When Christine Short and Hannah Levenkron began working together at a financial service firm in Manhattan a few years ago, they discovered that career achievements and overtime were not the sole importance in climbing the corporate ladder. Dressing the part seemed just as imperative. Whether they were in the office, meeting clients, or heading to Europe on business, Christine and Hannah began to long for a collection of formal business wear. However, with high fashion comes high price tags. “Women our age can’t afford a Theory suit,” they told me. They were not alone in this. Women in their field, friends, and various New Yorkers they encountered shared in their longing for fashionable and sophisticated business apparel that was also affordable.
In February of 2013, Christine and Hannah attended fashion week and realized of all things that the power suit was making a comeback. Thus, with as they articulated, “no step by step rules, no road map,” Christine and Hannah launched Suit and Sweet, which aims to make high-end suits and business apparel accessible to all working women at a fraction of the cost. Think, Rent the Runway for corporate wear. “We designed [Suit and Sweet] as if we were the customers. We are women who work in the financial world and didn’t own high-end suits.”
Just as students at Michigan relish the motto of “Work Hard. Play Hard,” Suit and Sweet has a slogan of their own. “This may sound cliché,” Christine told me, “but it really seems to be applicable. You build your resume and we’ll build your look.” Suit and Sweet works to not simply provide women with reasonably priced suits, but also features tips in regards to all facets of presentation from interviewing to makeup. “Dress for success, dress for the job you want,” Christine urged. “How you present yourself physically in terms of facial expression, body language, hair and makeup—that is seventy percent of the interview. They already like your resume. Now, they want to see how capable you are at presenting yourself…when you feel good, you look good and that comes out in an interview.”
What plays into forming great style? According to Christine and Hannah, “Keep it classic, don’t overthink it. There are so many trends out there all the time, people feel pressured because it is a trend. It is important in a professional setting to wear things that are flattering. As long as you gage what other people in your work are wearing and speak to that overall feeling.” Not to say that you should stray from your own style. Christine and Hannah suggested that incorporating slight accents such as a highlighter belt for a pop of color or a statement necklace can be the perfect touch of chic. As far as fashion inspiration is concerned, the duo attributed some of their work style to the iconic fashions of Kate Middleton, as she always wears the perfectly put together outfit, to even Kate Moss.
“Olivia Palermo always looks great,” Hannah added. “She wears things a lot that I could wear to work. She knows what looks good on her. She doesn’t look like she’s trying too hard, has great style, [and] is never too trendy.”
The pair has looked to Theory to begin their suit collection. Through research and focus groups, Christine and Hannah found that “Theory was rooted as the number one brand young professionals would want to own and wear.” However, when asked if they will only be carrying Theory suits, Christine and Hannah stressed their desire to explore new designers designing clothes for “ the working woman” that were not as well known in hopes of not simply expanding their brand, but others as well.
Christine and Hannah’s perspective in regards to their start-up is humbling. Not only have they sacrificed their weekends in order to build the foundation of Suit and Sweet (yes, they still have their day jobs as hard-working women in the financial sector), but they also have used their company as a means of serving other women. “One of the big parts of our business is giving back the clothing at the end of each season through donating to Bottomless Closets.” Bottomless Closets guides disadvantaged New York City women in providing them with the tools necessary to enter the workforce and achieve success. “It becomes a full cycle of women helping women and the customers indirectly paying it forward. This is ultimately necessary for us and woven into our business model.” When asked what they feel is the key to their own success, Christine and Hannah believe that despite all the unknowns, this venture has provided them with opportunity. “Not only have we learned about a startup, but just meeting people—we are both pretty outgoing. There really is nothing like going to events, and meeting people through [Suit and Sweet]. Prior to this, maybe we would have never been bold enough to go up to people at these events. No matter what, it is by far the best learning experience.”