By Javacia Harris Bowser
This is the story of an outfit.
When I found out that I had been selected as one of the Birmingham Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 for 2015, the first thought that came to mind was, “Crap! I have nothing to wear for the photo shoot!”
Don’t judge me. Yes, I also thought about what an amazing honor this was, and I felt grateful that someone cared enough about the work I do through See Jane Write to nominate me for this recognition. See Jane Write, a network for local women writers, bloggers, and entrepreneurs, has been my labor of love since I founded it in 2011. To have my peers and important institutions like the Birmingham Business Journal recognize See Jane Write as a real business meant the world to me. So everything about this had to be perfect—especially the outfit I wore in the photo to accompany my article. Little did I know my outfit would teach me some of the most important business lessons I’ve ever learned.
I’m a feminist who loves fashion, but fashion and I have a complicated relationship. I love attending fashion shows, flipping through magazines, and browsing blogs, Instagram, and Pinterest to see the latest trends and to find ways to update classic looks. But I hate to shop. I know there’s a stereotype that shopping is the favorite hobby of all double X chromosome carriers, but I’m here to tell you that stereotype is a lie. When I realized that there was nothing in my closet I wanted to wear for the BBJ photo shoot, my heart sank. I knew this meant I’d have to have a run-in with retail.
This is the story of an outfit that taught me the importance of asking for help. My best friend—we’ll call her Dee—loves shopping just about as much as I hate it. She hits the mall nearly every weekend. Recently we took a girls’ trip to Atlanta. When we walked into Lenox Square, she told me she got goose bumps. I got a stomachache. After browsing one store, I was ready to go. She could have perused the shops from open to close.
So I knew exactly who to call for help with this outfit. She took me to Banana Republic, Ann Taylor Loft, and White House/Black Market before we finally settled on my look: a winter white Olivia-Pope inspired blazer atop an embellished cream-colored bustier with black ankle pants and black stilettos. Dee added a statement necklace, which took me out of my comfort zone (I hardly ever wear necklaces), but was just what the outfit needed to take it to the next level.
Likewise, in business, I am learning to ask for help. I’ve let go of the notion that I have to (or that I’m able to) do everything myself. I am working with business coaches and marketing strategists to take See Jane Write to the next level and to make it an even better resource for female writers, bloggers, and entrepreneurs. I’m already seeing results!
When the “Top 40 Under 40” article appeared in print and online, friends, family members, and even complete strangers were raving about my picture. One friend said, “You look fabulous, professional, creative, interesting, fierce, adorable, and approachable! How did you do that?” And with that, she summed up exactly what I’d hoped the outfit would convey. But I almost didn’t wear it.
Near the end my shopping trip with Dee, I started to second guess myself and started thinking that I should just wear a traditional black business suit so that my fellow honorees and others would take me seriously. But then I realized how I was failing to practice what I often preach about the importance of embracing femininity and not treating it like a liability.
This is the story of an outfit that reminded me of the importance of being myself.
Since I started See Jane Write, several other writing and blogging networks have been developed in Birmingham and surrounding areas, and they’re all fantastic. At first I was tempted to closely watch and attempt to mimic what they were doing and how. Then I realized that tactic was just silly. See Jane Write has been successful because I respond to the questions and concerns of my members and I will continue to do just that. I will stay true to my mission. I will stay true to myself—and try to look fabulous while doing so.