When I graduated from Stevenson High School in Livonia, I was set on moving and building my life elsewhere. I traveled around the world – studied abroad, worked and then, like many Metro Detroiters, found myself right back home where I started. A master’s degree and a tech startup later, I couldn’t be prouder and happier to be working and spending most of every day in Detroit. And because of all that my home city has given to me, I wanted to give back.
Working in tech, I almost immediately noticed a problem with the language being used in the workplace — more often than not, by shear accident on the speaker’s part. I can’t count how many times I’ve been called bossy, told to calm down when I was explaining something I was passionate about, or accused of having no sense of humor because I didn’t laugh at a crude joke. When searching online for coaching materials to help me deal with these issues as a female founder, I realized that I wasn’t alone.
I came across a list of words that female leaders were uncomfortable with in the workplace, and quickly found that I had personally been called nearly every word on that list. I thought it was time to offer an alternative; time for us as women to take control of the language and change the narrative. With that in mind, I went for startup number two, Northern Fashion, founded in November 2018.
Northern is a social-impact fashion brand with a simple mission: empower women and girls to demand more of their peers and co-workers by emphasizing the fact that words matter.
The road hasn’t been easy, but it’s been incredibly rewarding, and, frankly, fun. The conversations my co-founder and I have shared with customers, activists and the community at large has been inspiring. We hope to harness this community energy to expand our movement for change.
About a month ago, we came across a nonprofit across the river from us in Windsor, Ontario with a phenomenal vision, staff, and resources that works to empower women and inspire girls to seek careers in STEM — something I am particularly passionate about given my education and professional background. It took me by surprise to see a design on some of the organization’s promotional materials that bore a striking resemblance to our designs. Even the hashtag being used at the time was extremely similar.
Now, people stumble across similar designs every day. It happens, particularly when that design involves text. I decided to reach out to the organization’s president to propose a collaboration. Detroit and Windsor are neighbors, and in more ways than not comprise a single community. A female-run business pushing the same message as a female-run nonprofit . . . it seemed like a recipe for the ideal collaboration.
My meeting with her went extremely well. I was more impressed with her organization than I was when I had simply browsed her site, and she was extremely accomplished and determined to make a difference in her community. When I approached the topic of our similar designs, she did the honorable and honest thing: she admitted that she had a different design in mind when she originally conceived of her messaging campaign, but changed it to resemble mine after seeing my product images. Many people stumble upon similar designs independently by chance, but that isn’t the case here – during our conversation she acknowledged that her nonprofit’s designs were based on Northern’s.
Despite this, I still proposed the collaboration because people make mistakes, and even if it wasn’t a mistake, the messaging of the designs is more important than my ego. We agreed to discuss in a week’s time, and then I heard nothing back. I chalked this up to a simple missed opportunity and left it at that. Recently, however, my team and I have noticed her and her organization discussing their support for other female-run organizations and encouraging their followers to support them as well. To me, support starts with respect, and respect means, not just admitting that you may have made a mistake, but also taking action to correct it. That has not been done in this case.
What we will never do throughout this journey as a company is use our platform to put down a fellow small business or a nonprofit, particularly one that’s run by a woman or minority – for three main reasons. First, it’s been done to us, and it frankly doesn’t feel very good. Second, but more importantly, when women support each other, incredible things happen, and we want to be supportive of our community and its betterment. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s unkind, and that’s just not who we are.
We live in an amazing time to be a woman or a girl. At Northern Fashion, we seek to empower women to change the narrative by taking control of the language used to describe them.
We hope to use our platform to inspire change and #ElevateTheConversation surrounding women and girls in the workplace, and we hope you’ll join us and any organization, nonprofit, or company who is also working to inspire change by walking the walk (and not just talking the talk).