Fashion designer Dalia MacPhee started her company at twenty-one-years-old with $100 and a handful of airline miles. Now she's a designer to the stars, delighting in seeing her looks walk the runway and grace premieres, and glide through the most glamorous events.
It's been no easy ride for MacPhee for sure. Her failures threatened to out-number her success. But desire and perseverance ruled the day. It may seem cliché. But, in the end, never letting go of what she knew she could do is what made it all work.
MacPhee grew up riding horses, including competing and jumping. “That was my number one passion, and still is to this day. In school, I was a bit of a dichotomy. My peers and teachers would have described me as very quiet and reserved, yet I also ranked as the top public speaker in Canada. I never fit in high school. I knew early on that the politics of cliques and hierarchy were not for me, and I instead kept mainly to myself and a few friends that I am still close with today!"
If asked, the designer says she would describe herself as being sensitive, resilient, and innovative, while friends and family would likely choose words like creative, kind, and strong. “Some may say stubborn," she adds.
MacPhee says she grew up in the clothing business. “Back then they called it 'Shmuta,'" she explains. “My parents had a chain of women's clothing stores across Canada." She says. "They took us to work after school; tradeshows on the weekends; and overseas to the factories during Spring Break. At seven years old, I was already creating store displays and taking inventory between obligatory nap times (which naturally were in one of the fitting rooms)."
When she was eleven-years-old, she was asked to write an essay for school about what she did that summer. Her friends wrote mostly about going to Disneyland and camp, she says.
“I wrote about the condition of Chinese clothing factories and the impact NAFTA and the quota system were having on apparel trade relations. I saw everything fashion. I heard everything fashion. Fashion and the business of fashion were a part of every dinner. Apparel has always been in my blood."
She created her first design when she only eleven-years-old. “I had to make a mandatory blouse for my home economics class. I was having such a hard timing making it, I almost flunked the class. I remember my teacher at the time advising me to never to pursue a career in fashion. Thank you for that!"
Interestingly, though, MacPhee actually wanted to be a lawyer when she was growing up. “I excelled in debating and public speaking and always defended the underdog. So, naturally, I felt this was the field I belonged." But it wasn't long after she graduated from university that she, as she says, “had too creative an entrepreneurial spirit for law."
Before MacPhee got into apparel, she launched her own jewelry collection. “I was just in University, about eighteen-years-old. I already had my pieces on the Home Shopping Network and even had an infomercial for an interchangeable ring I invented."
She says she was never really in love with jewelry as a business though. So, it wasn't long before she put that aside for bigger and better things. “A year or so later, I went to check out an apparel trade show, and it was then I got the bug, almost like getting struck by lightning. I decided to create a small capsule collection of formal dresses." She says she chose dresses because she loved them and figured if it didn't work out she'd at least have a nice addition to her wardrobe. From that moment on, she simply never stopped pushing until success was hers.
There is one thing that she says is the key to that success and to making a business like hers work.
“The one thing I learned early on is the power of a strong sales team. I called around blindly to reps I knew of or admired and asked for recommendations. Several suggested I attend a show in Atlanta, with that region being a hot spot for social occasion and prom store buyers. So I flew out."
MacPhee says the buyers loved that she was a young woman showing prom dresses when the majority of her competition were mostly older men. “My dresses were a hit at that show as they were clean, classy ball gowns, a huge deviation from the sexy beaded frocks all the other manufacturers were showing. I was able to look at buyers and say, 'Hey, I'm your customer. I can relate to these girls, and this is what they want.' I actually helped revolutionize the prom industry at that time," She says. "The sales from that show gave me the confidence to hire more sales reps across the states and Canada, and within one year my collection was carried in about 1500 stores and most major department stores."
One of the first times MacPhee saw a design of hers out in the world was for the cover of “Your Prom" magazine. “To be about twenty-one, maybe twenty-two-years-old, seeing one of your designs gracing a publication you used to read religiously was surreal.
The greatest challenge she's faced in your career is simple, she says, “Remembering who I am. Apparel is probably one of the most cutthroat industries. I always say I entered it with a Minor in design and will leave it with a Masters in Psychology.
At twenty-one-years-old, my business was on complete fire. By twenty-six it had completely tanked. By thirty, I reinvented myself and by thirty-three, I was on complete fire again. It's been an up and down rollercoaster, constantly navigating economics, a changing industry and the challenge of being a privately owned company playing in the big boy's box. The gift in all this has been in learning that our currency and measurement of success in this life has to do with one thing only: how we react and who we choose to be during the most difficult of times."
MacPhee says she is fortunate to have had many happy surprises throughout her career from being featured on Entertainment Tonight to being showcased and published in Success and Forbes magazine. But, she says, she believes the most special moment was being honored by the Consul General of Canada.
