You know that feeling when there are so many exciting things you want to accomplish in your day, and you want to look fabulous doing so, but you can’t handle the decision fatigue of changing your outfit 5 times throughout the day?
Today more than ever, professional women are working in creative, progressive environments that demand being able to present powerfully while giving speeches, hopping off planes into meetings, biking to work and squeezing in that lunchtime yoga class.
Meet Shannon Snow – who is reinventing workwear! Dynamic, full of energy – Shannon loves life and consistently delights everyone she meets with her smile, presence and ideas. Having worked at Google for the past 10 years, she decided to solve the problem that many women face today at work – what to wear to be on top of your game day to night, running from the boardroom to happy hour with clients and beyond. Shannon combined her love of fashion and business background to launch her line of workwear dresses last Fall to truly empower women of all shapes and sizes.
“I was ready to Lean In – but I certainly wasn’t going to do it sweating in a pantsuit with fake pockets.”
We sat down to chat with Shannon at Google HQ in Mountain View, California, where she showed us first hand how functional, fun and powerfully feminine her dresses are in action!
V&F: You radiate confidence. Were you always this confident?
Absolutely not! I grew up in Portland, Oregon, where I switched to a private high school that had just changed from being all male – very different from my coed public school. Being in the minority, I suddenly became very aware of my place among my peers, and felt that I didn’t belong. It influenced me, and made me think about who I wanted to be as a woman. I gravitated toward an all women’s college, Wellesley, where I knew they were invested in women’s education. In those four years I gained confidence. I saw women being President of the student body, running the radio station, excelling in math, economics, and science. It was empowering.
V&F: Tell us about your love for fashion
I’ve always been super interested in fashion. Throughout high school I really gravitated towards thrift shopping – putting together different looks, and trying to get inspired by something different. Growing up in that time was so much about The Gap, and everyone wearing the same thing. I was just trying to break out of that. In Portland people are very interested in doing something different – finding their own path. That definitely influenced looking at unique, different fashion. I learned to sew and brought my sewing machine to college. It became my way of dealing with stress, sewing and making clothes for different events. I wasn’t technically amazing, but it was definitely fun to simply learn what goes into a garment, and how the choices you make in terms of fabrics affect what designs you are able to do. So it was something that I was always highly interested in, but never thought of as a potential career.
V&F: When did the light bulb moment happen for starting your own line?
For several years people had been saying to me, “When did Googlers become fashionable?” or “We noticed that you dress up.” I spoke at a conference and a person wrote on the feedback form, “I really appreciate that Shannon took the time to dress professionally for this talk.” So I started to realize the importance in a business context of dressing in a way that makes you feel confident and comfortable, and makes whomever you’re dealing with feel respected
But dressing well didn’t really match the image of Silicon Valley – it’s hoodies, right? The Northern California culture also has an outdoorsy, comfortable essence. The Silicon Valley culture was clashing with expectations of what women wear in business, which is basically influenced by menswear. Most of the current female workwear in the Valley falls into two camps. Camp One is based on fixed forms, less comfort, more tight to the body. Camp Two is all about not caring much about aesthetics – jeans and hoodies, being outside, and being on the go. Not many designers seemed to offer something that fit both.
I also felt most of the time I am asked to be everywhere at once. I travel a lot – and in my typical day I end up in meetings with someone, trying to sneak in a workout at lunch, maybe hopping on a flight, and then once I land I am taking a client out to happy hour. I started down a path of wanting to make clothes that would fit my lifestyle and it just snowballed — until eventually I realized other women might want this too.
“I realized there is no item of clothing that can keep up with my daily life – meeting the expectation of business, of looking professional, and that can be as comfortable as the typical jeans and hoodie uniform.”
V&F: Why a dress? What works well about a dress (that you love)?
When you’re busy, I feel a dress is the easiest way to feel put together. You just decrease the number of decisions you have to make about what to wear. When you wear a great dress, you have the confidence of a fully put together outfit as long as you don’t mess up the shoes (FYI Shannon knows her shoes and is rocking the hottest Jimmy Choos we have seen in a long time). I love the fact that the dress is a compete outfit. I also grew up playing tennis, and love that tennis dresses are super comfortable, functional, and make you feel you can do anything in them.
“I felt strongly that the dress was a huge, underutilized asset for women. And what I like about dresses is they are only for women. There are certainly a lot of business dresses, but I wanted to design a more functional, more tech-friendly, more comfortable dress specifically for women making a strong statement. I want to make women’s lives easier through fashion that is functional and beautiful. And I chose to start with the dress as a compass for the brand.”
V&F: Do you want to stay online, or expand to boutiques or a flagship store?
Online is definitely the core. I think the challenge for us is to connect with the customer in person because we are so much about how you feel when you wear the dress. We want to stay online but find ways through pop-up shops or events to make sure customers have the opportunity to interact with us and understand what we are really about. And we need to just listen… planning the spring collection has really been about listening to what people want. With our first collection it was all black because that’s certainly a very versatile color and it’s a great starting point. The feedback from the customers has been “we want to see color, we want to see sleeves”. Because people feel very exposed with their arms and the last thing you want to be worried about in a business context is. “Does my arm look OK?” (laughter). So for Spring color is big and we’ll make sure we’ll have sleeves.
V&F: You are bringing color into your Spring collection! We love color, and would love to get your take on what color means in terms of empowering women at work, and feeling powerful in the boardroom.
I still find there are a lot of situations, especially in my role, where you’ll find yourself in a room and you’re not the only woman, but you are definitely not the majority. For the spring line I really wanted colors that would be confident, powerful and fun. I focused on the highest quality, and what would really pop.
“Feeling confident and owning your perspective is really important, and the colors of the spring line accentuate this bold statement: ‘I am going to wear a pink dress, and I am a woman, and this is what I do, this is who I am and I am proud to be here.’ Possessing that confidence that you have a unique perspective, a voice to add, and you are not afraid to showcase your femininity.”
V&F: Who inspires you? Do you have any mentors?
“There are so many amazing tech women I admire, like Sheryl Sandberg.”
We overlapped for about two years at Google, and my first management meeting was the one where she told the leadership team she was leaving to be the COO of Facebook. At the end of her explanation, she inspired the team to keep doing great things at Google and walked out saying “I’ll leave you to your meeting.” It was a powerful, drop-the-mic moment. I remember thinking “Wow, that was leadership.
Katie Stanton, VP at Twitter, is another super example. She’s a great leader, but also extremely down to earth and authentic. She told me she always wanted to wear a dress in Twitter blue, so I designed a custom dress for her. She was very clear about what she wanted, and looked great in the result. She is the type of woman we aspire our brand to be a go-to for.
V&F: What advice do you give to young women starting their own business?
Find what you are passionate about and follow your heart. You’ll delve fully into it and your effort will be worth so much more.
When you love something you give your all and the impact is way more significant, because people can tell that you’re excited about it, they can tell that you love it, and they want to get on board with what you’re doing. People will help you! Being an entrepreneur is such an uphill climb because you are really starting from zero, so unless it is something you are passionate about, it is not worth it.