It’s always a wonderful treat to have some tea and catch up with my very busy friend Ayesha Curry (mother of Riley and an entrepreneur herself). On our most recent catch-up session, she introduced me to her friend Jess Lee, founder of an online contemporary clothing company called Modern Citizen.

“Fall is always the best time for rich textures and colors.”

Between sips of matcha, the three of us bonded over starting new businesses out of our homes, and our gratitude for having supportive partners who didn’t mind living with dining rooms filled with boxes of skin care, clothing or olive oil.

I’ve since added a few Modern Citizen pieces to my closet, and they have quickly become my favorites. Not only are the clothes comfy as a cloud, they look so chic I’m often asked (by friends and even strangers on the street) where I got them (most especially my knee-length Charlotte lightweight jacket, which is a one-piece wonder).

I met up with Jess again not long ago to chat about her thoughts on fresh starts in life and for the wardrobe. It was a true delight to learn more about her journey, her secrets for staying stylish and packing light so I could share them with you.

Q: Entrepreneurship is a dramatically different path from working at a large retailer like Gap—what inspired you to strike out on your own?

A: My parents are both entrepreneurs, and from an early age I’d been imbued with the notion that working for yourself (and building a team) was the most exciting and rewarding kind of career you could have. Before starting the site I had worked for Gap Inc. in the e-commerce division.  My main focus was competitive analysis, and two sites that really stood out to me in terms of their size and impact on customers, were ModCloth and Nasty Gal (both borne entirely online with very specific aesthetics and a great sense of their customers lifestyles).  I found the concept of creating an online community to be really inspiring.  It also made me realize that didn’t yet exist for women whose aesthetic was different than theirs—more similar to my own and my peers.

Q: How did your lifestyle change once you founded Modern Citizen?

A: Everything went into overdrive — the concept of work/life balance really lost its meaning when every hour of the day (save for sleep) prioritized work over everything else. That meant that even in moments where I wanted to be present, whether hanging out with friends or watching a movie, work was admittedly top of mind.

Q: What advice would you give to someone looking for a new beginning, either in their career or making a change in their life?

A: Just start. In the beginning, I spent so much time thinking (and talking, to myself and others around me) about what I wanted to create; which looking back could have been better spent at trying, doing, failing, and learning. It’s important to put yourself out there, whether creating something from nothing or participating in something, to get a sense for where your inherent skills are and the areas where you need help. I’ve found that to be true both for work and for areas in my personal life as well.

Q: What are your styling tips for someone looking to give their wardrobe a fresh and modern look?

A: First, part with the things that no longer have a place in your wardrobe or life. Second, recognize that fit is absolutely everything — even a dress that you love for its design, if it doesn’t fit you properly, will never work and will just hang in the closet endlessly.  Tailor everything to fit you today that you can, and say goodbye to the pieces you can’t. Lastly, once you’ve taken stock of what you have, it’s much easier to shop to fill in the gaps. At Modern Citizen, we focus on offering pieces that are elevated, easy to style, and look effortless.  We also purposely style pieces like our Ryan High-Waisted Trouser with several tops (like the Mila Tie-Waist Top and Kendall Wrap Crop Knit) to demonstrate each item’s versatility.

Q: Do you have any special styling advice for those with a busy schedule, or who travel often?

A: When you approach styling from versatility perspective it really makes the process of getting dressed so much simpler.  Travel is one area where this point of view is really put to work. I’m notorious for packing light (if it doesn’t fit in my carry-on, it’s not coming with me!) so I always think about prioritizing fabrics that don’t wrinkle or are easy to roll to ensure that I won’t have to steam it upon arrival.  I also find that limiting shoes to three pairs — one heel, one flat or sandal, and one athletic if you’re planning to work out — is a huge space-saver.

Q: What looks and colors are you looking forward to most this fall?

A: Beautiful sweaters in modern silhouettes — we’re most excited about a our new versions of the cowlneck in both sleeveless and long-sleeve options.  Fall is always the best time for rich textures and colors; I’m personally gravitating toward heathered charcoal / dark grey and a deep hunter green.

Q: What is the best way to incorporate new fashion and trends while still maintaining a personal style?

A: Look for fits and silhouettes that you know work for your body and lifestyle (for me, it’s high-waisted pants, tops and sweaters with side slits, etc.) but in new fabrics, textures, and silhouettes.

Q: What are your secrets for feeling beautiful amidst your busy schedule? Do you have any special rituals?

A: My nighttime regimen has become a much more meaningful time of day for me since switching my entire product suite to Tatcha (huge thanks to Ayesha Curry for introducing me to it!). It’s become a time where I know I’m indulging in taking care of myself, and the products really have made a huge difference in the texture of my skin.  I use the Camellia Cleansing Oil to remove my makeup, followed by the Rice Enzyme Powder to do a second cleansing and also for exfoliation. I follow that with the Dewy Skin Mist and Deep Brightening Serum, and the last step is a small touch of the Revitalizing Eye Cream.

Other rituals include a quarterly head-to-toe body scrub at the local Korean spa — it sounds, and is, painful at first, but the result speaks for itself.  I also always make time for a mani-pedi about once a month; I’m the worst at taking care of my nails, so this is one area where I need professional help!

Q: Tatcha is based on the wisdom of generations, finely honed and handed down by women. Who had made your journey more beautiful, and what did they teach you?

A: I’ve found that in both my professional and personal journeys, it’s been other female entrepreneurs that have inspired and encouraged me most.  Their advice and guidance has always come from a place of thoughtfulness and empathy for how personal ife and business intersect.  Both my peers and mentors have helped to keep me motivated and taught me so much — the immediate ones that come to mind are 1) the importance of networking and creativity (Carol Lim of Opening Ceremony); 2) how to persevere against all odds (that’s you, Vicky!) and 3) how to approach both work and life with an emphasis on balance and well-being (Caroline Ghosn from Levo League).

Coming up soon: Part Two with Ayesha. Just need to schedule another lunch date!
Always,

Victoria Tsai
Chief Treasure Hunter

published September 2015

Entrepreneurship, Interviews
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