Have you ever wanted to start your own company but were too busy or too afraid to try? Melissa Lorenzo-Hervé knows this feeling all too well. This Miami native, and mother of two, has a full time job as a legal writer in New York but her dream was to start a clothing line for women. The only thing was she had no idea how to do it. So she took a bootcamp for entrepreneurs and started doing research about design, materials and launching a business.
Then she took a leap of faith. Now she’s the CEO, creative director and co-founder of Pirouette, an online company that makes multifunctional dresses for women that allows them to go from day to night with ease. We asked her about her inspiration, the women she’s learned from, and how Miami shaped who she is today.
What inspired you to launch this line of clothing for women?
“The main thing was spending time commuting and missing out on things after work or feeling like I couldn’t go to certain things after work that weren’t planned because I wasn’t dressed appropriately. And then also seeing women in the bathroom, schlepping their extra outfits and bags to work because they had something planned that night but what they wore to work, they couldn’t wear to that event or dinner.
Whereas men literally wasted zero time or energy thinking about if there is something going on after work. The most I would see as men take off their tie and then go out. And so I was seeing that frustration was very widespread and I was talking to women about this problem and they were saying, yes, I wish there was something that I could wear to both.”
You have made it a priority to design clothes for women of all sizes. What was your idea behind that?
“Growing up in Miami I saw different kinds of beauty. And growing up and a Cuban family, I didn’t have this association that to be beautiful you have to be thin. I realized that I actually had a more inclusive idea of what beautiful could be. And then it actually started becoming trendy on social media to post about plus-size fashion. And there’s this movement called #makemysize and I read about plus-size models. And then eventually we went to a size 16 and hired plus-size models.
There’s a big gap where you have women not only creating the pieces like my partner and I do, but testing them among regular women, not just on, you know, six foot then models. We don’t put anything on the website until we’ve had several friends and colleagues try them on. And we’ve actually changed designs. We’ve changed the straps, we’ve gone up in sizes. So that we can accommodate for people with normal size bodies and we want that to be something that is inherent to the brands as it grows.”
What has the experience of starting a business been like as a mother of two and with a full time job?
“I don’t want to kill any idea you have of ever starting your own venture. But it’s been a lot of sacrifice in terms of time and money and energy and sleep. I think that’s the biggest thing I had to give up—sleep. I can’t remember the last time I saw a TV show. I only know ‘Game of Thrones’ in terms of the posters. I would say I’m really out of it because when I’m not working for my corporate America day job, I’m working on the company or I’m with my kids. And so of course I had no idea how time consuming this would be before I took that leap. But it was really little by little and whenever I would feel like it’s too much, I think about the women that we have dressed and all these trunk shows that we did.”
What attracted you to fashion?
“From a very young age before I can remember, I was always interested in fashion. I was always following fashion in magazines. And my grandmother made us our Halloween costumes. So it was always something I was extremely attracted to and really wanted to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology or Parsons. I didn’t have any idea how it could make a career, make a life, like a sustainable life in that world. I was thinking also about what do you do when you’re in that world? How do you pay the rent? There was no family support. It was actually a lot of discouragement to seek anything in fashion. So I really thought it’ll go away. One day it will fade. But it never went away. I was only more interested in fashion and I really see it as a solution and something we deal with every day. So why be ashamed of being interested in clothes? It’s not like I’m collecting them in my closet just to look at them. I see it as part of the way we communicate.”
And what communication challenges have you faced in the industry?
“Being short and being Latina in a very Anglo environment in New York, I had to communicate even more so or more persuasively than other people. I’m short and I have an accent. I have to convince these people that I’m smart and I had to dress a certain way. The only reason women were wearing suits was because they thought they had to since men were wearing suits. And the reason we wear high heels is because we thought we had to to be as tall as the men were. And because men like to see that.”
How did you take the leap?
“I was seeing other startups founded by people who had no idea what they’re doing and had no background in that industry getting funded to the tune of tens of millions of dollars and then getting a ton of press. And I thought it was crazy and amazing and something that I should at least try. And I think if you have an idea that’s not just interesting but bothering you every day and you know, people are complimenting you on what you’re wearing, I think then you say, ‘Well I want to help other people. I want people to have some of this. And so I thought I could create it, I can solve this problem.’”
Would you consider yourself a feminist?
“Extremely. I can’t believe that any women, any woman says she’s not. It’s so weird to me. Every time I see that it’s debatable for some women who are like my age or even a little bit, it was like, why would you not say you’re a feminist? Even all the men I know say they’re feminist. I would consider myself a feminist before I’m anything. The reason we even have functional pockets, the reason why we use the fabric we’re using is because we’re saying we’re not going to succumb to the trends that were created by men running clothing companies.
And even the ones that aren’t owned by a man, they’re owned by a group of men, or a private equity group. The people on the boards, when you see who are the boards of directors of these companies, they’re men. So I think it’s the most feminist thing to say that it’s not just women owned, it’s not just women founded, everyone involved here is a woman.”
How did growing up in Miami shape who you are today?
“In so many ways! I mean I, I knew I was in a place that was different from most places ‘cause I’ve watched TV growing up. Right? But I think I didn’t really understand how different until I left for college. And now I just assume that everyone understands it’s different country. We just don’t change the currency, but it’s 100% a different country. It made me have a certain amount of confidence because I wasn’t “the other” growing up, I wasn’t in a minority growing up. I didn’t fit that category until I was 18 and left to college. So I think that made me feel a little extra comfortable in my skin than if I had grown up, let’s say in Wyoming or New York or somewhere else.”
What advice would you give to people interested in starting their own business?
“I would say to talk to as many people as you can about it. And that can feel scary, it was very scary for me. I felt like people would laugh or people would think I was ridiculous because I already had a nice job. But if you’re talking to people about it and then you can further refine your idea or see if the third version of your idea is the better one, not the first one. That’s really powerful and also just gets you comfortable seeing yourself as a boss, as an entrepreneur.”
Who were the women that inspired you growing up?
“Definitely my grandmothers. They really did a lot to make me think about what a woman means in the world and what sort of role she should have and what sort of assertiveness she’s allowed to show. I’m the first granddaughter for both of my grandmothers and I always felt like they were very concerned with me being not just someone who looked nice, but someone who was intelligent and someone who was going to have her independent place in the world. I feel like they left a big mark on me.
And then I think my mom. Also seeing her work and seeing her struggle to push us and to force us to get really good grades in school. That sacrifice that she made. And she gave up so much, you know, for my siblings and me. It’s important that she sees that. I have to make sure that it was all worth it.”