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I’m usually not the most intelligent person in a room and I’m never the most educated or connected person.  But, I do usually become the most accomplished person given a certain task, project, or mission.  Some people say that’s because I have a lot of ‘grit,’ and while I don’t take ‘no’ for an answer and I always persevere under any circumstance, the real reason I achieve my goals is simply because I’m consistent.  Over the last 15 years, I’ve spent up to two focused hours every day consistently learning a new skill or perfecting a product aimed at achieving my long-term goals. 

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Whether I was the Chief Operating Officer of a hedge fund (an industry I previously knew nothing about) or an entrepreneur running bSmart Guide, this is the approach I’ve used time and time again to accomplish my goals: I identify my starting point, define my end goal, determine interim deadlines, and create a schedule of micro-actions based on my brain function for staying on track no matter how bleak my starting point may seem.  (And trust me, I always begin projects at the furthest possible starting point.)  Below is my strategy for scheduling your success, no matter how big or unlikely your goals may seem today.

List It

Do you walk around with the weight of the world on your shoulders, burdened by your life commitments or ambitious dreams?  Sometimes just thinking about your goals can create a pit in your stomach even though it’s the very thing you want to do!  Whether it’s applying to school or a job, learning a new skill, or creating a product, you’ll always feel burdened by the countless steps it takes to create anything if you keep them all in your head. 

The first step to scheduling your success is to list anything and everything you can think of pertaining to your goal until there’s nothing left in your brain that hasn’t been written down.  As ideas pop into your mind late at night or early in the morning, add them to your running list.  This first step is critical to alleviate your mind (and heart) from constantly carrying around those ‘to do’s’ in your head because you’re afraid you won’t remember to do them.

Next, take time to be specific and critical with your list.  Simply thinking ‘I want to start a business’ or ‘I want to go to school’ is too general to clarify the next step, which makes it harder to take an initial action.  Spend some time thinking specifically about what your goals will look like when they’re accomplished.  Research and even add new items to your list about what it requires to execute your plans.  This will ensure you don’t spend two years climbing a ladder only to discover it was leaning against the wrong wall.

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The real reason I achieve my goals is simply because I’m consistent.

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Prioritize it

The next step is to prioritize your list – not in the order of when each item needs to be completed – but in the order of when you want to address each item.  When my list of ‘things to do’ was stuck in my head, I constantly felt that everything had to be dealt with today and accomplished by tomorrow.  Now, I prioritize when I will address each task by putting a time period (year, month, or week) next to each item for when I will create an action plan for that goal. 

At the beginning of every week, I review my list of priorities and divide those items up by day.  I then begin each day by looking at that list and dividing those items up by hour according to my best brain function.  It’s important to refresh your priorities at the start of each week and day because priorities are constantly shifting as you gain new information about what your goals require.

The book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People describes all tasks as falling into one of four categories: 1) Urgent/Important, 2) Non-Urgent/Important, 3) Urgent/Non-Important, 4) Non-Urgent/Non-Important.  By refreshing my priorities at the beginning of every week and at the start of each day, I’m able to prioritize Non-Urgent/Important items, which usually fall to the side, and avoid Non-Urgent/Non-Important items.  After I’ve prioritized my entire to do list for the year, month, week, and then day and hour, I breathe a huge sigh of relief knowing that everything will be addressed at the appropriate time.  While everything needs to be done, not everything needs to be done today or even this week.  

Schedule It

How many times have you created your ‘to do’ list only to find you accomplished three out of the ten items on your list at the end of the day?  By 4:00 PM you feel lethargic and horrible about yourself, wondering why you don’t have the same stamina as everyone else for getting work done.  I used to feel this way and the same ‘to do’ tasks would roll to the next day again and again, until I researched how my brain functions throughout the day.  According to my research and experience, I found that my ability to be mentally alert followed the below schedule:

7:00 – 9:00:  Quick thinking great for rapid-fire tasks like emails or scheduling.
9:00 – 11:00: Critical thinking for focused tasks such as reading, writing, and comprehension.
11:00 – 2:00: Able to plow through my to do’s that don’t require much thought.
2:00 – 3:00: Unable to think or be productive and completely crash mentally.
3:00 – 6:00: Creative thinking great for visual or video editing, collaborations, or meetings.
6:00 – 8:00: Best for physical activities such as working out, shopping, or cooking dinner.
8:00 – 10:00: Great for busywork tasks that don’t require thinking in front of the television.
10:00: No more thinking and time for bed!
 

