A woman working in a corporate job will spend almost half of her waking life in ‘workwear’ – and possibly more.
So why is the good majority of affordable workwear so boring? Especially compared to what’s on offer for women outside of the office?
And with more of us working flexibly, and an increasing focus on work/life balance, does it even make sense anymore to have separate wardrobes for work and casual clothing?
These were some of the questions childhood friends Jemima Law and Lawren Lee asked each other while working in separate corporate roles for a number of years.
They decided to quit their jobs and launch a local fashion label ARIS (at a time when local fashion labels are not travelling too well), with the aim of offering something different: affordable and fashionable pieces that can be worn to work, as well as to a social event.
We spoke to Jemima to find out more about her big career move, and why she believes corporate fashion needs a serious makeover.
You were working a safe corporate job. Why did you decide to give it all up to launch Aris?
In 2015, my new year’s resolution was to revamp my work wardrobe. After several years working in a demanding role, I really didn’t have time to go shopping for workwear. I always loathed that I had to spend thousands on a work wardrobe, which didn’t reflect my style and could only be worn during work hours. The time I did manage to put aside to shop, I spent curating my “fun” weekend wardrobe.
It was then that I was struck by the lack of options available, everything was overpriced and essentially looked the same. There was nothing that bridged the gap between fashionable and professional, so decided to bridge that gap myself.
I pitched the idea to my childhood friend and co-founder Lawren, and Aris was launched 12 months later. Both our passions have always been in fashion and design. We actually had intentions to start a fashion label but ended up in the corporate world, so it’s perfect to be able to combine the two worlds together.
It’s our vision to eradicate the distinction between work clothes and weekend clothes. We want women to be able to wear great clothes every day of the week.
How do you ensure Aris is different to other brands and that you can compete in this market?
We’ve created something unique that doesn’t currently exist in the market. Our clothes are all designed to do double-duty so they can be mixed and matched with other pieces in your wardrobe according to the occasion. We aim to inject the latest fashion into the workplace, whilst still maintaining a professional sophistication.
Because we have a background in the corporate world, we truly understand the struggle of dressing for work and have created each piece with the fashion-conscious working woman in mind. Currently, workwear is seen as boring, expensive, and uncomfortable – we’re here to turn all of that around!
We also aim to make our clothing accessible to all working women, which is reflected in our price point. We’d rather have lower margins and spread more love!
What are some of the key challenges you’ve found women experience when it comes to ‘work wear’
Women don’t have a standard work outfit like men, who can just throw on a suit every day. This can work for and against us; we have more freedom in what we wear, however this also means our outfit choice can influence how we’re perceived in the work environment. For example, a lack of effort can be seen as sloppy and unprofessional and anything too risqué can impact your credibility. It’s important to consider your office culture and whether you have external meetings to decide what to wear and when.
Maintaining a professional image is imperative to building your personal brand. The majority of a first impression is based on appearance, which can give cues about confidence, success and trustworthiness, so it’s vital to look impeccable when meeting a client for the first time, attending a networking function or going for a job interview.
Often image and clothing gets forgotten in the midst of climbing the corporate ladder. I witnessed many very successful women wear the same boxy suits (and hairstyles) for years. Fashion is constantly evolving, so should our work wardrobes. We update our resumes and skills as the times change and should have the same approach for our image.
We believe women should be able to express their personality and individuality of style in the workplace, rather following suit (excuse the pun) and dressing like everyone else. In particular, young women coming into the work force are often unsure of what to wear, so end up dressing like everyone else. It’s easy to become disenchanted and feel like another cog in the wheel when everyone is dressed the same.
The requirement of shopping for separate work and weekend wardrobes is another pain point for time-poor women. Investing in pieces that can be restyled for more than one occasion actually saves a lot of time and money in the long run. This is why all our pieces all have to pass our two-step test of “can I wear it to work?” and “can I wear it to my next social event?”.
Tell us about your career in corporate finance. Why did you decide to make the leap to a startup? How did you actually make that transition?
It was a rewarding career path, albeit often involved late nights and weekends in the office. My time in corporate finance not only allowed me to build the start-up capital to launch Aris, but also furnished me with invaluable knowledge about what makes businesses tick, having worked with companies across a diverse range of industries. I always knew I wanted to start my own business so it was only a matter of time.
I spent around 12 months juggling full-time work and working towards launch. After a long day I would meet Lawren and we would work on the business until late at night. I used my annual leave that year to take a trip to China, during which we visited and vetted dozens of manufacturers and scoured the fabric markets.
Nobody in my team knew my intentions until a few months before I took the plunge and quit my job to launch Aris. Many people ask why I didn’t take a 12 month career break, or continue to work on it on the side, but I believe to give it your best shot, you need to be 100% committed.
What does an average work day look like for you know? From managing responsibilities outside of work, to marketing, manufacturing etc?
Every day is different and unpredictable as you’ll never know what issues or opportunities may pop up. You also become versed in areas that you may have never
touched before, including PR and marketing, logistics and supply chain management, accounting, web and graphic design, copywriting, etc. We oversee all aspects of the business and use freelancers where possible, instead of hiring full time, to keep the structure lean.
Being your own boss, you determine your own schedule, so although I’m probably working more hours in total, there is more flexibility to cater for responsibilities outside of work.
And finally, what gets you inspired? How do you get creative, and where do you look for ideas for your pieces?
In a way, our main source of inspiration is ourselves; we create the type of clothes that we’d want to wear. We also take inspiration from art and architecture and are drawn to modern clean lines, subtle textures and muted colours. When travelling, I also love people watching in business districts around the world to see how far women are willing to push the boundaries.