Mar 30, 2023
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Shonda Rhimes teams with St. John again for Gyrl Wonder event

Mar 30, 2023

St. John's #OwnYourPower is shaping up to be more than a seasonal campaign slogan. It's on the way to becoming a movement, as witnessed by an event Hollywood powerhouse Shonda Rhimes hosted Wednesday night in Manhattan.

Shonda Rhimes - Courtesy

Held in the just-opened east coast Shondaland headquarters, the evening had the southern California knits-and-suiting-driven company founded by Robert and Marie Gray in 1962 pairing up with Gyrl Wonder, non-profit aimed at supporting 17-22-year-old Black and Latinx young women through the early stages of their careers.

Aurora James, founder of Brother Vellies and co-founder of Fifteen Percent Pledge, joined Rhimes for a Q&A on the TV executive's career life lessons and shared a few of her hurdles in her professional journey.
James queried the female executive about a series of topical career advice covering everything from managing difficult people and situations, initiative aka dues, opportunities, interview tips, seizing your voice and position in any role, and of course, the importance of a professional wardrobe.
Rhimes relayed that a decade into her quest to make it, she was about to give up and attend medical school.

"This isn't an overnight success story; it was ten years of doing all sorts of jobs to survive. I was going to put a script on the spec market, thinking it wouldn't happen, but I could say I did it."

The script sold and kept her in the game until Grey's Anatomy success.
"It took a while to own my power even when the show was a hit. Power isn't power until you know you have it. If you made it into the room, you belong there. On the Scandal set, I realized that if I said something, it got done faster than if my crew said it."
Both Rhimes and James agreed that taking a lot of "imperfect jobs" is a step towards success. In the TV producer's case, she cited a job working at a facility in Los Angeles that helped mentally unhoused people get jobs and places to live.

"I learned how to connect with people who didn't necessarily want to connect with me; that gave me patience," she said, adding, "If you are going to get someone coffee, get them the best coffee they ever had."

In Rhimes’ case, committing to your calling also means doing something you are proud of daily in your off-hours and being open to opportunities.

Aurora James (left) and Shonda Rhimes - Courtesy

"Make the best of them," she advised the eager young female audience, adding, "You are capable of more than you think. Do something you are afraid of, and it always undoes the fear, don't be afraid to fail or look foolish."
Rhimes said she had a great role model who showed her how to "do what you need to do to get there."

"My mother went back to school after raising six kids and got her Ph.D. at 45," she added.

Besides determination, the creator of Bridgerton says she seeks out an identity in job candidates.

"You should have a story in every interview that tells people who you are as wells as ideas," she advised, noting that Shondaland is a storytelling company.

Of course, presentation counts, too, as clothes also tell the story. "Clothes should make you feel powerful," she said, relaying her career wardrobe choices, which include spending her earnings on clothes during a summer college job in retail, and her clothing choices in her 20s left a lot to be desired.
"In my 30s, I started wearing St. John style jackets with jeans and a T-shirt," she said, acknowledging that they were usually borrowed from mom's closet. "Don't let your feet hurt. I won't wear uncomfortable shoes or clothes. Wardrobe is our armor. When you don't worry about how you look, it allows you to look inside yourself and get the job done."
The affinity for the brand led to the campaign partnership and then Gyrl Wonder, which she said happened organically. "I wore a St. John sweater on the cover of Time magazine, and they reached out afterward," she said, noting she said yes immediately, which may also be a result of the personal journey she documented in her 2015 New York Times best-selling book, Year of Yes.

"I like that they are American-made, have lots of sizes and feel inclusive, and are comfortable," she explained, adding that working with Gyrl Wonder was something she believed in that gave her a chance to mentor and "pass it on."

"You don't get somewhere and close the door behind you; you leave it open and pull as many people through it as possible," she said, adding mentors can come in the form of reading books or listening to podcasts. James noted that friends building their careers could also be great mentors. "Friends are the only ones to call you out when you are crazy," Rhimes agreed.

Lexi Fairley, Esani Robinson, Jazlyn Sarpong, and Jada McDowe - Courtesy

Rhimes told the audience that it’s also ok not to have it all figured out. "I didn't grow up knowing I wanted to be a TV show writer; I didn't even know that was a thing," she said, stressing they try new things. She said she would like to write a play to which the audience squealed in delight.
James, a self-professed, out-of-the-box thinker, who dropped out of high school and didn't attend college, encouraged the audience to go for jobs without holding themselves back.
"Apply for jobs even if you think you don't meet all the requirements; a man would. Be a rulebreaker to get what you want," she advised.
"I didn't know how TV worked when I got my first job; it sometimes helps not to know the rules," Rhimes added, noting that when she landed her first big gig, there were no leading black characters on TV. Even the Black-cast TV shows of the 1970s, such as The Jeffersons, Good Times, and Sanford & Son, were obscure by then and developed/produced by a white male, Norman Lear.
"I don't believe in imposter syndrome because it gives proof to it," she advised, noting not giving up is critical. "Trust your gut but also know you may have to work with people you don't vibe with. Try to stick with it and figure out the area you love. Enjoy the struggling part that feels hard because this is where you get the tools to succeed later," she told the crowd of aspiring professional women eager to pose for selfies with Rhimes. Guests were also invited to be styled, have their makeup done, and sit for professional headshots.
As guests mingled post-talk, FashionNetwork.com spoke to St. John CEO, Andy Lew, who agreed the partnership was organic and who also introduced the evening,
"Having Shonda in the campaign is genuine because she wore it before we asked to be in the campaign. This felt organic and real versus hiring a supermodel and actress that, honestly, every brand can do. Not every brand can get Shonda, who loves the brand," he said.

"We were having conversations and asked how we give back as part of owning your power. It was collaborative, and now the president of Gyrl Wonder lives in LA, so we are discussing how to support them. We always need interns, so how do we get these young women into real roles and help with that extension on the east coast too?" he continued, noting their clients are like Rhimes, so there is an opportunity to leverage those relationships with Gyrl Wonder too.
While the brand and latest campaign may be miles away from the days when founders Robert and Marie Gray's daughter Kelly starred in the ads beginning in the 90s, Lew begs to differ.

"We didn't break out of those campaigns, which were early days for female empowerment. She still travels the world, flies on private jets to exotic places, and runs companies. This consistency and confidence speak to the brand itself," according to Lew.

"It's trust in the brand that fits well, is comfortable sitting or standing, and you can spin it your way. This is what we want to empower in our clothes."

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