Before learning when my brain functions best, I would fill my morning by responding to emails and making phone calls during my most mentally alert, critical thinking time.  I would take a break for lunch around 1:00, and then at 2:00 try to do my most mentally challenging work like reading, writing, or analysis.  By 4:00 PM I would feel so discouraged I hadn’t crossed off anything on my ‘to do’ list, I would procrastinate, do non-essential tasks, or again go through my email.  After dinner I would work from 8:00 until 1:00 in the morning (not peak productivity times) and then be exhausted the next morning when it started all over again. It was a horribly un-productive cycle.

Now, I schedule my tasks that require mental alertness from 9:00 – 11:00 AM and then push through with my other to do’s until 2:00 PM.  I take a complete break from 2:00 – 3:00 PM knowing I couldn’t do anything if I tried.  For me, scheduling tasks in accordance with my brainpower has been critical in accomplishing my ‘to do’ list because I’ve scheduled the tasks for when I’m capable of doing them.

In addition to scheduling tasks by brainpower, it’s important to schedule what Cindy Gallop calls micro-actions – the smallest aspect of any task that’s so easy to do, so why not do it?  The tasks I’ve scheduled are so tiny that there’s no way I can’t complete them in the time I’ve allotted.  Because I’ve clearly defined what my end goal looks like, I feel at peace knowing I’m taking the right steps in the right direction no matter how small.  With this approach, I rarely feel overwhelmed, behind, or like a failure at the end of each day.  If you feel guilty by going this slowly with your tasks, remember that your life is comparable to running a marathon, not a sprint, and slow and steady always wins the race.

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Scheduling tasks in accordance with my brainpower has been critical, because I’ve scheduled the tasks for when I’m capable of doing them.

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Walk It

I’ve learned that this approach of listing my goals, prioritizing tasks for when I’ll address them, and scheduling micro-actions according to my brainpower is my recipe for success.  However, the entire process, from start to finish, typically takes me two years to execute my vision before I’m pleased with the results or feel legitimate with what I’m doing.  You might be thinking, ‘I can’t wait two years for X to happen!’ or ‘I have to go much faster and accomplish a lot more!’  The truth is you can’t and you shouldn’t go faster with your projects.  In fact, rushing the process in business or creative endeavors can jeopardize the quality and foundation of what you’re building. 

To build something the right way, you have to do it piece-by-piece without cutting corners and adhering to excellence every single day in every single way.  Remember that the people you admire had to walk the same long path you must walk down and could have easily felt overwhelmed by their long list of ‘things to do’ (and they probably were), but they consistently tackled small tasks over many years just like you have to do. 

Will you allow the feeling of being overwhelmed cause you to procrastinate from taking your first micro-action?  Will you let the fear of falling behind force you to cut corners and schedule more than you should?  Will you insist that you must grow your business faster than humanly possible resulting in burnout and a long list of ‘to do’s’ left untouched?  Or will you start the process of creating your dreams and scheduling your success today?  If you feel overwhelmed or burned out on the path towards accomplishing your goals – list it, prioritize it, and schedule it.  I’ll see you at the finish line.

 

Meagan Hooper, bSmart's founder, leveraged an arts degree and professional theatre and film experience into a decade long career on Wall Street, working her way up from Administrative Assistant for the founder of a premier hedge fund, to the firm's Chief Operating Officer. Self-taught in the world of finance, her prowess and expertise was quickly recognized, as she then became Director of Operations for a global wealth management firm, overseeing $4 billion in assets across multiple asset classes. Through her journey, Meagan discovered a need for advising, supporting, and connecting aspirational millennial women. This motivated her to launch bSmartGuide.com to serve as a platform for women to learn, connect and promote their brands in order to achieve success and obtain their goals.

