PARIS, France — I remember reading Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times article “What’s so scary about smart girls?” To this day, Kristo’s answer rings very true for me: “Because there’s no force more powerful to transform a society.”
We in the fashion business are also responsible for creating an environment that demonstrates to young girls that any opportunity out there is available to them. One aspect of doing so is giving girls access to a great education. But I also believe it involves transforming the image of business itself, which has for so long been the exclusive territory of men. Every girl must know from an early age that she belongs in a boardroom as much as any male peer and that knowing how to run a business is not out of reach, too hard or too masculine.
Working has always been a part of who I am; it is how I have gained much of my knowledge. As a child I asked for jobs around the house to earn money and my parents instilled in me the idea that I could earn my own money and work my way up the career ladder. I worked in the mall as a teen and I went on to do a variety of different jobs through college, without ever feeling afraid to assert myself because of the experience I had built up. Being encouraged by my parents to take these opportunities was instrumental to me later in life.
Now that I have two young daughters, I’ve realised a number of things, firstly, that family and leadership are not mutually exclusive. I remind myself regularly that my daughters’ business education is incremental — it is happening every day. It involves the way I speak to them, the terminology my husband and I use and the material we introduce them to. We are laying a daily foundation for their future success by introducing new languages, new ideas and our own business and life experiences to them. Something as simple as teaching my daughter to balance a checkbook or giving her an allowance to manage might have a big impact later on.
At Opening Ceremony, we promoted female leadership from the start; it is a tenet of our business and remains a key part of how we see our company growing. We aim to not only make hiring great female talent a priority, but also to contribute to creating a great pool of candidates by mentoring young women through our education initiatives and internships. When we think about our marketing and communications, we also consider if the images we publish represent women in a diverse and powerful manner. We believe we have the power to influence future generations with positive messages and by supporting female design talent and we take it very seriously.
In the fashion industry, our collective effort to support entrepreneurship among young women to an even greater degree is key, especially for those girls who do not have easy access to educational resources. I’d like to see us do more with our digital resources to open up channels for girls to participate remotely in business education. We are responsible for creating the smart girls who can continue to transform our industry for the better.
I think the fashion industry, given its huge communication power, can do much more to put forth more compelling, nuanced narratives about women and girls. I liked last year’s #LikeaGirl campaign from Always, which really nailed the example of how even our vocabulary around female empowerment needs to be evaluated. Dove and Nike have also done a great job at supporting female empowerment in their marketing. Fashion can learn from this approach.
Carol Lim is co-founder of Opening Ceremony and co-creative director of Kenzo.
The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.
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