In Spring 2019, I started Keaton after years of struggling to find work clothes that made me feel confident and powerful as a young professional.
Our clothes feature easy-care fabrics and functional details based on feedback from hundreds of women. Keaton’s mission goes beyond product design. I learned the hard way that confidence comes from feeling comfortable bringing one’s whole self to work. In building Keaton, we are creating a future where young women feel truly empowered to bring our authentic selves to work. Follow us on our journey!
I started my career in the corporate world as a consultant at McKinsey & Company. When I graduated from college and started work, I was ready to chug the company Kool Aid, rack up the airline miles, and pull all-nighters at the office. I remember eagerly taking notes at our first orientation session when our facilitator started describing the “ideal” McKinsey consultant. He used the term “Gravitas.” He went on to describe how this ideal employee speaks with purpose and authority, “takes up space”, remains poised and solemn in his or her bearing, and always acts to be taken seriously. At this point, I became quite nervous. A person with gravitas probably does not use emojis and double exclamation points in emails (I do). A person with gravitas does not bake homemade cakes for coworkers’ birthdays (I do). And a person with gravitas certainly doesn’t jam out to Taylor Swift while modeling in Excel (I most definitely do).
I resolved to take the facilitator’s guidance to heart. I went off to my first project with the intention of leaving these behaviors at home. I knew how to avoid looking out of place: I donned black and gray suits, had my hair blown out straight instead of wearing it curly, and swapped my vintage baubles for diamond studs. I reread all my emails before sending and replaced the “Thanks!! 😊” with “Best.” At the end of my project, I was shocked to hear feedback that I “laughed too much” in the team room and needed to act “more serious.” I was mortified. As the only woman on my team, I repeatedly bit my tongue while my male colleagues joked and shared personal stories with the clients. I was actively trying to suppress these elements of my personality, yet, I was still being critiqued for a lack of “gravitas.” Surprised and confused, I resolved to try harder next time. But I was no longer as excited about Monday mornings.
I ended up staying in consulting for a few more years before leaving for a strategy role at a large retail brand. It took me years — several spent working with an incredible female mentor — to realize that the parts of myself that I’d been actively hiding were the parts that make me most effective. My quick-to-laugh, somewhat goofy disposition has helped me build rapport with people in the business world from factory workers to C-suite executives. Finding joy and confidence in my work as I learned to lead with my strengths made me realize how much I’d been missing out on. Research has shown that the cost of “covering” the authentic parts of oneself at work can be staggering — for individuals and the companies that employee us. This journey of self-discovery is why I’ve now made it my mission is to ensure that the next generation of young women feel empowered to bring their full selves to work. This change is already happening thanks to pioneering role models like Bozoma Saint John of Endeavor and Sara Blakely of Spanx. The modern workplace will be much better for it.
I decided to start Keaton as a capsule collection for the modern office because the decision to show up to work as your authentic self starts with a choice about what to wear each day.
I spoke with hundreds of professional women when developing the Keaton brand and one sentiment that came up repeatedly was the conceptualization of work clothing as our armor. We select items that help us feel prepared for whatever the day may bring — a power suit for a big meeting or heels to stand taller during a presentation. Just as knights in medieval times would adorn their armor with hand-painted crests to show the world who was wearing it, women I spoke with sought ways to blend function and self-expression in our workwear. Keaton’s Perfect Pant is our first stab (poor medieval knight pun notwithstanding) at creating this product, informed by 300 women’s perspectives. It is machine washable, wrinkle-resistant, has big pockets, and was designed using 11 diverse fit models to flatter a range of women’s bodies. Keaton is building a capsule collection of versatile essentials for work and play — because when women look and feel our best, these two occasions can increasingly overlap.
Beyond creating Keaton’s capsule wardrobe, I see us as a resource for young women just beginning their professional journey. I was so quick to mimic behaviors from a consulting company orientation because I had seen few well-publicized examples of professionals whose leadership style I could relate to.
We need your help to make this vision truly come to life. We’d love to have you follow us on our journey. We are actively planning events to bring this movement to life— if you are feeling inspired, we would love to hear from you!
(and never forget the emojis!) 😀👏🙋😉😊👻 👽 😻 👑