 

  1.   February 03, 2016
  2.   Lifestyle

I launched bSmartGuide.com because I wanted to improve statistics such as: 5% of Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 company CEOs are women, 2% of venture capital funding goes to women-owned businesses, 20% of Congress are women, and women still earn $0.79 for every $1.00 a man earns.  I knew that women would need to share their expertise to improve these numbers, but I also knew we needed something more to accomplish our personal or professional dreams.  After looking at my life and the successful people around me, I came to the conclusion that consistent support, training, and accountability from a community of women who are committed to our success is the key to utilizing all of the gifts and talents from women around the world.  

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I’ve learned that all goals, no matter how big or small, are met with challenges - whether that’s in the form of self-doubt, lack of funds, or simply logistics.  I've also learned that the bigger the goal, the bigger the challenges you’ll experience trying to accomplish those goals.  So what’s a girl to do who has aspirations to be a corporate executive, successful entrepreneur, or political powerhouse?  Just like running a marathon, you need a committed support system of people who will cheer you on every step of the way.  But in addition to support, you also need life-development skills for your career, finances, wellbeing, and relationships (to name a few) to become the fully empowered and equipped woman you want to be.  That's why I created bSmart Community Mentor Groups.  

Supported

Everyone needs a 'tribe' to support them and be their cheerleader along their life journey.  Often that tribe comes in the form of your family, friends, or even hometown community.  But sometimes, the people you grew up with might not understand your dreams or think they’re possible for you.  No matter who you are or what you’re trying to accomplish, you need a few people who believe in your dreams, won't let you give up, and will celebrate every success along the way.  

If the people in your life don't share your vision for your dreams, don't let that stop you.  Find new people who do believe in you.  There will be moments when you feel like giving up, and it will be this supportive community that won’t let you quit.  I'm grateful to have had this support in my life, from middle school all the way through navigating adulthood in New York City.  I never would have accomplished my goals without a supportive community who cared about my success.

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I’ve made it my mission to ensure all bSmart women develop their leadership skills.

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Equipped

Support provides an essential first line of defense, but you need more than a listening ear or someone on the sidelines cheering you on.  You need skills training.  I created The bSmart Guide curriculum as a 101 class for adult life with every book, video, quiz, and resource I wished someone had shared with me after I graduated college.  The bSmart Guide shares resources for you to make smart decisions with your career, finances, wellbeing, relationships, fashion, beauty, technology, and leadership development.  If you want to accomplish your goals, you need to define your purpose, have your finances in order, know what contributes to your wellbeing, and most importantly, practice being a leader.

I cringe every time I hear someone say a young woman ‘isn’t management material’ or ‘she just doesn’t come across as a leader.’  I’ve made it my mission to ensure all bSmart women develop their leadership skills.  Everyone in our community mentor groups takes a turn creating an agenda, leading a group discussion, and following up with members on what they shared throughout the week.  Our members are trained in listening, synthesizing goals, and directing the conversation to make sure all voices are heard and calls to action are defined.  This experience makes sure our group members are fully prepared for all future leadership and management roles.

Empowered

So how do you combine group support and life skills training to become a truly empowered woman?  Accountability.  The most important facet of the community group experience is that every group member receives accountability for whatever they would like to achieve each week and over the long-term.  When you have a support system to connect with regularly and when you feel prepared for accomplishing your goals, it's the accountability to yourself and your group members that will push you a little farther than you thought you could go.  

There are times every week when I feel like giving up or slacking off, wondering if anyone would notice.  But then I remember I’ll face a group of women who are rooting for me and will ask me if I've accomplished my goals for the week.  The combination of my group members’ support and consistent accountability not only empowers me, but is responsible for all of my professional accomplishments to date.

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Our vision is that as you become supported, equipped, and empowered, you’re able to do the same for other women.

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Living in a big city, working in a new job, or traveling around the world can leave you feeling lonely or isolated as a young adult.  We weren't meant to experience life alone.  One of the challenges for young adults, especially living in a transient city like New York, is that your community can completely change every few years as people move in and out of your city.  That's why we made the bSmart Community Mentor program a completely online experience using group discussions and video chats.  We're taking the Gloria Steinem talking circles and mixing it with the power of technology to make sure you always have access to your community group, no matter where you are in the world.  