“I was mentioned as a 'phenomenon in Canada, with specific designing talent.' It was a real honor. They opened up the Consulate House in Los Angeles and I transformed the library into a museum of my gowns. We had over forty major press outlets there, my closest friends, and many of Hollywood's elite. It was a very special night."
Fashion is an absolutely vital part of the human experience, MacPhee says. “The human experience is about connecting. I believe fashion is the thread that links us all. Think about your closet right now. There are certain pieces in there you may never get rid of. Why? Because there is a memory, an experience, and another person attached to it. That's as human as you can get."
MacPhee recently launched a cocktail collection that is doing very well. “We create some of the fabrics in-house," she explains. “I love the idea of a woman being able to have a few 'go to' dress pieces in her closet for going out to dinner or events. I also have a ready-to-wear collection launching, as well as an equestrian collection (actual made to order equestrian shirts) and riding pants, born from my own love of horses and riding."
Being a female CEO certainly has its challenges. But too many of them were self-inflicted, explains MacPhee. “I grew up watching my mom run her company, and so I think I was at an advantage when I started because I had been conditioned to believe that women could do or be anything. When I first started out, I was the youngest apparel brand owner, and one of the only females in a sea of older men. I believed I had just as much a right to be there as anyone, so I moved through the barriers like they didn't even exist.I was, of course, aware of the limiting beliefs of others, and so when I would meet skeptical or nervous buyers, and, yes, many of these were women, I would pretend to be the hired designer of a male owned company, so I could get the order. Years later, I forgot who I was and started to doubt my power. I had a business trip scheduled to China and asked a good male friend to tag along and pretend he was my boss as I was afraid I would not be respected as a woman," She says. "The meetings were going nowhere because every time we needed to agree on a point, the businessmen would look to my friend for approval, who kept saying, 'Ask her.' I finally slammed my pencil down and said, 'From this point on I'm the boss.' I went alone to China after that, and I owned being a female CEO. I actually think it helped liberate some of the men from their own fears and beliefs and provided a light for the women there who doubted themselves."
MacPhee says it's interesting to look back now on how she once imagined her life might look. “We are constantly changing, and so I've imagined different futures at different ages. At eighteen, I imagined I'd be married with kids by now. At twenty-five, I imagined I'd be doing this interview from my private Concorde. At thirty, I imagined no one would ever want to interview me again. One constant though is that I always imagined a life where I would be creating and doing something beneficial in the world, and I feel very fortunate that this is my life today."
As for the future, MacPhee personally plans to, “fulfill the highest most truthful expression of myself and not care what anyone thinks while I'm doing it." In terms of her career, she says, “I have a love of technology and innovation and I would really love to be on the forefront of wearable tech, specifically wearable fashion that will improve the human experience [particularly in regards to health]." And as for the world at large, she yearns for, “more generosity, less greed, more creation, less fear, and judgment based on how people hate, not on how people love."
MacPhee has also invented wearable tech, including something she calls the Brilliant Purse. “The purse is amazing. Basically, anything your cellphone can do this purse can do and more. More details to come as it's closer to launching this year. I also am launching a pet app called Competible. Look for it in the Apple App store in April. I am an animal lover and saw a need to disrupt the pet adoption industry and community. If you have a pet, are looking for one, or just love animals, you will definitely want to download this."
To top off her success, MacPhee has had the opportunity to dress a plethora of celebrities, including Hilary Duff, Heidi Klum, Gina Rodriguez, Brooke Burke-Charvet, Olivia Munn, Amber Riley, Nina Dobrev, Niecy Nash, Alyssa Milano, Serena Williams, Scarlett Johansson, Khloe Kardashian, the stars of The Vampire Diaries, Big Bang Theory, Pretty Little Liars, True Blood, and Glee just to name a few.
“I knew early on the power of celebrity, so I aligned myself with some great PR agencies and publicists. As the motto of my line is 'changing the world one garment at a time.' I also partnered with several celebrities over the years to create campaigns that bring awareness to causes near and dear to my heart. One of the most recent was an underwater shoot we did with actress Nia Peeples and a few female abuse survivors to bring awareness to domestic violence and trafficking."
Candace Cameron in Dalia MacPhee style 3028.
What women must remember, MacPhee says, is that, “You were designed for success. By the time you were three, you were most likely already walking and running and speaking at least one language. By Three. Don't buy into the doubt society will try to put on you in an attempt to limit your growth. People do that because of fear. You're here to make your dreams happen. Be brave.
Once you know what your dream is, don't hold back. If you can't run, walk, if you can't walk, crawl, and if you can't crawl, call an Uber! Listen. Learn. Ask for help. Whatever you do, keep moving forward. Your gift to the world is like a fingerprint. There's only one exactly like yours. Before you leave this world, it's imperative you put your fingerprints all over it."
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.