Norma Kamali, iconic fashion designer and CEO of The Wellness Café, an olive oil brand, isn't afraid to point out the problematic aspects of the fashion industry.
"Fashion is one of the biggest industries that objectifies women, and I apologize for that, for my industry," Kamali said, speaking at a breakfast panel on Wednesday in New York City. "We have made women feel as if they're not thin enough, rich enough, pretty enough, or that they're not good enough."
Kamali, it should be noted, has been doing her part to change the status quo, by creating pieces like the parachute dress, and a "no makeup" makeup collection back in the early '90s.
She spoke in conversation with two leading businesswomen: Sarah Robb O'Hagan, president of Equinox Fitness, and Daniella Yacobovsky, co-founder of BaubleBar, a former Inc. 30 under 30 finalist.
The discussion was moderated by Erica Hill, the co-anchor of NBC's "Weekend Today," and hosted by Dress for Success Worldwide, a non-profit that helps women get started in their careers by providing suits, as well as mentorship and career advice. Topics ranged from the importance of failure to mores in beauty, to the panelists' greatest mentors (for Robb O'Hagan, it's her husband, of the unsung, 'stay-at-home Dad' affiliation).
The old ideals of fashion are beginning to shift. Slowly but surely, and with the advent of new fitness concepts, women now covet the athletic look--rather than skin-and-bones. Consider that Carbon38, an upstart athleisure brand based in New York City, is using fitness instructors as models, in an effort to tap into that growing consumer marketplace.
At large, the fitness industry raked in $30 billion in 2014 revenue, representing a more than 2 percent increase annually since 2010, according to market data from IBIS World.
Equinox is helping to lead the charge. The fitness club, which owns brands like Soul Cycle and Pure Yoga, brought in a reported $882 million in revenue last year, up from $740 million in 2013.
Robb O'Hagan was quick to echo Kamali's take on fashion: "I love what you just said," she jumped in. "I am not a small woman, and in my twenties, I was over two hundred pounds because I was trying so desperately to be skinny. Having a story that's your story, not someone else's story, that's the key to empowerment."
To wit, Robb O'Hagan is writing a book called Extreme You: Bring All of You to All You Do, set to be published by Harper Collins in 2016.
Even as the fitness industry is having its moment, the founders agreed that women still face unique challenges in business. Here are three of their top tips to aspiring female leaders:
1. Dream as big as the next man.
Your goals may not seem realistic, but you owe it to yourself to try to reach them.
"Men have big dreams, and they're so outrageous sometimes," Kamali laughed. She insists that women are allowed to have equally "outrageous" dreams.
"Find a way to create an atmosphere where big dreams are possible," she added. "This is the day and age where women can actually make that happen."
2. Give yourself time to recharge.
Prior to launching BaubleBar, an e-commerce jewelry retailer based in New York City, Daniella Yacobovsky was pulling 120 hours per week as an investment banker. The job was unsatisfying, she says, and at BaubleBar, she now insists on having flexible work schedules. Staffers are required to take at least one week of paid vacation around the holidays, for example.
Don't be fooled by her mindset, though. Yacobovsky and her co-founder, Amy Jain, know that growing a business is a 24/7 job.
"My mind is always thinking about BaubleBar," said Yacobovsky. "Amy gave birth to her first child seven weeks ago, and I can tell you that I got one text message from her husband when she was going into labor, and 45 minutes later, I got a text message from Amy about an idea she had.
She recalls saying: "Go continue birthing your child, and we will talk about this in a few hours."
3. Be your most authentic self.
Women may feel an immense amount of pressure to fit in, but Robb O'Hagan believes they do best when standing out.
"When you go into these companies, there's this incredible pressure to fit into the structure that exists, but that is not where innovation comes from," she said. "When you bring yourself...then you have so much more confidence, you will push a little bit more with ideas that you bring to the table, and that benefits the company that benefits the economy."
"Women who tell their own stories become so much more beautiful and powerful," Kamali added.