Our vision is that as you become supported, equipped, and empowered, you’re able to, in turn, do the same for other women.  Our mission is to continue this cycle of development and growth until we have 1 million women in mentorship groups, accomplishing their personal or professional dreams.  Realizing this vision is how we'll actualize the full potential of 50% of the population, and finally change the ratio of women leaders in corporate culture, politics, the arts, education, finance, medicine, and technology. 

 

Watch how to use bSmart Groups 

 
 

Meagan Hooper, bSmart's founder, leveraged an arts degree and professional theatre and film experience into a decade long career on Wall Street, working her way up from Administrative Assistant for the founder of a premier hedge fund, to the firm's Chief Operating Officer. Self-taught in the world of finance, her prowess and expertise was quickly recognized, as she then became Director of Operations for a global wealth management firm, overseeing $4 billion in assets across multiple asset classes. Through her journey, Meagan discovered a need for advising, supporting, and connecting aspirational millennial women. This motivated her to launch bSmartGuide.com to serve as a platform for women to learn, connect and promote their brands in order to achieve success and obtain their goals.

 

  1.   January 22, 2016
  2.   Career

I recently finished The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, a book focused on guiding entrepreneurs to continuously innovate their business in order to achieve success.  Admittedly, I started and stopped the book multiple times over the last year because I thought the title implied it all: how to run your business if you don’t have any money.  I had worked in finance for 10 years, and I wanted to give the very best to my startup; being ‘lean’ didn't sound like the best.  Boy, was I wrong.  The lessons I learned in The Lean Startup are not only essential for a startup, they’re essential to any business concerned with fostering innovation and achieving success.

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If I’m being completely honest, though, my business is lean.  I'm self-funded and all of my technology is inexpensive or open-source (free software made available to anyone who would like to use it).  I'm the only person working full-time on my business and my focus often has to shift when I have an acting audition or comedy routine to practice.  So how have I been able to operate and grow my startup into something more than an idea?  Below are three lessons I learned from The Lean Startup that have helped my business evolve and grow into something truly valuable.

1) Don't wait until it's perfect

The Lean Startup recommends that all businesses begin with a 'Minimal Viable Product' or MVP.  An MVP is not your grand business vision - it's a quick and cheap model that gives you the ability to test how consumers interact with your idea.  'The goal of a startup is to figure out the right thing to build - the thing customers want and will pay for - as quickly as possible.'  The book postulates that great products are a result of a continuous cycle of customer insight along with fast iteration.  The number of times you loop this cycle, the more beneficial your product or service will be to your customers.

This concept completely shifted my attitude towards failure.  Think of it this way: you have to continually fail at serving your customer until you learn exactly how to improve your product or service and no longer fail.  With this idea in mind, it’s important you don’t expend all of your time, energy, or budget on a first version of your product.  Rather, try to reserve enough time, energy, or money to reinvent some aspect of your business every week as a result of customer feedback.

You might be worried that people will criticize you if your product isn’t perfect.  You can't let this preoccupation handcuff your plans.  People will absolutely criticize you in the beginning, and they will most likely criticize you at any stage if you’re challenging some status quo.  If you wait to launch your business until your product or service is perfect, you're delaying the inevitable feedback from consumers on how your product could improve.  What is ‘perfect’ anyway if it's not 100% in service to your customer?

2) Think small

Coming from a background in operations, I'm used to thinking big.  I think big about systems, procedures, volume, and demand.  In operations, we create processes and systems to handle a large capacity long before that capacity occurs so that there's no disruption in business delivery.  We design procedures and software integration to run like a machine in order to produce as fast as possible.

Running a start-up requires the exact opposite approach.  With a start-up, you don't even know if you're building the right thing that serves your business mission.  By creating elaborate procedures with inflexible systems, you could actually delay hearing the ugly truth from your consumers for months - no one wants what you’ve built.

So how do you create something someone wants?  Think small.  It might seem counterintuitive, but find 10 people who are your target customer and only focus on serving them.  Understand how your product fits into their life.  Understand if your product provides them your value hypothesis: ‘a testable statement that can be validated or refuted’ by a prospective customer.  Don't worry about selling to millions of people if your product doesn’t serve 10 sample customers in your own backyard.  Then, when these 10 people tell you why your product doesn't meet their needs - tinker, iterate, and try again.  Do this as many times as it takes until those 10 people love your product or service and want to share it with their friends, a concept known as your growth hypothesisThe Lean Startup (and the Scientific Method) says, 'If you cannot fail, you cannot learn.'

