Money·4 min read

Sarah LaFleur on Dreaming First, Dealing With Details Second

Sarah LaFleur headshot
April 5, 2024

They say dress for the job you want. But why not invent the job you want, with the wardrobe to match? More than a decade ago, Sarah LaFleur, a cofounder of the fashion brand M.M.LaFleur, was working in private equity. She felt burnt out on the job and was frustrated by the frumpy — and $$$ — professional clothing options. So she took a leap and founded a fashion line focused on what she and her peers would actually wear to work. Today, LaFleur balances running the brand with spending time with her family (she has three kids). How does she juggle it all? By dreaming big and always making time for a stress-relieving bath. Loading SpinnerAdvice for what to do when you…

Want to ask for a raise… If you’re more junior in your career, your best bet is to benchmark. Generally, most employers want to pay you fairly and competitively, so data that backs up your argument will help you. Something you can say: “I researched the average salary for X position in Y location, and I believe $X is in the appropriate range.” If you're more senior in your career, the most compelling argument is a business case for why you should make more. You can say something like: “I believe I can bring in $X in additional revenue for the business, and my goal is to earn Y% of that,” or “I believe I can help the business exceed its goal by X%, and I would like to earn Y% of that.”

Have a great idea you want to pitch…  Dream first. When we first came up with our Ready to Run campaign, I said to my VP of brand and creative, “Wouldn't it be amazing if we could help dress all women running for office?” Dressing political candidates is an incredibly complicated process that involves campaign election laws (which differ in all 50 states) and hours of calls with lawyers. Rather than having the logistics and details ruin your idea, start with the big dream and paint a picture of what it could look like. The operations of execution can come later.

Are assigned a project you’re afraid you can’t do… First, ask for a mentor. Say, “I’d love to take this on, but I also want to be transparent that I’ve never done something like this. Is there someone else, either in the organization or outside of it, that you think I could reach out to for advice?” Also, overcommunicate. Say things like, “I will send you daily or weekly updates on my progress to make sure I'm on the right path. If you have any feedback for me, please let me know.”

Get a big opportunity that would mean being at home less… Only you know the right answer to this question. I’ve got three small kids, so even two nights away feels like a lot right now. But in my 20s, I actively sought out opportunities to be in new places. I was on the road every week as a management consultant, and then as a private equity associate. I also took an opportunity to work for a nonprofit in South Africa for a year, and that was one of the best experiences of my life. 

Are asked your biggest weakness…Answer truthfully, and give an example of how it played out in real life. Ideally, in a work context. Share what lesson you learned, so you demonstrate to the interviewer that you not only know what your weaknesses are but that you know how to manage and conquer them, too. Self-awareness is a wonderful quality. 

Want to unwind after a stressful day…I take a bath. I grew up in Japan, where it’s almost sacrilegious not to take a daily bath. Japanese bath salts are amazing and very affordable. You can find them in your nearest Japanese supermarket, or even H Mart!

Feel stuck... Go on a trip. This can be a business trip to meet your customers in a different city, or an actual vacation, preferably one in nature. A change of scenery will open your mind up to more possibilities.

Fail... Get used to it. As the Japanese saying goes, “You [fall] seven times, and [get] up eight times.” The most successful people I know have had the biggest, most public failures.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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