If you talk to any two people about their experiences in the workforce, you’ll get two entirely different answers. We’re in an age of nonlinear career paths — of early starts, late blooms, extreme pivots, and, more often than not, an accumulation of wildly different roles — and there is something to be learned from everyone’s unique path. That’s why we partnered with Clear Eyes, the #1 selling eye drop brand whose latest campaign is all about celebrating the moments in life when we truly shine. Together, we spoke to women whose trajectories have been anything but traditional — and landed them right where they were meant to be.
For some women, buying a new blazer is a grab-and-go situation. Got an event Friday? Wear a size 8? Walk into the nearest retailer and you’ll probably be in luck. No, seriously. If you can go into a store and find a blazer that fits you on the first try, you are extremely lucky. For women who wear over a size 12, finding a blazer that fits can take weeks, because most blazers aren’t designed to fit their bodies comfortably. As a result, many end up settling for pieces that don’t make them feel good about themselves.
At the office, the experience of wearing ill-fitting workwear might mean spending an entire meeting pulling at a button-up shirt because your bra is peeking through the gap between the buttons or adjusting your pants before you sit down and worrying about where the waistband is cutting your stomach. Which isn’t to say you’re not paying attention at the meeting, but the anxiety over your clothes might lead to other concerns about perception in the workplace. “The ripple effect of a button-down that doesn’t fit is tangible,” says Lauren Chan, the founder, CEO, and designer of workwear line Henning, launching this fall. “It affects the work that you’re doing and the work you’re given the opportunity to do.”
Over the course of her adult life, Chan has shopped for sizes ranging from 12 to 20, and as someone who describes her background as working in plus fashion and “capital F” fashion (writing and editing for magazines) before plus-size became part of the zeitgeist, she’s most grateful for her experiences shopping above a size 18 — because she learned just how difficult it can be to find trendy pieces that fit bodies like hers. “Your experience with not only the clothes in fashion but the ideas of representation and spaces where you feel welcome and how you’re able to present yourself as a person…it changes so much,” she says of wearing above size 18.
At 21, Chan graduated from the University of Western Ontario in Canada, where she studied sociology and French. She dreamed of becoming a fashion editor but couldn’t obtain a visa to move to New York and start interning. Instead, she attended an agency open call for plus models and signed with them the same day, so she could move to New York as a model. “I had almost two separate work lives,” she says. “I was interning and writing for [fashion magazines], and then I was going to work as a plus-size model for [major brands].”
Soon, Chan was hired as fashion features editor at one of those magazines. She was overseeing the trend coverage and fashion editorial writing at the publication but also paid special attention to the plus-size beat and ensured it received enough real estate online and in print. Her coverage of plus-size fashion led to appearances on TV morning shows and caught the attention of a plus-size powerhouse fashion brand, which proposed a collaboration, with Chan on board as designer. “That was my first foray into product,” she says.
While shaping the national conversation around luxury fashion and models (remember that cover story?), Chan was wearing fast fashion to work every morning, because fast fashion brands are some of the only ones producing on-trend pieces for the plus-size community. “I realized I was reporting on these luxury brands for years that I had never ever worn. The irony was not lost on me.” During this time, plus-size labels started launching buzzy campaigns, designers started casting models above sample size for fashion week, and plus models started appearing on more magazine covers. On social media, consumers demanded options beyond shapeless frocks and peplum tops. Soon, Chan considered leaving her role at the magazine to start a workwear company.
“I didn’t go to fashion school, I’d never made clothes on my own before, and I’d never run a business,” she says. “Everything I was doing after leaving my fashion job was new to me.” Henning is self-funded, which means Chan has total control over every decision as she chooses fabrics and cuts, designs branding, and plans the launch schedule for the fall. Though she won’t get too specific about the line, she describes it as “fit with a plus-size body in mind,” which means hidden buttons in the oxford shirts to prevent gaping and elastic fused to the back of the trousers. Henning’s Instagram is rife with muted and tonal blues, tans, corals, and mustards. While the collection has been said to form around a power suit, there’s also a high-key flattering trench coat Chan has been photographed wearing on Instagram and in an online feature about what’s in her closet.
Though her career has followed a roundabout path — as those of many multihyphenates do — Chan has made decisions based on a single guiding principle: “My end goal is to make women who have felt excluded and disadvantaged in life because of their size feel included and capable and valuable through fashion,” she says. “I always thought my means to that end was through magazines and content and speaking to her. Now, I’m doing that through being an entrepreneur and providing product to her.”
Moving from office life to self-employment can be a big adjustment, but Chan says the most noticeable difference has been the day-to-day energy flow. “Recognizing your wins, whether big or small, is really important in this process because those are the things that keep you going as an entrepreneur, so every day there’s a shining moment, whether it’s big or small, and every day there’s a low moment, whether it’s big or small,” she says. “That is a new cadence that I’m learning to balance.”