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What is ‘perfect’ if it's not 100% in service to your customer?

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3) Find out 'why'

To truly understand why your product or service is failing, The Lean Startup suggests that you ask yourself or your team 'why' five times, as seen in the example below:

Why is no one joining a bSmart community mentor group?
Because no one knows bSmart community mentor groups exist.
 
Why do people not know that bSmart community mentor groups exist?
Because I haven't told them they exist.
 
Why haven't I told people that community mentor groups exist?
Because I haven't scheduled to share community mentor groups.
 
Why haven't I scheduled to share our community mentor groups?
Because I'm winging my social media schedule without a plan.
 

Result - Take time to create a monthly social media schedule and plan in advance when to share the community mentor group opportunity.

Asking 'why' five times forces me to be honest about the real reason something isn't working.  If I only asked 'why' two or three times, I might believe the problem lies with someone else.  But after asking ‘why’ five times, I see where I hold personal responsibility and need to make a change.  Ultimately, asking 'why' about the weakest part of my business allows me to hold myself accountable for the changes needed to improve.

From reading The Lean Startup, I learned that not only can you build your business with limited resources, but that you should build your business with limited resources.  Doing so gives you the opportunity to hear from your customers if you’re on track; soliciting early-term feedback reveals whether you should keep going or make a critical change before you’re too far down the assembly line.

If you have an entrepreneurial idea, start today.  Release your product or service (even if it's not where you want it to be) and ask for feedback on whether you’re on the right track with your value hypothesis.  Then, iterate, iterate, iterate.  Love to solve new problems; all business growth is a result of solving daily problems as you learn how you can improve.  Have the integrity to ask 'why' and hold yourself accountable to solve those challenges.  If you do this, I guarantee that with or without a budget, staff, or support, you will grow your business into something your customer actually needs.

 

  1.   December 29, 2015
  2.   Career

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Designer: Leanne Marshall

Hometown: Yuba City, California + Portland, Oregon

Education: The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in San Francisco

Award: Levi’s Dockers Fashion Designer of Tomorrow

How you know her: Project Runway Winner (Season 5)

SS16 Inspiration: Mother Nature

Website: LeanneMarshall.com

Twitter: @leannemarshall_

Instagram: @leannemarshallofficial

Design Journey:

After graduating from The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in San Francisco, Leanne Marshall worked full-time as a graphic designer in Portland, Oregon while creating her collection nights and weekends to participate in Portland Fashion Week 2006 and 2007.  By mid-2007, Leanne’s sales grew to where she was able to leave her job and run her own label full-time.  Upon winning Project Runway in 2008, Leanne relocated to New York City and has shown her innovative collections at New York Fashion Week and around the world ever since.  After years of custom design, Leanne launched her signature bridal line in 2011 and is now carried in over 18 boutiques around the world.  In 2014, she partnered with BHLDN to offer an exclusive collection of her bridal dresses. 

Why we love her Spring / Summer 2016 collection:

Whether you’re planning your wedding or preparing to walk the red carpet, Leanne’s Spring/Summer 2016 collection is as glamorous as it is ethereal.  Her designs drew inspiration from the cycle of life and death as seen in mother nature through an apocalyptic journey.  Leanne's 'Dark World' series reinvents the little black dress with city chic edge for the urban bride or a sophisticated cocktail party.  The second series entitled ‘Tsunami’ displayed a powerful selection of navy and royal blue chiffon skirts billowing with movement attached to structured bodices.  The collection turned ethereal in the third series, ‘Calming Waters,’ with pale blue and lavender hues, watercolor prints, and lightweight silk organza in full length and short dresses.  The final series, ‘Nature Reclaimed,’ was as strong as it was ornate with kelly green floor length gowns mirroring nature at full bloom.  Whether you’re looking for an ethereal bridesmaid gown or statement making cocktail dress, Leanne Marshall’s Spring / Summer 2016 collection provides the inspiration for strength and beauty found only in nature and reflected in her women.


