Culture 18 October 2018
Attendees group photo in their sunglasses provided by Luxottica. Photo Courtsey Of Sarah Merians Photography & Video Company
What happens when 36 executives in the fashion and media fields come together over autumn-inspired dishes and cocktails? “Meaningful connections and authentic relationships that hopefully can lead to bigger partnerships,” says SWAAY’s founder, Iman Oubou, on the cohort of female executives warming up the room on New York City’s first brisk evening of the season.
Power. Resistance. Authenticity. Alacrity. This was last night’s tone hovering throughout Haven’s Kitchen, a female-founded restaurant complex, dedicated to forming communities through cooking and eating. The third-floor loft space provided an amiable setting for established executives from brands like Luxottica, Rosenthal & Rosenthal, and Steve Madden to mingle with founders of emerging brands like ADAY, Neely & Chloe, INSPR and Affordable Luxury Group; brands that emphasize the fashion world is never too saturated to break into.
“We live in a world where we’re consuming and discovering trends in a different way than we ever have before,” said INSPR’s co-founder, Chantel Waterbury, explaining her brand’s ability to take advantage of a consumer trend’s short-lived cycle and turn it into an entire label. “We’re essentially giving creatives an empty canvas to tell their story for around 90 days.”
Iman Oubou, Neely Burch, Nina Faulhaber, Amelia Lovaglio
Photo Courtsey Of Sarah Merians Photography & Video Company
Aptly named “A Night of Empowerment,” Oubou celebrated the evening as SWAAY’s first partnership with Accessories Council. “Karen and I met at our last SWAAY dinner,” shared Oubou before introducing Karen Giberson, President, and CEO at Accessories Council. “We had a conversation about how we can always be doing more to support one another; it’s about collaboration, not competition.”
Karen Giberson, president of the Accessories Council, continued, “We are an industry that serves women and there really aren’t enough women in most senior leadership positions. We have an opportunity to change things.”
As the room glowed with an aura as soft as the tea candle-lit tables, connections came alive as the fashion-forward attendees shared their industry experience by introducing some of their glorifying wins, but more importantly recognizing similar struggles while building a career within a still male-dominated field.
“Being the only female family member in the Rosenthal business often makes me feel that I have to work just that much harder to prove myself,” says Cassie Rosenthal, Senior Vice President at Rosenthal and Rosenthal, opening up the floor to introductions from the range of women she brought together in collaboration with SWAAY and The Accessories Council. “What I’ve come to learn over the years more than anything is, it doesn’t matter how outnumbered I am, it’s my unique perspective and approach to business that allows me to affect change.”
Karen Giberson, President of Accessories Council
Photo Courtsey Of Sarah Merians Photography & Video Company
In response to her honest and humbling opener, the room buzzed with similar tales of unfathomable wins and what makes each invitee’s story unique.
“Being a woman in this male-dominated world has helped me a lot,” admitted Arelis Gutierrez, President and CEO of Aria Logistics, who also unabashedly referred to herself as the “Elle Woods of the trucking industry.”
Affordable Luxury Group’s founder Aimee Kestenberg also shared in success by giving into being different. “People told us we were too young and stupid to do anything in fashion, but now we’re the only millennial owned and run fashion company in Manhattan,” she shared, also noting they were just named the fastest growing, privately owned fashion company in America.
“If women demonstrate qualities that men are revered for, they are interpreted as bitchy, overbearing, and tough to deal with,” explained Sloan Tichner, President of Steve Madden Handbags. “If you want to achieve an objective, you have to detach emotions. As women, it’s indicative to take on everything for the cause, even if it means doing someone else’s job but you can’t manage and do; it was only when I got here that my business took off.”
Staci Chen, Chanel Brand Director at Luxottica inherited her comfort in communicating after moving to the U.S. at 15-years-old; she didn’t speak English, therefore, wasn’t vocal. “My parents said do whatever you need to do to get your point of view across. If you speak your mind, you communicate in a way that you get what you want.”
Fran Lukas, CEO of the Jewelry Group, shared her lessons from growing up in the industry surrounded by men, and applying their wisdom to inspire women, “not to be intimidated by each other’s strengths, but to lift each other up and take it to the next generation.”
Neely and Chloe is an aspirational, attainable handbag brand that represents this next generation, with sisters Neely and Chloe Burch attributing their success to the leading ladies in style who came before them. “So many women have struck out on their own and have made it possible to do what we do. It’s our turn to dive back into this world to support other women in their endeavors and dreams.”
Other names in fashion included former executives at Hermes, Nine West, and Ivanka Trump, along with innovative companies such as zero-waste, superfood organic beauty brand LOLI and luxury accessory brand Deepa Gurnani working to change the stigma surrounding women’s roles in India.
It was an evening full of camaraderie and confirmation of what happens when women work together to support one another, not just from all angles of the industry, but from international corners and across all ages. Oubou concluded the inaugural dinner with an ode to the series on the horizon, to keep the conversation flowing and inspiration consistent. “Our hope with these intimate gatherings is to give a platform for women to come together and insist on each other’s success.
We all get comfortable in supporting each other from afar, or commenting on each other’s social media posts, but there’s something magical about women coming together in real life to build deeper relationships and have meaningful conversations. We are excited about this dinner series and the incredible stories that will come out each gathering.”
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.