Louisiana State University - Political Science
Paige Lemann founded parker+paige, a retail clothing company with a socially conscious, giving-based model specializing in emerging designers, during fall 2009 and has served as the company's CEO since February 2010. A passionate advocate for social responsibility, Paige created parker+paige with a unique premise. For every piece of clothing purchased through the site, parker+paige gives one brand new piece of clothing away to a child in need. And this year, the company will partner with Shining Hope for Communities to give school uniforms to students at the Kibera School for Girls in Kenya. In her spare time Paige is taking continuing education courses at Washington University in St. Louis and hopes to one day obtain a master's degree. Aside from pursuing her passion, her family, close girl friends, boyfriend and dog are the closest priorities to her heart.
This may be my company, but without a customer, there is no company. So, it's about making that customer happy.
How did you discover your current job?
I got the initial inspiration for parker+paige from TOMS Shoes’ giving-based business model, in which one pair of shoes is given to a child in need for each pair sold. And then the idea came from simply listening to my emerging designer friends and hearing their struggle to really make it as artists, and I thought to myself, “I could help my friends out, and help these kids who are truly living in poverty at the same time.”
What has been your path so far to get where you are today?
While I don’t advocate taking a path as unusual as mine, there also isn’t much I would trade, because my life experiences are what have gotten me to the point where I am today. I think the major decision along my path that has generated the most success for me, personally, was the decision to consider others' feelings and put others first.
Was there any one situation that helped you along your way?
The one thing that has helped me most along the way was realizing that you have to take things one day at a time and that no one opportunity is going to land in your lap that makes you an overnight success. Oprah is not going to call and say, “Let’s make you a rock star!” Instead, work hard every day and focus on achieving small daily goals that move you incrementally closer to the larger vision of success. In this way, each day becomes the most important one so far, because success is another step closer. Hard work does pay off.
What is your typical day like? Does it ever change?
No one day is the same. The only constants in my day are updating all of our pages on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, checking my voice mail, checking my e-mail and drinking coffee. I try, at least once a week, to return calls, return e-mails, contribute an article to the company’s blog, update my own blog and check in on all of our online analytics to track our reach on Facebook or make sure our following is growing on Twitter, that we’re getting readers to our blog, etc. And if not, why not? What can we do to improve? But I’ve learned the hard way, not to make promises you can’t keep. You have to do what it is you say you’re going to do. So, in terms of my schedule, I only say I can do something when I know there is time for me to do it, and get it done right -- and there’s only 24 hours in a day …
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Helping others. For instance, a major highlight was getting Jessica Posner’s e-mail (co-founder of HopetoShine.org) in late 2010 confirming our partnership with Shining Hope for Communities to give school uniforms to students at the Kibera School for Girls in Kenya.
What is the most challenging part?
Getting fans to shop. Without a doubt. Getting them out of a stale routine like going to Banana Republic for their work clothes and shopping online instead, or running into Intermix for their next party dress and taking a chance on an emerging designer instead. That’s a hard sell. But, at the end of the day, I think the benefits definitely outweigh the costs, so it’s a sell I’m willing to get out and pitch every day, over and over again.
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have to make because of your job?
Spending money. There’s no longer any cash for fun money, just to play. There’s no longer a paycheck to divide between bills and savings, and tithing and fun money. Everything earned has to be put back into the company for operating expenses, or we’d literally cease to exist at this point. So, I haven’t really been shopping for myself for something non-“parker+paige” in … a long time.
What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?
The one thing that has really stuck with me -- made a lifelong, lasting impression -- was when I came to the realization, that it’s no longer about me. This may be my company, but without a customer, there is no company. So, it’s about making that customer happy. And it’s about selling you -- yourself -- to the customer, and what kind of relationship you have with your customers. If you work the relationship, the sale will come. But you can’t push a sale hard and then hope to create a relationship from it. In the end, it’s about them and the experience you give them. It’s no longer about you.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?
To raise funds for a startup and to be taken seriously as an executive that runs a credible company. You have to prove as a female in your 20’s that this is a serious idea that you’re going to stick with, and it’s not your sorority’s philanthropy project. You have to have the research and the numbers to prove it’s a good investment, which in this economy, has been a hard sell in the retail markets. And in the fashion industry in NYC it’s about longevity and about being around for more than one season. You have to pay your dues. As a designer, without a degree and a slew of impressive internships, it’s almost a sure thing that this city will eat you alive.
Who are your role models?
Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS Shoes. Lauren Bush, co-founder of FEED Projects and Scott Harrison, founder of charity: water. Oprah and Ellen (DeGeneres) are both very inspiring in their own ways. And my parents.
Is there a quote or mantra you live by?
Not yet, but there are several that I love. Top three at the moment:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
“A girl should be two things: -- classy & fabulous.” -Coco Chanel
“Operate beyond all normal limits!” -Martha Stewart
What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?
If you’re living in the NYC area, I’d love to hear from you as internships are always available at parker+paige! So, tweet us @parkerandpaige to find out more. But seriously -- first, and foremost, get an education. And by that, I mean a damn good one. And when you think you’re done, go for more. Don’t stop with a high school diploma. Don’t stop with a bachelor’s degree. The sky’s the limit with education, because the more you have, the further you will go in life -- period.