It wasn’t working.
Two years after launching MM.LaFleur, Sarah LaFleur faced the prospect that the company she built from the ground up might go out of business.
“It was a real low, personally and professionally,” said LaFleur. “It was hard to get potential investors to see our initial vision. We were challenging and rethinking the shopping experience all together. Male investors didn’t see the value we could bring to the professional woman—they assumed that all women had the time to shop and even enjoyed the process.”
She knew the company had to pivot and do something new. For inspiration, she thought back to why she started MM.LaFleur in the first place – to take the work out of dressing for work by providing practical, designer quality dresses.
Style Runs in the Family
“When I set out to start my own business, I knew I wanted to bring in the spirit of my mother. She’s reflected in everything we do.” LaFleur named the company after her mother. “My mother’s nickname, ‘meme,’ which means ‘eyes’ in Japanese, is the ‘MM’ in MM.LaFleur.” Growing up in Japan, LaFleur lived most of her childhood in her grandparents’ house. She describes her ever-stylish mother–the daughter of the then Prime Minister of Japan–as a beacon of inspiration, “My mother was an influential woman who knew how to dress for work. She knew how to own a room. I owe everything to my mother,” said LaFleur.
“During my career as a management consultant, I was sick of the ill-fitting, out of date pantsuits I was wearing to work. But that was the only option available at my price point. I started thinking: What if could I change the way women dress for work and look as great as my mom did?”
Seeing this need, LaFleur quit her job and recruited Creative Director and Co-founder, Miyako Nakamura, an accomplished designer. The two embarked on a mission to create stylish, practical clothing for the professional woman, at direct to consumer prices. They were off to a promising beginning, until two years out, when it was time to make a change.
LaFleur and her team asked themselves what more they could do to simplify and improve the process of getting dressed for work. The result? In 2015, the company launched the Bento Box, a stylist-curated at-home try on service created for each customer. The name is a nod to LaFleur’s Japanese upbringing. The box of clothing, with its thoughtful composition and layers of merchandise, reminded LaFleur of her school lunches in Japan.
The new offering reinvigorated the business and proved the value of stylist-assisted shopping. Today, MM.LaFleur provides a complete wardrobe and personal-styling service for the busy professional woman. This includes flexible shopping options, with a traditional e-commerce offering, Bento Boxes, and showrooms in select cities, including Washington, D.C., New York, Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco.
More than a Clothing Company
MM.LaFleur also provides a digital magazine, The M Dash, which highlights stories of purposeful women, provides a point of view on issues that affect women, and offers quick tips and tricks to turn a work wardrobe into a valuable career asset. “We explore the lives of today’s multidimensional professional women with honesty and humor. We celebrate her in our content.”
When asked about career advice to aspiring female entrepreneurs, LaFleur said, “We need to stop over-analyzing, over-thinking, and over-preparing. I am not saying that there shouldn’t be preparation, because diligence is rewarded, but we should be more daring.”