I worked in finance for almost 14 years, steadily climbing the corporate ladder. As I progressed, I knew I needed to start dressing the part. As men do, I could have opted for the perennial navy or grey suit; but it was important to me that I didn't compromise my femininity. In fact, I wanted to express it.
I scoured endless shopping malls and websites for good quality, office-appropriate workwear that could stand up to long stints in the office, business travel and after-work events. My searches were mostly fruitless.
I found an abundance of cheap, throwaway fashion, most of which was far too trendy for work and which I suspected, given the price, was ethically compromised. However, my wallet flat-out refused the other end of the price scale; and I was left scrabbling to settle for something in the middle.
When I realized there was little to be found, I decided to create it myself. The idea germinated at a time when I was at a crossroads in my career, and I was looking for a new challenge.
It helped that I'd spent much of my working life analysing companies and industries. I wanted to know if there really was a gap in the market; and so, I did my research. Globally, 60 percent of graduates are women. Their prevalence in the workforce called for more professional yet feminine wardrobe options.
I took the plunge, left my job and set up Rose & Willard. I chose the name specifically because it meant "feminine and bold" in old English. Not only does it embody everything I wanted the brand to stand for, but it also reflects our customers – women who know who they are and will stand up for what they want.
When I set up the company, I realized that I had the opportunity not only to provide a product I believed was lacking in the market, but also one that could be created ethically, sustainably and honestly – and without compromise to quality.
Our products would be made of the finest materials and designed to last years, not seasons. We would create an enduring, practical and stylish wardrobe made with kindness to people and the environment.
From an ethical standpoint, not only would we never use a sweatshop, we would scrutinise every aspect of our value chain to ensure no one was being exploited. Interns would be paid, hours would be reasonable and flexible working would be open to all. Through this plan, I have found that a happy team is a productive team.
Fashion is the world's second most polluting industry after oil. To limit the impact on the environment, I sought to minimise our carbon footprint and air miles; we design, produce and distribute from a single London location. Nothing is thrown away. We recycle or donate any leftover fabric.
The third leg of our strategy is our honesty to women. From our inception, we have been committed to featuring diversity in our images – race, age and ability. Positive body language is expressed in all our model shots as we want women to feel empowered, not dejected, when they see our fashion pages. We believe it is important to show more realistic portrayals of women, so retouching is limited to the clothes and not the models.
Right now, there is debate about whether the fashion industry is elitist and exclusive or representative and inclusive. Regardless, consumers have consolidated their power through social media; and traditional power structures are being dismantled. I believe that now is an exciting time for positive change; and the team at Rose & Willard is committed to being a part of that.
About the author: Heidy Rehman is the founder and CEO of Rose & Willard, an ethical workwear brand offering "feminine and bold" designs.
Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.