Fancy hats and fashion with “Ladies Who Lunch”

What happens when you throw a multitude of entrepreneurial women into a banquet room in a private club?

An inspiring afternoon of chatter, fancy hats, high heels, healthy food, decadent dessert, and a slew of new connections. At least that’s what happened at October’s edition of Ladies Who Lunch.

Ladies Who Lunch, Michelle Phaneuf

The series, which is hosted by Maria Kritikos, aims to bring together like-minded women in an attempt to foster new relationships and essentially expand businesses by bridging the gap between other businesses. It holds the sentiment of “How can you help me and, in turn, how can I help you?”

Since I am skeptical of the idea of “forced” networking, I approached the event with a slightly antisocial demeanour. For anyone who knows me, I usually thrive in a room of people I don’t know. An entire room of well-educated, mostly A-type personality women, on the other hand, can be slightly intimidating, even for me. Mid-way through the event I got over myself and started chatting with the lovely Kari Beaudoin of Ah Perfect Petals Floral & Design. She happened to be the individual who designed all of the floral centrepieces at our lunch. I chatted with her without any pretence and with very little conversation about what her and I both did for work. Our conversation eased me into the networking aspect of the event, and later had me flitting around the room taking photos, shaking hands, exchanging business cards and sharing cupcakes (because women like to “half things” for portion control).

The theme of this particular event was the “Secret to Success”, and it was exemplified by some extremely inspiring speakers.

Maria set the tone of the event with her enlightening speech and bubbly personality. “Success is the relentless desire to achieve what you want,” she stated.

Ladies Who Lunch | Maria Kritikos

Fashion TV Host Mandy J Ross took the stage next and introduced our lineup of speakers. As I looked around the room at the fabulous women in my company I felt comfort in her words, “You are who you surround yourself with.” 

The afternoon unfolded with short speeches by Miss Canada Casar Jacobson, Tracey Drake CEO of Niche Magazine and Jennifer Halinda the executive director of Dress For Success.

Jennifer Halinda kept it short and sweet at the pedestal and let her company speak for itself. In a nutshell, Dress for Success empowers and supports disadvantaged women so that they can take charge of their lives.

“The women that come to us are from many walks of life. I would say 70% of the women we serve are single mothers, just as some of you in the room are. Some of the woman have had it all and have lost it all due to circumstances in their life; some of them are immigrants who have come here from another country and they don’t know how to navigate through the muddy waters of finding a job. And some of our women have been out of the workforce for more than 20 years. You can imagine that in today’s age with LinkedIn, applying online, and usually the first job interview done over the phone, how these women who have been out of the circuit for so long feel, not knowing where to start. Dress for Success is really about helping these women find their confidence. Some of them have had confidence in the past, but something has knocked them down a peg and they are desperately looking for a support network. We have 300+ volunteers and four or five paid staff that are here to make sure that every woman we serve is given that support network and that boost.

“Six years I started volunteering for dress for success, and from the moment I walked in the door I was ‘home’. They never had any jobs available, so I thought, okay, I’ll just volunteer… Last year I lost a sales job that I had been doing for over a decade and still,  I kept volunteering. At that moment I thought, ‘here is a chance to reinvent myself’. So, instead of going back to were I could’ve gone in my comfort zone,  I kept volunteering and I started spending all my time where I loved to be. Now here I am! In February I was offered the job of Executive Director at Dress for Success.”

“It’s not the dress that’s important in our name, it’s the success.” 

Following Jennifer’s speech was an incredibly engaging speech by Tracey Drake, CEO and Founder of Niche Magazine. 

Niche Magazine is a Victoria-based magazine that has existed for just over a year and will be expanding to Calgary and Vancouver in January 2014. Due to the magazine’s rapid growth and popularity, Tracey often gets hit with the comment, “Wow what a great overnight success,” to which she replies, “It was an overnight success that was forty years in the making; it has evolved over many years, many degrees, many different jobs and many interpretations of what I thought a career in the fashion industry would be like.”

She spoke about the “cutthroat industries” that she is involved in (fashion and publishing) and how difficult it is to be caught at the apex of those two industries and still succeed as a woman. “I got where I did through integrity and I never offer something that I cannot fulfil. Smart, savvy women with integrity never go out of style.” 

Ladies Who Lunch | Tracey Drake

She also opened up and shared some personal stories, as well as some advice.

“There are two occurrences in my life that as a child changed my life and directed me to the fashion business industry… I grew up in the 60’s and my mother’s Saturday ritual was going to the beauty parlour, sitting under the hooded vent and having a shampoo, set and spray. Emphasis on the spray. It was a special day that every once in a while my mother would allow me into her life and allow me to go with her. On one particular day, I was perhaps nine or ten years old, I was waiting for my mom to finish and there was a lady sitting beside me. She was the most fabulous women I had every seen in my entire life. She was sitting there and she was reading a glossy copy of a fashion magazine. I looked over at her and she was beautiful and she was vivacious and she was very kind and spent time talking with me. And I knew at that moment that I wanted to be in magazines as well. Of course as a ten year old I really thought I wanted to be a model, that there was where I was headed. So that was a very pivotal moment and a moment that all these years and decades later I still remember quite vividly.”

“I am a personal brand. What is my personal IPO (Initial Public Offering)? For me it was easy: integrity, passion and opportunity. Those are the three words that I live by every single day. I also run a mentorship program that’s very important to me, where I mentor eight young women each year…I definitely put them through the paces, but I make time for them every week.”

Casar Jacobson told the story of how she got into pageantry despite being a tomboy growing up. When she was crowned Miss Canada she didn’t feel that accomplished and blissful feeling that she thought she would, realizing that it was philanthropy that really made her heart sing. She leveraged her “celebrity” status and skills like public speaking that were gained during pageantry to make changes internationally in partnership with charitable organizations.

Ladies Who Lunch | Casar Jacobson

“Sometimes we grow up to believe certain things that aren’t necessarily right; we’re not pretty enough to be a model, or smart enough to be a doctor. If you think you can’t, you’re right, but if you think you’re wrong, you’re also right. So, you just have to go out there and give your all.”

She also explained that she is a kinaesthetic learner, so will likely be told how to do something, try it herself, and discover many bumps along the way. Because of this, she thinks of failure as a stepping stone to success, stating, “I’ve never done anything in my life without failing first….perhaps that’s why I don’t do skydiving.”

She concluded with a powerful quote that she had read recently about life.

When the Dalai Lama was asked what surprised him the most about humanity, he answered, “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money, then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health, then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present. The result being that he does not live in the present or the future, he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Fashion designer Jason Matlo wrapped up the afternoon with his audacious 2014 BABE spring/summer collection. He may have been the odd man out at the event, but was held high in every woman’s heart in the room after saying, “Behind every great man there are a series of great women.” His advice for success was to “get rid of your deficits” and hold on when everyone else lets go.

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Entertainment for the afternoon was provided by international musicians Sharon Bryson & Karla Sax, cupcakes were provided by Neets Treats, and the lunch buffet was provided by the culinary team at The Arbutus Club including Executive Chef, Michael Couzelis, and Chef de Cuisine, Serge L’Ecuyer.

For more high resolution photos from the event check out my Ladies Who Lunch set on Flickr. 


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