Just days after Cynthia Nixon announced her 2018 gubernatorial campaign in New York, Sarah LaFleur, founder and CEO of office-ready womenswear brand M.M.LaFleur, saw the actor-turned-candidate at a coffee shop.
“I don’t know where I got the chutzpah, but I walked up to her. And I was like, ‘I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a Miranda — I’m a huge fan. I know you’re going to be on the campaign trail, and we’d love to dress you for it.’ … And she said, ‘Absolutely. Please get in touch with my stylist.'” LaFleur and her team did and, subsequently, “Most times I saw her on the campaign trail, she was wearing M.M.LaFleur,” LaFleur said.
From there, LaFleur decided to use her brand to “help more women get elected,” she said. She noted that when women are running for office, “dressing the part” is important, but perhaps not at the top of a candidate’s to-do list. In 2020, women held 29% of statewide elective offices in the U.S. Today, they still hold just 31%. At this rate, it will take 162 years for political parity.
Dubbed “Ready to Run,” the original program launched in 2020 offered looks to women running for office. And it took off in a bigger way than LaFleur could have imagined, thanks in large part to social media endorsements from AOC and Hillary Clinton.
Ultimately, over 1,000 candidates at the city and state levels applied to be dressed by M.M.LaFleur. The brand worked with law firms to discern to whom it could appropriately loan or gift clothing, based on laws about political donations. It ended up working with 275 politicians who met the criteria, loaning or gifting around 1,000 garments in total. After their campaigns, the brand encouraged candidates to donate the loaned pieces to Bottomless Closet, which is a nonprofit helping NYC women in need enter the workforce and a longtime partner of M.M.La Fleur’s.
“What AOC said about subconscious bias is so true,” LaFleur said. “If every candidate’s appearance can reflect that they are a trustworthy, reliable candidate, then hopefully that helps constituents listen to what it is they have to say — they’re not instead thinking, ‘Oh, my God. What is she wearing?’ Or, ‘Oh, my God. She’s dressed inappropriately.'” While men may be able to purchase one to two suits and wear them over and over again without question, women are not afforded the same luxury, which can create a financial barrier for women interested in running for an office, she said.
LaFleur recalled getting an email from a candidate running for State Senate in Rhode Island who said she was a mom of two living on the poverty line. “She said she was running because it’s important for people to hear from women like her. … For her, buying a suit is a massive burden financially and the last thing she wants to be spending money on as she as she thinks about her campaign,” LaFleur said.
This election year, M.M.LaFleur is leveling up its offerings for candidates. For example, in addition to receiving looks, they’ll be able to partake in Zoom sessions with M.M.LaFleur stylists who will provide advice on how to incorporate their new M.M.LaFleur pieces into their wardrobes. The brand has also curated a “Ready to Run” selection of popular, campaign-trail-appropriate items, including the styles in its machine-washable OrigamiTech collection. Applications opened on January 25 and will remain open until February 7.
The initiative is nonpartisan, simply driven by the fact that less than a third of our political representatives are female, LaFleur said. “The goal, first and foremost, is to get more female voices reflected in the laws that are made in our country,” she said.