Lisa Sun graduated from Yale in 2000 unsure of what she wanted to pursue having taken the MCAT, GMAT, LSAT and GRE upon graduation.  Lisa landed at McKinsey & Company where she worked for 11 years as a consultant for global fashion brands.  In her first year and first review, she was told she lacked gravitas and should dress the way she wanted people to see her.  By 2006, she was named Best Dressed by Washingtonian and spent her weekends styling her colleagues to help them find the same confidence she had acquired.  

Passionate about how fashion can create confidence combined with a history of frustration for finding a dress with the perfect fit for her body, Lisa created Project Gravitas - a confidence company that uses six different fit models to design their dresses with patented shapewear built into the dress.  Learn from Lisa how you can project gravitas, find a dress with the perfect fit for your body, and have the confidence to achieve your goals.

Click here to project gravitas and find the dress with the perfect fit for your body.

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Gravitas means dignity and confidence.

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Glamorous Gravitas

What does it mean to project gravitas?

Gravitas means dignity, importance, and confidence.  We’re really hard on ourselves every day seeing all of our flaws and insecurities.  The first step to projecting gravitas is looking in the mirror and seeing something wonderful.  If you see something wonderful about yourself, you’re going to be able to take that energy with you throughout the day.  Projecting gravitas isn’t an outward or external expression, it’s an internal mindset believing in yourself and taking that forward into the world.

Who are the women of gravitas?

No one is born with gravitas.  You have to learn it over time.  You have to be inspired by women who have it and then practice it.  We created the Women of Gravitas program when we launched the company to provide inspirational moments for our clients to see themselves on a certain path.  Each month we curate a group of women or a woman from an industry that we believe has had challenges in her life, overcome them, and is an inspiration for how to live with confidence.  

Our first Woman of Gravitas was the President of Marc Jacobs who helped create the entire line.  She was there for 11 years and prior to that was President at Dana Buchman.  She wanted to share the story of how to work at a big fashion company and also how to start one from scratch and grow it into a multi-billion dollar brand.  Another example is our group of women chefs.  The restaurant industry is particularly notorious for having very few women.  We wanted to show women who had the confidence to grow their businesses and be successful in that industry.  Each month it’s an opportunity for us to show someone on a path and how she made choices to live confidently.

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The first step to projecting gravitas is looking in the mirror and seeing something wonderful.

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How can we find the perfect fit?

This is a lifelong struggle for me.  I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to fit into a dress versus trying to find a dress that fits me.  That’s really the flip we’re trying to communicate.  Most brands have one fit model.  If you think of a brand that fits you really well, it’s because they have a fit model that looks like you.  When we started the company we used six different fit models - not just one.  We picked a different model for every body type and then said we’re going to design at least two silhouettes that work for each body and be the first brand in the industry to have a dress for every single body type.  

I’m a dress whisperer and no matter who you are, I can find two dresses that will work for you.  I’ll give you an example.  I’m a fairly curvy girl and I have a hard time with straight boxy sheaths because they don’t highlight the best parts of my body: I have a small waist, I have a great collar bone, and I have wonderful calves.  I often look for silhouettes that have more ease through the hip, but have a cinched waist and an open neckline or detail across the neckline.  

Think about your best features and then look on our website for your best silhouette such as a straight sheath, or an A-line fit, or an open neckline.  As women start to learn what works for them, they won’t feel as frustrated in the dressing room.  We’re setting ourselves up to fail when we go into a dressing room these days and end up saying, ‘I don’t like this about myself, or I don’t like that, or I can’t wear this trend.’  We should be flipping that around and say let me look for the features and benefits that will best highlight my body type.

What is your Shapewear Secret?

I’ve been wearing shapewear for maybe a decade and as most people know it rolls down, it rolls up, it’s uncomfortable, you can’t wear it for longer than three hours and often it’s not designed for what I want to wear and get a line in certain places.  My team and I spent an entire year figuring out how to build a shapewear liner into a dress and have it fit perfectly to that silhouette.  

With shapewear designed into our dresses, you get all day smoothing control that’s comfortable, you can wear it longer than eight hours, it doesn’t roll up, it doesn’t roll down, you don’t get a funny line, and there are no ‘Bridget Jones moments.’  If you have a gentleman caller, you can unzip right out of the dress and no one needs to know you were wearing it.  It’s invisible and no matter what size you are, everyone wants a confidence hug and an opportunity to stand a little bit taller.  Our shapewear is globally patented and we’re the first ready-to-wear brand that has innovation, but also feels an obligation to provide an emotional call to action.  People feel emotional in our products saying to us, ‘This is the most confident I’ve felt in years.’

