By Patricia Viscount
When Stephanie Ray founded Grayes in 2016, she saw a gap between stylish and affordable workwear. She felt forced into ill-fitting suits when all she wanted was chic dresses with appropriate hemlines, blazers with style and trousers for work and play. Her version of a perfectly designed office-friendly clothing collection was simple: timeless, affordable and versatile. One that would make women feel confident in both their personal and professional life.
Her vision was to provide women with the tools to build a better tomorrow.
Over the years, Stephanie’s worked with an incredible group of Canadian designers, marketers, manufacturers and suppliers to provide well-made, impeccably designed garments for her customers.
So successful in delivering on their brand promise, they attracted the eye of Michele Romanow, CEO and founder of Clearbanc, and serial entrepreneur. Michele also loved the fact she was supporting a Canadian female entrepreneur and designers.
“I felt very aligned with the brand,” she says. “It really resonated with me because it was high quality with a reasonable price tag. I wear their pieces in a lot of versatile ways; they work with jeans and also work pants.”
When she first started her career, Michele was very conscious of being young and a woman, so she dressed as old as possible. She didn’t want anyone focusing on the fact that she was 21, pitching for capital and doing things that she was “too young” for.
Thankfully, her wardrobe has gotten younger and edgier as she’s aged and come into her own. She still loves blazers and leather jackets (she travels in the Grayes’ blazer dress). And her go-tos are chunky jewelry and a fun pair of jeans. She’s always on the hunt for a studded shoe or a military boot.
“I love Canadian jewelry designer Jenny Bird because of her statement pieces,” says Michele.
For International Women’s Day, Grayes polled Canadians to gain insights into their attitudes towards style and success. Interestingly, they found that 46 per cent of women in Ontario have, at some point, felt the need to change their personal style to succeed in their career.
Michele and Stephanie started brainstorming about how they could support other women while honouring Grayes’ vision. While many feel the pressure to dress a certain way to succeed in their careers, not all women have the funds or support needed to reach their full potential. Dress For Success provided what Michele and Stephanie were searching for.
“Dress For Success is an amazing organization – they provide women with that important outfit for a job interview,” explains Michele. “They’ve helped thousands of women regain their confidence. There are remarkable stories about how they have provided help and mentorship to so many women.”
The unique “Give-Get” campaign was launched.
Throughout the month of March, Grayes is running the promotion, which includes a 15 per cent donation to Dress For Success for each purchase at Grayes, as well as a 15 per cent customer discount. They will also be hosting clothing drives at each of their pop-up shops and accepting suit donations on behalf of the charity.
One of the wonderful things about Dress For Success is their support of women from all backgrounds. It’s not all about the clothes; they also offer career guidance. Whether clients have been out of the workforce for a while, had a baby, or have had terrible life events happen; they help women get back on their feet. Dress For Success pairs clients with mentors, so there’s always someone to call, from helping women practice interview questions, to establishing a network. Clients always have someone rooting for them on the sidelines – with no economic interest; they’re just doing it to help others succeed.
Confidence comes from a lot of different places. Your network prepares you for job interviews and the next stage of your career, while the clothes help you feel and dress the part. So many women find it hard to have courage and confidence but when you have something that makes you feel and look great, it becomes “OK, I can do this. I can take on the world”.
Michele takes her position as a role model very seriously. She believes it’s important to always be honest with what it’s taken for her accomplishments. Social media can glamourize what it is to be a founder but she has her fair share of bad days. We all have setbacks and need a day to recover to get back to the place where we can be hopeful and optimistic. All of these things are reality for working women.
There’s a way to go for all women to feel confident in their own skin. But we’ve made such strides in recent years. For women, it’s always been harder – there’s way more complexity in their wardrobe choices. But now it’s becoming a bit easier with organizations relaxing their dress codes (Goldman Sachs just announced they were making suits optional) and companies like Grayes offering amazing choices at affordable prices. It’s easier to find pieces that make them feel great - because when you feel great, you can go into everything with more confidence and gusto.
“I’ve had a lot more experience (since I began my career) and there have been times when I’ve experienced setbacks and businesses weren’t going well,” Michele says. “I now have more perspective. I can hear a lot of “no” and still go into the next meeting with confidence.”
And maybe she’ll be wearing her well-made and stylish blazer dress.
Patricia Viscount lives in Calgary and has over 25 years of experience as a communications specialist, writer and editor. She began her career as a public affairs officer in the Canadian Forces before transitioning to a senior advisor role in the energy industry. Self-employed since 2016, she helps her clients navigate the stressful world of words to allow them to build business messages with confidence and clarity. Follow her on Twitter @PViscount, LinkedIn at Patricia Viscount or email her at: email@example.com.