Neely.
Neely and Chloe were able to raise 1.25M in friends and family convertible debt. Neely recalls focusing on finding investors throughout 2015 and 2016, learning as she went. She spent months running to meetings with potential investors, all with different inquires about every aspect their business - which they had to quickly adapt to. “Neither one of us have any history in finance or background in that," says Neely. “There was a very steep learning curve, but it's one that forced us to get really intimate knowledge of every component of the business and put us in positions where, at times, there were questions we didn't have the answers to."
Along the investment trail came the alarming realization that many female founders and business owners have faced. The sisters were given a list of contacts that had a history with investments. “You look down and you realize, it's a bunch of men. There's just no reason why a lot of these names shouldn't be women's names," notes Neely. “It's hard to sit across a table and talk about a product that doesn't resonate with you because you're never going to be the person to use it -if you're a man and we're talking about handbags."
The Burch sisters realized that they had to approach their audience and embrace women investors. They had to create a way to reach their target audience, so they hosted a get together with women from their hometown, women who knew them and saw them as capable business owners.
“It was our first stop on the fundraising trail," says Neely. “We wanted to present a product that was for women, by women, to women. We have a few investors that came out of that night who have become really great ambassadors for the brand."
Today, the Burch sisters operate Neely and Chloe from a sunlit showroom. Right now, their focus is on expanding their customer base while remaining true to their brand story. “We've really only scratched the surface of the consumers that are out there for this brand," says Neely. “I think there's a ton of potential for growth. We've just started dipping our toes into the wholesale side, working with very select specialty store brands to tap into great networks of women and really spread the word about who we are."
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.