In recognition of Women’s History month, this is the first in a two-week series profiling successful women in menswear and the challenges they face in climbing the corporate ladder and balancing work/life responsibilities. I learned so much from them; I know you will too.
Wendy Thompson, President (AKA executive in charge of everything), Majestic International (produces robes and loungewear for men’s specialty stores and the hospitality industry)
Do you feel being a woman has helped or hurt your career path?
I’ve never consciously let my gender get in the way of my hopes, dreams and aspirations. I have been fortunate, throughout my career, to work with strong, confident men who always treated me as an equal and respected my gender at the same time. My opinions matter AND they open doors for me. I have been blessed with incredible mentors along the way, all of whom have been men. There are very few moments in my career where I have felt the “old boys club”, or “mansplaining” or discriminated against. And quite frankly, I wouldn’t put up with that. I gained that confidence early on by being the youngest of 3 behind 2 very strong brothers.
Have male or female mentors been more impactful in your career?
Due to my tenure in the menswear business, I’ve been fortunate to work with and for some of the best menswear mentors in the industry and most have been men. I “grew up” at Nordstrom under some top merchants during the glory days of retail. Those learnings and teachings have mentored me both professionally and personally. I revert to those learnings and that culture of servitude every single day.
By far, my biggest mentors, whom I miss every day, are my mom and dad. My mom taught me early on that if the day is going bad, make some cookies. Cookies solve all problems! All kidding aside, she was one strong woman who very clearly taught me to be strong, confident and full of love. And that a simple act of love can change the day. My dad was a big executive who brought me to the office, out to dinner with his colleagues, and with him on my first trip to Europe. I was brought up around adults and encouraged to talk and enjoy life. My dad talked to everyone about anything. My kids complain that I do the same thing now…
There are many strong women in my life and I’m fortunate to call so many of them long time friends. Friendship and mentoring are very closely related yet very different. These women are incredibly supportive of my career and mentor me via friendship and love every single day. I’m blessed to have many mentors and friends of both genders in my life.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from a mentor?
Everyone is important.
Like what sells.
Pack what you want, but you have to carry it.
You only make margin when you sell it.
Be curious about everyone else’s business.
The Customer is always right.
Listen more than you talk.
Make cookies on a bad day.
Write it down.
What advice would you give to women entering the menswear industry today?
It’s a very fun and exciting profession, but it’s not glamorous. Lots of long days, hard work and stress. You have to be a compelling sales person, a math wizard, and assertive both inside the company and with clients. You have to not only master your own business but also become a student of the industry. Specifically for women in menswear: make sure you like sports and can drink a beer with the boys.
Do you prefer working for men or women?
I’ve spent most of my career working for men. Is that a preference? I’m not sure. I don’t think it’s ever been a conscious decision but I find that men are far more transparent and honest in business than women can be. My own ethics and integrity demand that as well. I really don’t tolerate drama and gossip. I don’t find much of that in the menswear business nor when working with or for a man.
Do you prefer hiring men or women?
I prefer to hire the right person for the job. I’ve never picked one over the other based on gender. I really don’t think about it.
What would you do differently if you could start your career over?
I stepped out of the industry for a brief moment and went into finance to chase the golden goose. I hated it. When I was young, many people in my life thought being in fashion wasn’t a “real” job. I’m very proud of the life I’ve worked very hard for. I choose not to have regrets over things from the past as each step taught me something and brought me to where I am today.
Are you happy with your work/life balance? How can women better balance career and family?
I am happy with my work/life balance but I work for that and negotiate it and demand it. That’s where confidence has to come in: the resolve to speak to your boss and ask for the time you need and what you need to be whole. But I continue to do the work and work very hard. Fortunately, I work for a very “family first” company that has always provided and encouraged time needed for health, wellness and family.
Covid did cause us to hit the pause button from work but most of us continued to work as best we could. There was more flexibility at all levels during that time but our company is returning to the office and back to pre-pandemic standards.
It’s been said that women have to work like they don’t have kids and parent like they don’t have a job. I am very fortunate to have found an outstanding partner in my husband who definitely carries the weight. Women have to find partners who support their career as they do their own. You can best balance your life by asking for what you need and finding compromise along the way, both personally and professionally. The traditional work day of 9-5 has totally changed. What do you want your work day/work week to look like? Figure it out and find a way to make it happen that works within your company’s structure.
More importantly, you don’t have to do it all. You have to learn to delegate in all aspects of your life and manage the expectations.
What in your career are you most proud of and what goals have you now set for yourself?
I’ve been in the business for 40 years now. With the exception of a few years, I’ve produced increases year over year for all the businesses I’ve worked for. I’m a very competitive person and I’m proud of those numbers. I will continue to strive for those increases and add value and substance to the company I work for.
My kids are now entering their own professions and my goal is to help guide and mentor them into building their own successful businesses.
My goal every day is to make it a great day.