International Women's Day is a century-old global awareness event that has been shining a spotlight on women's rights, gender parity, and female empowerment since 1911. As a a female-founded and -led company, we are perpetually aware of the grit, resilience, and grace that women demonstrate in the face of adversity — on both a micro and macro level. In celebration of March 8th, we asked designer Melissa Levy to reflect on the impact women have had in her life, her experience as an entrepreneur and why it is important for women to support one another.
What does the IWD 2021 campaign theme, #ChooseToChallenge, mean to you?
#ChooseToChallenge has been an important theme for me since I can remember. On the playground and in the cafeteria, pretty much throughout my life, I have identified with the person or people being excluded or mistreated for any reason, and I became an ally. In my recent years, I worked with one of my heroes, Marji Lipshez-Shapiro, the Connecticut Anti-Defamation League Director of Education. Together, we developed programs for parents to help teach kids how to love, accept, and embrace rather than judge and diminish. It starts early, and in my opinion, bias of any kind should not be part of our culture.
Was there a particularly difficult period during your 7 years of building your brand?
The hardest time for me was when my mom died in October 2019. She was my best friend, my role model, my champion, and my inspiration, and losing her was monumental. Working from mid-October through holiday that year was really hard. I was exhausted, kept losing things, had trouble talking to people, and was basically in a cloud of sorrow and memories. In 700 Sundays, Billy Crystal compared grief to being handed a boulder to carry around for the rest of your life, and that was how I felt at that time. Then came the pandemic, which gave me time to grieve. Through the months, I remembered one of my mom’s lessons to me – she encouraged me to live for the living. And thus, I recognized the deep need for connection that I and others were feeling, and though I was terribly sad, I was inspired to keep working to help people feel the love and comfort that a locket brings.
What do you do to stay encouraged and motivated in both your daily life & work life?
I’m lucky that much of my motivation is innate. I am a driven optimist who enjoys hard work and accomplishment. When I do get bogged down and don’t think I can do something or continue, I remind myself that life is short, and I want to make mine matter in the most positive way. I keep going and try my best.
Recently, I have learned the important lesson of putting “it” all away at the end of the day, wipe the slate, and relax. That’s been a really refreshing change for me – simply letting myself stop and say, “I’ve done enough today.”
How do you find and listen to your inner voice?
I talk to myself a lot and I really like quiet. Acknowledging and honoring that this is how I’m wired has helped me stay on course. About 25 years ago, I went to a lecture given by a female leader in business who encouraged the women in the audience to regularly write and rewrite their mission statements. I do this often, reminding myself of what is most important at that moment in time, and it helps me stay true to myself and my goals.
What does it mean for women to lift each other up?
In nursery school, my teacher Mrs. Karp taught us about warm fuzzies and cold pricklies. I still remember sitting on the floor of the classroom, thinking that for my whole life, I want to give warm fuzzies as much as I can. Helping others and making them feel good, positive, strong, and capable is my aim. Women need to do this for one another. So much growth and accomplishment come from encouragement about what we can do, rather than the negativity asserting what we can’t. We need to help one another succeed in every way we can, and pick each other up when we aren’t successful … yet.
What is the most important thing that every woman starting her own business should know?
It takes time and thought, and there will be so many things that you don’t know. Communicate with others and ask questions. If you align yourself with the right people, they will help, and you in turn will someday be the one to help others.
Who are 3 women who inspire you?
Gwyneth Paltrow – I admire her career as an actress and her pivot to creating her lifestyle brand. I love the infusion of herself into Goop, her elegance and elevated qualities, but also her real, honest conversations. I love her curiosity. It inspires me when people who could rest on their laurels don’t, and I enjoy watching her grow and evolve.
Jane Levy – my daughter. As a recent graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, Jane was a proud English Major. Through literature, she studied human nature, and she followed her dream to work for DreamWorks where she is poised to create tv programming for children to influence our next generation. I can’t think of anyone’s hands I’d rather our future be in.
Shonda Rhimes - She is queen of storytelling! Her ability to compel and inspire through both her work and her personal example is remarkable. She had a dream, and clearly tremendous talent, worked hard and created a world of entertainment in Shondaland, and I simply am smitten!
By: Najla Solorzano