A Smart & Stylish Partnership: O Magazine, Talbots and Dress for Success

I was very excited about this week’s lunch at Michael’s because I was going to be talking to three fabulous women from companies I’ve long admired – Hearst, Talbots and Dress for Success (which is actually a non-profit that’s so well run it could teach many corporations a thing or two about management). Lucy Kaylin, editor-in-chief of O The Oprah Magazine, Meredith Paley, Talbots’ vice president of public relations, and Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success, joined me to talk about their unique — and highly successful — partnership, now in its third year, that is the very definition of doing well by doing a lot of good.

Yesterday was the official launch of the O, The Oprah Magazine and Talbots’ co-branded capsule collection benefiting Dress for Success. The five-piece limited edition collection designed by O’s creative director Adam Glassman and the Talbots’ design team offers a fresh take on preppy springtime staples like the cardigan, short sleeve sweater and clutch. Everything is done in red, white and blue “with a patriotic feeling” and many pieces (like the sweater I’m wearing today) are embroidered with ladybugs (which, according to Adam, are “the new polka dots”).

Meredith told me that Adam was inspired when he saw the eye-catching insects flying around Oprah’s garden in California. It turns out ladybugs symbolize love, luck, and prosperity which fit perfectly with the spirit of the whole shebang. It was fate.

O! The Oprah Magazine March Cover

The 2018 collection is featured in the March issue of O The Oprah Magazine in all its striped and gingham glory (and, of course those embroidered ladybugs) worn by actors Connie Britton, Sophia Bush, Busy Phillips, Extra’s cohost Tamika Ray and comedian Yvette Nicole Brown. (There’s also two inside Talbots’ covers.) “We had lots of meetings. Lots of meetings,” said Lucy when I ask how they chose the women for the shoot. Lucy, Gayle King, Adam and the magazine’s publisher Jayne Jamison all weighed in. “We wanted women who exuded a sense of fun and were truly interested in helping other women.” And there’s no stick figure in the mix, either. “Adam is keenly sensitive to the issues women face trying to get dressed.” The women on the pages of the issue reflect that.

I had to ask Lucy, who has been editor of O for nearly five years now, what it was like around the office after Oprah gave that barn burner of a speech at the Golden Globes in January that immediately set off speculation she was gearing up for a run at the White House. “Unbelievably exciting; there was a dreamy vibe,” she told me. “The prevailing feeling was a sense of pride. We were profoundly attuned that something extraordinary had happened.” I’ll say.

The O Magazine and Talbots collaboration predates the #MeToo movement (“Something I’m incredibly proud of”) and was in many ways prescient in predicting today’s zeitgeist. “This has been an extraordinarily strange time,” she said. “MeToo caught a lot of people by surprise. Now you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. We’re living in a time when complacency is not okay.”

As a company, Talbots’ message has long been one of empowerment and positivity. It’s mission, said Meredith, is really based on “women helping women,” and their commitment to Dress for Success proves they’re not just talking the talk.

Thirty percent of the net proceeds from the line will be donated to Dress for Success, an international not-for-profit organization that provides women with the tools they need to achieve economic independence. This year, for the first time, Talbots will match customers’ monetary donations up to $250,000. The 2016 and 2017 initiatives raised close to $3 million and collected over 12,000 boxes of donated business attire for Dress for Success, benefiting over 60,000 women. They’re certainly off to a good start. According to Meredith, yesterday brought in $63,000 in donations from Talbots’ customers around the country – making the one-day total triple the amount that was collected last year.

Talbots stores nationwide will continue to collect customer clothing and accessory donations for the Dress for Success program and will also accept monetary donations both in-store and online at www.Talbots.com.

And it started with a single box of clothing. “For years we’d get a box of plus size suits from Talbots without any note or invoice or request for a tax receipt,” explained Joi, a lawyer whose first experience with the organization was as a donor and she’s now been there for 21 years. “Our greatest need was for suits size 12 and up and most of our donors are size 10 and under, so it was perfect. We were able to outfit ten women in suits.”

Four years ago, Talbots’ CEO Lizanne Kindler and Deborah Cavanagh, SVP of marketing, met with Joi after she redirected their donation to Dress for Success’ Boston office (Talbots is based in Hingham, Massachusetts). “They told me that they wanted us to be their one charity which is unique to an organization,” said Joi. “They were clear. They wanted one organization they could wrap their arms around. In three years, the partnership with Talbots and O has literally lifted off the page.”

Joi told me when other companies reach out to her now, the partnership with Talbots inevitably becomes a topic of conversation. “It’s ‘best in class.” Lucy concurred. “I’ve had plenty of fellow editors come around to my door and ask, ‘How’d you do that?’