What is the future for Project Gravitas?

I started this as a fashion company, but a few months ago I crossed out the world fashion and replaced it with the word confidence.  We’re a confidence company.  We’re selling a chance for people to choose between being self-conscious and self-confident - and that is a choice.  In terms of growth, we’re going to be global by the end of the year shipping internationally and we’re going to be introducing new and innovative products and bringing more and more people to the brand.  

From a business standpoint, we’ve spent the last two years in a proof of concept phase proving out 1) that we’re on to something and 2) we can be profitable and actually generate revenues.  The next stage will likely be bringing on institutional funding so that we can scale further.  My secret hope and goal is that not only are we a product company and a commerce company, but overtime we really evolve into a content and community company, as well, so that we’ve got the three C’s of commerce, content, and community and we really can become a confidence company, not just a fashion company.

Watch Lisa's bSmart interview here!

No one is born with gravitas.  You have to learn it.

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Stunning CEO

How did your past and your passion create your purpose?

One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Life is about purpose and not position.’  It took me over a decade to realize what that meant.  There are two things that influenced my purpose.  The first is that my parents are entrepreneurs.  My parents were the first of their family members to leave the country of Taiwan.  They came to the U.S. with no money and my mom worked on a hamburger truck and my dad worked on a loading dock.  As we were growing up we saw them own restaurants, convenience stores, a metal business, and when I graduated from college, I actually worked for them for a year and a half.  There’s something really special about seeing your parents start with nothing and be able to send their kids off to college and retire.  Being an entrepreneur was something I grew up with, it’s in my DNA.  Creating something really beautiful and being able to share it with people - that’s who my parents are.  That’s the first piece of my past that really led me to an entrepreneurial path.

The second influence was from spending 11 years as a consultant.  Being a consultant taught me two really important life lessons: One lesson is that you’re always in someone’s service.  When you’re a consultant, your needs are subsumed by a greater set of needs.  When I think about waking up in the morning, I serve women who want to feel their best and I serve my team who is working hard to make that a reality.  The second thing I learned from consulting was that feedback is a gift.  My first boss at McKinsey told me I didn’t have any gravitas and told me to buy new clothes, which is quite offensive when you think about it, but what she was really telling me is to see myself the way I wanted other people to see me.  If your best coaches are your toughest and feedback is meant to help you improve, then I took that piece of feedback and started an entire company based on the idea.

What is your advice for excelling in corporate culture?

I heard an amazing talk from Indra Nooyi from PepsiCo where she said, ‘You don’t choose the mentor, the mentor chooses you.’  One of my biggest pieces of advice is to make yourself ‘mentorable.’  Making yourself ‘mentorable’ means that you’re humble, you’re hungry, and when someone gives you a piece of advice or feedback you automatically reflect on it, you ask questions, you get advice for how to address that feedback, and then you act on it.

The joke at McKinsey was that I had this little notebook I carried around called ‘The Lisa feedback notebook.’  I would walk around once a week asking people to give me one thing I could do differently and I would write each of these things down.  As soon as I had mastered it I would cross it off the list.  

When I left McKinsey, I had this notebook I had carried around for 11 years and as I went back through it and saw what I had mastered, along the way I had collected fans.  I collected people who wanted to will me to success, who really wanted to see me do amazing things in the world.  When I started this company and I put my own money in, I had 20 McKinsey people email me saying, ‘Why didn’t you ask me for an investment, I’m offended that you didn’t come to me and ask me for $10,000 or $50,000 to start your company.’  Everyone opened up their pocket books, which I hadn’t expected.  I credit this little feedback notebook for not only making me a better executive, but also brining me this amazing community of people who wanted to help me succeed.

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She was telling me to see myself the way I wanted other people to see me.

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How can we overcome challenges like you?

I’m going to give you a piece of advice from my mom.  (She’s the wisest person on the planet.)  She says, ‘No one wants to help sad people.  No one wants to help stressed out people.  People want to help happy people.’  So when there’s a challenge, I pause and I give myself a moment to say, ‘This totally sucks and I’m completely stressed and I don’t know what to do.’  I give myself permission to feel that way.  Then I hear my mom’s voice saying ‘no one wants to help a stressed out person.  They want to help somebody who’s optimistic.’  Once I’ve gotten through the ‘this sucks’ phase I think about who I need to help me.  

