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I have a growing list of anxieties about returning to the office after Labor Day. I joined Carta last October, and I’ve been working remotely since then and have only met one coworker in person (a socially distanced coffee encounter on a city bench.) A recent survey conducted by Limeade reveals that I’m not alone: Every single one of the 500 people surveyed reported feeling anxious about the idea of returning to the office.
Although commuting to work, less flexibility and the need for childcare are some of the top concerns, my head has also been filled with a list of much more superficial items. Where will I sit? Who will I eat lunch with? And most important of all, what will I wear on that very first day of work? Do I don one of the dresses I used to love to wear to work, or do I embrace that company hoodie?
As I scroll through blouse options on my phone, revisit old dresses in my closet and receive another hoodie from my employer, I’m buying and piecing together post-pandemic looks. And just like me, more than half of U.S. consumers plan to buy apparel in the coming months, making it the top category of anticipated spending.
“Wear the dress,” Elizabeth Lewis, founder and CEO of Brand, Style, & Bloom coaches me. “Wear what makes you happy, and more importantly what represents your brand. First impressions matter.”
Lewis is the branding guru and creative force behind Brand, Style & Bloom. Her mission is to help professionals get noticed to achieve their vision of success, using personal branding and styling as tools. Lewis primarily works with women, recognizing that women have many more choices when it comes to what they wear and are also judged more harshly than men on their appearances. Leaders like Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama and Steve Jobs have all publicly proclaimed that they made the choice to wear the same thing every day: A uniform of gray or blue suits, blue jeans and that black mock turtleneck or a simple gray T-shirt.
“I think that is definitely a decision that you can make once you’ve had the privilege of reaching a certain point in your career or have enough zeros in your bank account,” Lewis says. “Most of us do not have this privilege, much less have the chance to explain why we wear what we wear, and that’s especially true for women.”
As Lewis continues on her mission to help women stand out and embrace their uniqueness, here are three lessons she shares on building a business:
1. Follow your passion
Lewis has loved fashion for as long as she can remember. She loved dressing up in her mom’s clothes and high heels and flipping through Vogue magazine. She enjoyed experimenting with bright colors and recalls proudly wearing red-orange Calvin Klein jeans paired with lime green socks.
“They say to find your passion, look at the common thread that has run through your entire life,” shares Lewis. Along the way, she pursued some secondary loves, but fashion never left her. “I continued to style my friends and get compliments on my own outfits, and I promised myself one day I would return to fashion.”
In 2019, while working as a brand marketer at Colgate-Palmolive, Lewis decided the time was right to take the leap and start her own company, Brand, Style & Bloom. Lewis’ great-grandmother, who ran her own country store and real estate business in the 1950s in a segregated South, served as a source of inspiration.
2. Provide easy-to-understand solutions
With so many options, styling can seem like an overwhelming, complex problem to solve. Lewis’ approach is to provide a practical, easy-to-understand solution. “Our personal style is a great tool to express who we are and what makes us unique, and I always dress with that in mind,” she explains.
She works with clients one-on-one and offers workshops to organizations to help people find three words that signify how they want to show up and what they bring to the table. Lewis’ three words are fearless, joyful and artistic. Using these words, her wardrobe choices manifest in bright colors, interesting patterns and of course her signature red lipstick.
During her time at Colgate-Palmolive, she spent much of her time as a marketer on product packaging. “Not every product has a big campaign budget and gets featured in high-profile commercials,” explains Lewis. “And so a product needs to have strong packaging to be noticed on the shelf and stand out among the other choices.”
Lewis started to compare this thought to people. “We can have all the right ingredients and still not know how to present ourselves.” So she began her mission to help professionals reach their full potential. “Visual signifiers are very important, because people make snap decisions about us before they get to know us, and at the end of the day, we need the help of others to reach our goals.”
Related: These Sisters Relied on Side Hustles to Pay the Rent While Bootstrapping Their Food Business: “We Were Pinching Pennies Then Would Walk Into a VC’s Office and Act Like We Didn’t Need Their Money”
3. Be ready to solve problems differently
During this pandemic, women-owned businesses have been more likely to close than businesses led by men. They have also been more likely to report a greater loss in sales. Lewis’ business faced yet another challenge: being part of an industry that was devastated by the pandemic. Retailers closed stores, major industry events were postponed indefinitely, and consumers’ preferences drastically shifted to embracing loungewear, slippers and Zoom tops.
Struggling to grow her business, Lewis turned to innovation, launching her membership platform, Style Wellness, in the middle of the pandemic. Lewis honed in on the insight that what we wear has a proven effect on the way we feel about ourselves and our outlook on the world. According to the study of enclothed cognition, clothing has the power to “affect our mental processes and the way we think, feel and function.”
“Color psychology shows up differently in our communities and can have a huge impact on enhancing our moods,” explains Lewis. “For example, red can signify confidence and passion, yellow for optimism, and blue and green for trust and harmony,” she says. “It can have a huge positive impact on our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us.”
She launched the community for women, and it’s packed with body inclusive fashion collections, how-to guides to help members look and feel their best and webinars featuring inspirational speakers from fields beyond fashion. “After all the grief and loss so many have us faced during the pandemic, I am focused on one singular mission: I want all women to feel fabulous, joyful and empowered.”