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."
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."