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made is thinking I could solve every thing myself.  I used to go into shutdown mode and some of my mentors would say, ‘It must be really bad because I haven’t heard from you.’  I’ve thought about that feedback a lot and I’ve said, ‘Okay when things are really bad, I’m going to figure out 1) where can I get help because I alone may not be able to address this challenge and 2) always go in with a clear ask.  

An example of this was when Oprah Magazine named us favorite things and we sold out in a weekend.  Then we found out that every single size label on our dresses was wrong and they were all one size too small.  I called one of my mentors who used to be in the garment industry and she said, ‘You’re going to pull back every single unit out of the warehouse before it ships to these Oprah readers and you’re going to get a sewer to re-sew every size label.  You’re going to get your whole team and I’m going to show up and run the line.’  This is a retired 25-year fashion executive and thank God I called her because I didn’t know what to do and we needed to get these orders out by Monday.  My entire team spent two full days in a factory with this awesome mentor.  I look back on it now and think, ‘Thank God I didn’t go into shutdown mode and I didn’t become paralyzed.’  We can all get paralyzed, so it’s about letting that go, saying this sucks, and then finding help.

What are some of your entrepreneurship lessons learned?

One of my former clients at McKinsey is one of Latin America’s most successful entrepreneurs.  He’s been an entrepreneur for 40 years and before I started the company I asked him what should I know.  He said, ‘Lisa, what you need to know is that you’re going to be a schizophrenic for the next few years and there are only two states you will live in.  One is a generous, happy visionary leader where you’re really clear about your vision and sometimes even an asshole about it.  The second person is a humble student and a learner.’  He said I will live between those two states over the next 5-10 years. 

I didn’t know what he meant at the time, but now I do.  There are days when I’ll come in and things have fallen apart (because they tend to, by the way) and the clouds have come in and it’s raining really hard and I have to learn what to do and I have to work with my team, who’s often more talented than I am, and call on resources to help me do things I don’t know how to do and I’m a very humble learner.  And then there are days when I come in and everything has gone right and the clouds have parted and there’s a little patch of sunshine and I get to be a visionary inspired person.  Those two states are really hard to navigate on a daily basis and you have to be really resilient to be a schizophrenic.

How can we be smart and project gravitas like you?

When we’re in our adolescences, there’s a moment when you become self-conscious about yourself.  You start understanding words like ugly, pretty, skinny, or fat.  You start to evaluate yourself and it can be anywhere from age six to twelve, but all of a sudden you’re conscious of something and it creates this life long journey of being hard on yourself and having insecurities and seeing flaws.  But there’s a point before that where you didn’t see any of your flaws and you didn’t have a sense that anyone was judging you.  I don’t think we ever let that point go.  There are moments when we choose to be confident and it is a conscious choice.  It’s a conscious choice to either say I’m going to address an insecurity or I’m going to accept an insecurity.  

Starting this company was about creating products that when women put them on, they get to have a pause button on all the negative voices in their head.  They can say, for these few moments, I get to be my best self and I get to be confident.  For me, how to be smart is a choice and it’s a choice of when you’re going to address an insecurity and embrace a better version of yourself.  If I can give you one little piece of advice, it’s find something that is a mental queue for you to say, ‘Now that this is on me or now that I have this in my life, it’s a reminder to choose to be confident.’ 

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Make yourself ‘mentorable.’

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I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to fit into a dress versus trying to find a dress that fits me.

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Spotlight on Lisa Sun

Neighborhood: Tribeca for home, NYC Garment District for work

Occupation: Dress whisperer (oh, and Founder & CEO of Project Gravitas!)

Twitter: @ProjectGravitas

Instagram: @ProjectGravitas

Women I Admire: Our customers, who share with us the challenges they’ve overcome and the moments they’ve owned and who give us an opportunity to be in their closets and lives.

Look of the Season: Project Gravitas Rosalind Perfect Pencil Skirt + Josephine Cape Blazer, the perfect outfit to channel one of Amy Cuddy’s power poses while rocking this season’s cape trend.

Salon Recommendation:  GlamSquad for the win

Signature Scent: Jo Malone Peony & Blush Suede

Beauty Essential: CoverFX Total Cream Cover Foundation, Charlotte Tilbury Beach Stick, Julep Glow Powder

Travel Destination: Taiwan to visit my parents and eat all of my childhood comfort foods

Favorite Quote:  

'Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.' - Marianne Williamson

Latest Gadget: Homido Virtual Reality headset

On My Playlist: 'Battles' by Emily West (one of our Women of Gravitas) and 'Gorgeous' by X Ambassadors

Favorite App:  New York Times Crossword

University: Yale

 

 

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