SWAAY x Accessories Council Dinner Series Launches With Key Takeaway: Collaboration Over Competition

SWAAY x Accessories Council 

Dinner Series Launches With Key Takeaway: Collaboration Over Competition

Attendees group photo in their sunglasses provided by Luxottica. Photo Courtsey Of Sarah Merians Photography & Video Company

What happens when 36 executives in the fashion and media fields come together over autumn-inspired dishes and cocktails? “Meaningful connections and authentic relationships that hopefully can lead to bigger partnerships,” says SWAAY’s founder, Iman Oubou, on the cohort of female executives warming up the room on New York City’s first brisk evening of the season. 

Power. Resistance. Authenticity. Alacrity. This was last night’s tone hovering throughout Haven’s Kitchen, a female-founded restaurant complex, dedicated to forming communities through cooking and eating. The third-floor loft space provided an amiable setting for established executives from brands like Luxottica, Rosenthal & Rosenthal, and Steve Madden to mingle with founders of emerging brands like ADAY, Neely & Chloe, INSPR and Affordable Luxury Group; brands that emphasize the fashion world is never too saturated to break into.

“We live in a world where we’re consuming and discovering trends in a different way than we ever have before,” said INSPR’s co-founder, Chantel Waterbury, explaining her brand’s ability to take advantage of a consumer trend’s short-lived cycle and turn it into an entire label. “We’re essentially giving creatives an empty canvas to tell their story for around 90 days.”

Iman Oubou, Neely Burch, Nina Faulhaber, Amelia Lovaglio Photo Courtsey Of Sarah Merians Photography & Video Company

Aptly named “A Night of Empowerment,” Oubou celebrated the evening as SWAAY’s first partnership with Accessories Council. “Karen and I met at our last SWAAY dinner,” shared Oubou before introducing Karen Giberson, President, and CEO at Accessories Council. “We had a conversation about how we can always be doing more to support one another; it’s about collaboration, not competition.”

Karen Giberson, president of the Accessories Council, continued, “We are an industry that serves women and there really aren’t enough women in most senior leadership positions. We have an opportunity to change things.”

As the room glowed with an aura as soft as the tea candle-lit tables, connections came alive as the fashion-forward attendees shared their industry experience by introducing some of their glorifying wins, but more importantly recognizing similar struggles while building a career within a still male-dominated field.

“Being the only female family member in the Rosenthal business often makes me feel that I have to work just that much harder to prove myself,” says Cassie Rosenthal, Senior Vice President at Rosenthal and Rosenthal, opening up the floor to introductions from the range of women she brought together in collaboration with SWAAY and The Accessories Council. “What I’ve come to learn over the years more than anything is, it doesn’t matter how outnumbered I am, it’s my unique perspective and approach to business that allows me to affect change.”

Karen Giberson, President of Accessories Council Photo Courtsey Of Sarah Merians Photography & Video Company

In response to her honest and humbling opener, the room buzzed with similar tales of unfathomable wins and what makes each invitee’s story unique.

“Being a woman in this male-dominated world has helped me a lot,” admitted Arelis Gutierrez, President and CEO of Aria Logistics, who also unabashedly referred to herself as the “Elle Woods of the trucking industry.”

Affordable Luxury Group’s founder Aimee Kestenberg also shared in success by giving into being different. “People told us we were too young and stupid to do anything in fashion, but now we’re the only millennial owned and run fashion company in Manhattan,” she shared, also noting they were just named the fastest growing, privately owned fashion company in America.

“If women demonstrate qualities that men are revered for, they are interpreted as bitchy, overbearing, and tough to deal with,” explained Sloan Tichner, President of Steve Madden Handbags. “If you want to achieve an objective, you have to detach emotions. As women, it’s indicative to take on everything for the cause, even if it means doing someone else’s job but you can’t manage and do; it was only when I got here that my business took off.”

Staci Chen, Chanel Brand Director at Luxottica inherited her comfort in communicating after moving to the U.S. at 15-years-old; she didn’t speak English, therefore, wasn’t vocal. “My parents said do whatever you need to do to get your point of view across. If you speak your mind, you communicate in a way that you get what you want.”

Fran Lukas, CEO of the Jewelry Group, shared her lessons from growing up in the industry surrounded by men, and applying their wisdom to inspire women, “not to be intimidated by each other’s strengths, but to lift each other up and take it to the next generation.”

Neely and Chloe is an aspirational, attainable handbag brand that represents this next generation, with sisters Neely and Chloe Burch attributing their success to the leading ladies in style who came before them. “So many women have struck out on their own and have made it possible to do what we do. It’s our turn to dive back into this world to support other women in their endeavors and dreams.”

Other names in fashion included former executives at Hermes, Nine West, and Ivanka Trump, along with innovative companies such as zero-waste, superfood organic beauty brand LOLI and luxury accessory brand Deepa Gurnani working to change the stigma surrounding women’s roles in India.

It was an evening full of camaraderie and confirmation of what happens when women work together to support one another, not just from all angles of the industry, but from international corners and across all ages. Oubou concluded the inaugural dinner with an ode to the series on the horizon, to keep the conversation flowing and inspiration consistent. “Our hope with these intimate gatherings is to give a platform for women to come together and insist on each other’s success.

We all get comfortable in supporting each other from afar, or commenting on each other’s social media posts, but there’s something magical about women coming together in real life to build deeper relationships and have meaningful conversations. We are excited about this dinner series and the incredible stories that will come out each gathering.”

Jillian Dara

Jillian grew up an island girl but converted to city style after living in Boston, London, Santiago, and now, NYC. She is a writer, editor and content creator with a desire to share stories in the lifestyle genre. With a particular focus on travel and profiles, she prides herself on sharing the most authentic story for those who aren’t able to share their own.

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