As a professional woman who prefers to leave pantsuits to the boys, I was thrilled to discover MM.LaFleur's beautifully crafted, elegant yet reasonably priced line of dresses when the company's first collection was released in 2013. While it's offering has since expanded to include separates, knitwear and accessories, the ethos to "make the purposeful woman look and feel beautiful, without having to work too hard at it", remains at it's core as the brand continues to evolve.
I spent time with MM.LaFleur's Founder, Sarah LaFleur, to learn about how her vision and products address the need of the sophisticated traveling woman who doesn't want to sacrifice style on the go for comfort and convenience.
How would you describe today's "purposeful woman"?
To me, being purposeful means making your mark. Seeing something that you think could be done better, and throwing yourself into it. That’s purpose.
The “purposeful woman”is where the 21st century twist comes into play. The majority of women today juggle so much on a daily basis. Whether it's earning a degree, building a business, raising a family, or all of the above, women are incredibly adept at playing multiple roles. I think contrary to the “purposeful man” that we’ve seen from previous centurieswho threw himself into his passion and let everything else fall by the wayside, the modern purposeful woman is someone who makes peace with the daily juggle, while staying focused on her goals. For her to succeed, the workplace has to become a more comfortable place where she can structure and own her time.
What are some of the challenges that the "purposeful woman" faces and how does MM.LaFleur help address them?
The biggest challenge is always time. There are never enough hours in the day to do everything you'd like to do. You have to be laser-focused about how you allocate your hours.
When I was first building my career, I definitely didn't want to spend my precious free time shopping for workwear. Many of our customers feel the same way, which is why we introduced our Bento Box model: a stylist hand-picks looks for you and ships them to your door, so you can build your work wardrobe at your own pace in a stress-free environment (your home!). It eliminates "decision paralysis" and means you never have to set foot in a mall again if you don't want to. Basically, we're trying to take the work out of dressing for work. We often say that the least interesting thing about our customer should be her clothes—and in fact, that's the truth, even when she’s wearing MM.LaFleur!
How have the needs of your customers changed since you first launched the brand?
At first, we were really just trying to reach an underserved market. There are only a handful of brands serving professional women today, which seems crazy given how many women there are in the workforce. We immediately connected with women who were seeking elegant options that were also highly functional—machine-washable, wrinkle-resistant, and comfortable enough to travel in.
As we've refined and expanded our collection, we've gotten so much incredible feedback from customers about everything from silhouettes and fabrics to colors and construction. The biggest thing we've learned is that women are eager for advice and styling services that simplify their decision-making process, which is why Bento has been such a hit.
It's wonderful to see MM.LaFleur grow and continuously add new products. How do you see the offering evolve over time?
Ultimately, we'd like to be the go-to brand for professional women around the world. Our web presence continues to evolve, and we hope to open our first brick-and-mortar location in the near future. In time, we'd like to serve an international audience and expand our product line to include a full wardrobe, including shoes and bags.
I love that you have a "Perfect for Travel" section on your website. How do you decide which pieces from the collection to include in it?
My co-founder Narie and I actually met while working on a travel case as management consultants. We were flying from New York to Denver every week and running straight from the plane to client meetings. I wish our collection had existed back then!
At MM.LaFleur, we make a point of creating styles that are wrinkle-resistant, machine or hand-washable, and incredibly versatile. Our styles tend to be elegant and refined, so they look as natural in New York or Washington D.C. as they do in London or Hong Kong. We specialize in styles that work from day-to-night, so you can hop off the plane, spend the day in meetings, go out for cocktails, and never second-guess what you're wearing.
What makes the fabrics you use travel friendly?
All of our fabrics come from mills in Italy, Germany, and Japan—many of which are family-owned. We select fabrics that are highly breathable, wrinkle and stain-resistant, and easy to care for. Most of them have stretch so you can actually move in them, which seems obvious, but isn't true of most workwear. The best thing about our fabrics is that they look so luxurious and almost delicate, but they perform like you wouldn't believe.
If your carryon suitcase for a 3 day business trip were an MM.LaFleur Bento Box, what would yours contain?
My favorite "plane dress" is the Narie. It's made of pajama-soft double-knit jersey, but it holds its shape beautifully—even after a red-eye. I would also take our new Nisa dress, which is stretchy and comfortable, but it doesn't wrinkle and it's machine-washable. I always pack a Sant Ambroeus, which is our go-to "jardigan" (a mix between a jacket and a cardigan). A silk scarf can make an outfit you've already worn feel new again. And I always refer to our jewelry line as "travel jewelry." It looks fancy, but it's affordable and durable, so you can take it on the road without worry. l wear our single bezel necklace, bezel earrings, and crisscross ring almost every day.
Where are you traveling to next?
I'm headed to Uganda in May! I've been involved with the International Rescue Committee for years—I'm on their junior board—and I can't wait to spend some time in the field on behalf of the organization. I’m looking forward to understanding ways in which MM.LaFleur can potentially be useful to the IRC as well. I think the days when companies existed purely to pursue profit are long gone.