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Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for Leanne Marshall Designs
 
NYFW.1.Slide.4Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for Leanne Marshall Designs

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Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for Leanne Marshall Designs
 
  1.   October 14, 2015
  2.   Fashion

 

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Creative Director: Nicole Hanley Mellon

Education: Trinity College + University of Oxford

Brand Values: A sportswear collection that can be mixed and matched providing a sense of ease, balance of proportion, texture and color, and attention to detail.

Shop: Shop online or in the brand's first boutique set to open in January 2016.

Trademark: Latitude-longitude coordinates of New York City

Launched: 2014 in New York city

SS16 Inspiration: Havana, Cuba

Website: Hanleynyc.us

Twitter: @hanleynyc

Instagram: @hanleynyc

Fashion Journey:

Nicole Hanley Mellon began her fashion journey as the assistant to the Senior Vice President of Children’s Design at Blue Label for Ralph Lauren.  After years of hard work and dedication, she launched HANLEY in 2014 with each collection drawing inspiration from a location traveled by Nicole reflecting her experiences with the people, places, style, culture, and art.  Her vision for the HANLEY label is a sportswear collection of sophisticated designs that reflect Nicole's life and style that can fit seamlessly into ones wardrobe.  Follow Nicole's journey around the world through her journal as she writes about the people, places, experiences, and cultures that inspire her for the HANLEY woman.

Why we love her Spring / Summer 2016 collection:

Drawing inspiration from Nicole’s visit to Havana, Cuba, her Spring / Summer 2016 collection reflects the city's architectural layers of faded colors, signs of decay, censorship, artistic expression, and military themes.  A-typical color combinations of brick and peach or mustard and chartreuse are central to the collections sophisticated sportswear design intended to be mixed and matched throughout the series or worn independently.  If you’re looking for weekend wear or vacation apparel inspiration, look no further than Nicole Hanley Mellon's Spring / Summer 2016 collection highlighting sheer layers mixed to create unpredictable pallets of texture and pattern influenced by local artisans providing a unique design and glimpse into exotic Cuba.

 
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Photos by Meagan Hooper
 
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Photos by Meagan Hooper
 
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Photos by Meagan Hooper
 
  1.   October 14, 2015
  2.   Fashion

Illustrations by Rachel Sax of Nona E Rose

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Designer: Georgine Ratelband

Age: 26

Education: Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan (2011)

Noteworthy: Her thesis collection was purchased by a prestigious boutique in Antwerp, Belgium.

Signature Style: Synthesis of culture, travel, and femininity

Manufacturing: Split between Italy and New York City

SS16 Inspiration: Age of the Internet

Website: Georgine.com

Twitter: @georginestudio

Instagram: @georginestudio

Fashion Journey:

Georgine Ratelband founded her label in 2011 after her thesis collection was purchased by a prestigious boutique in Antwerp, Belgium.  Her made-to-measure business uses a multi-cultural approach inspired by a fusion of the electricity in New York, sensuality of Paris, and chaotic energy of Bangkok that can be found in all of her collections.  With a motto that the garment should feel as good as it looks, Georgine sources the finest quality material from renowned mills in Italy and France.  By focusing on craftsmanship and fit, Georgine believes every woman should feel great, as well as look fabulous wearing her clothes.

Why we love her Spring / Summer 2016 collection:

Redefining the rules of haute couture, Georgine reflects on the digital age showing that anything is possible and nothing is as it seems in her Spring / Summer 2016 collection.  The series begins pairing blue denim with fancy fur mixing casual clothes and formal wear.  As the collection progresses, the contrasts expand through spandex paired with evening wear and French lace cut into sweatshirts.  Thin leather treated in pastels are worn as evening gloves and activewear is accented by brightly dyed fur.  Focusing on detail inside the garments as much as the exterior, the GEORGINE collection exemplifies true luxury and pays homage to the digital era reliant on the brilliant design behind technology, but rarely seen.  As you dress for Spring / Summer 2016 and wonder which fashion rules to to break or follow, be empowered by Georgine's defiant pairing of contrasting colors, textures, themes, and occasions for her eclectic and international women.

 

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Photos: Dan Lecca for Georgine
 
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Photos: Dan Lecca for Georgine
 
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Photos: Dan Lecca for Georgine 
  1.   October 14, 2015
  2.   Fashion
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