Connie Britton

If you’re like me, you might have known that Dress for Success provides women with professional clothing and accessories needed for job interviews but did you know they were an international organization whose services include a whole host of programs ranging leadership training to health and wellness? Now you (and I) do. They have 165 offices in 30 countries around the world and have helped over 1 million women. They also offered disaster relief to clients during Hurricane Harvey and other severe weather events. Women in job training programs are referred to the organization to help prepare them for a specific job interview. If the client doesn’t get the interview, they can stay in the program and get support for their continued job search. Ninety percent of their funding comes from corporations or foundations tied to corporations. “In four short years, Talbots has surpassed all of our [other] corporate sponsors in terms of donations,” said Joi.

But there was another equally rewarding byproduct of the organization’s association with Talbots and O Magazine. “It’s transformed how we think about ourselves.” said Joi. “We feel like this is our moment.”

Dress for Success is having another big moment on April 18 at their annual gala at Cipriani Wall Street sponsored by Talbots and O Magazine (who else?) where Bethenny Frankel will receive the Humanitarian Award for her work with the organization. Adrianna Papell is receiving a corporate leadership award (they will also be dressing clients for the gala) and branding agency FCB is also being recognized for their pro bono ‘Open Door’ campaign.

The partnership between O Magazine, Talbots and Dress for Success has also evolved as women’s interest in helping other women seems to be at its highest level in recent years. “Twenty years ago, our clients were the welfare to work population,” said Joi. “In 2008, when the economy bottomed out, that shifted and women who once donated were knocking on the door as clients. Now, we’ve seen a tremendous uptick in volunteers. Women want to stand for something.”

Lucy, who joined Dress for Success’ board of directors last year added, “You can leverage [a partnership] for endless revenue or you can help women and change lives.”

As we finished up our lunch, I listened intently as Meredith and Joi shared many of Dress for Success’ clients’ stories and how truly inspiring these women are. One client has a daughter who was recently accepted to Yale University. This would not have been possible, said Lucy, had her mother not been helped by Dress for Success. “The ripple effect of the program is amazing and one you don’t immediately think about,” she said. What also impressed me was when Joi found out this young woman needed to come up with $5,000 to make up what her scholarship wasn’t paying for, Joi went back to her extensive network and came up with the money. “I wasn’t going to let $5,000 get in her way. She is her mother’s success story.”

As we said our goodbyes it struck me that while in the course of the past two hours, although we’d talked about the challenges we are facing today, everything that was said was coming from a place of what we can do rather than focusing on gloom and doom and supposed limitation. Oprah would have been proud.

Seen & Heard Around the Room

Fashion television pioneer Elsa Klensch celebrating her 85th birthday on Table One. Remember when “Style with Elsa Klensch” on CNN was required viewing? … Andrew Stein on Three … Peter Brown on Four … The Today show’s Kathie Lee Gifford, Eva Mohr and a charming fellow named Benny Hansen on Table Five … Table Six was a gathering of ladies who do a lot more than lunch: Mickey Ateyeh, Betsy Perry, Rikki Klieman and Joan Jakobson dining and dishing … PR maestro Hamilton South on Table Seven … Producer Kate Edelman Johnson on Eight.

And there’s more … Estee Lauder’s Alexandra Trower who will be honored with a Matrix Award at this year’s Women in Communications luncheon on April 23 with a pal on Table Nine. Congrats! … Larry Kudlow on Eleven … LAK PR’s CEO Lisa Linden with her colleague Angel Fahy and matrimonial attorneys Lisa Zeiderman and Faith Miller … Penske Media’s Vice Chairman Gerry Byrne with the doyenne of documentaries Sheila Nevins on Fifteen. Did you know Sheila has produced over 1000 documentaries for HBO and has won so many Emmys, Peabodys and Oscars that she had a room at their headquarters to house all her awards? Now you do. Busy Sheila has been traveling far and wide thanks to the incredible interest in her best-selling book, You Don’t Look Your Age … and Other Fairy Tales.

United Stations Radio’s Nick Verbitsky at his regular perch on Table Sixteen … Discovery ID’s Henry Schleiff  on Seventeen  … British Heritage Travel’s CEO Jack Kliger with Janice Orefice Dehn, CMO of Kliger Enterprises and Mark Cooper of Mark Cooper LTD whose firm represents Harney & Sons Teas. Mark told me Harney was asked by Historic Royal Palaces of England to create a collection of English tea blends. Each blend, he noted, “pays homage to tea’s imperial history and roots” and comes packaged in a pretty jewel-toned tin. Just the thing to drink later this spring while watching the royal wedding at the crack of dawn, no? … and former NBA commissioner David Stern on twenty-four.

Diane Clehane

Diane Clehane is a leading authority on celebrity and royalty who has written for Vanity Fair, People, and many other national outlets. She is a New York Times best-selling author of five books, including Diana: The Secrets of Her Style and Imagining Diana. She appears regularly on CNN.

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