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Female Founders: Mignonne ‘Maggie’ Gavigan On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Know your strengths. I see color and pattern and texture all around me and with my ADD, I need to compartmentalize, make priority lists, hire people who have expertise in areas I do not.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mignonne “Maggie” Gavigan.

Mignonne “Maggie” Gavigan Smith, founded Mignonne Gavigan in 2014 after discovering that women felt instantly more confident when wearing her unique designs. As a New York City based, North Carolinian bred accessories designer, Maggie is widely regarded for her playful, color-forward aesthetic and fresh, elevated point of view. She continues to redefine wearable designs with a couture sensibility. With strong southern roots and a background designing for luxury fashion brands, Gavigan hones a signature, laid-back style with masterful technique and a designer eye.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I grew up in North Carolina with loving parents and three brothers. In school, I excelled in Visual Arts and was accepted into the North Carolina school of the arts in elementary school. I loved drawing and painting and it gave me such an important creative outlet from a young age. My parents encouraged me to go to undergraduate school and then specialize in a master’s program more geared towards arts. I enrolled in Parsons Paris and was accepted and transferred to Parsons New York where I began my career in Fashion. I worked as an apparel designer, a handbag designer and then a footwear designer before starting Mignonne Gavigan in 2014.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

One of the more interesting stories in our history is the one that compelled me to start my own brand in the first place. I mentioned my background as an apparel designer, and it was through a serendipitous discovery during that time that Mignonne Gavigan came to be. I was experimenting with a beaded vintage couture gown and an embellished piece of fabric fell to the floor. I picked it up and pinned it around my neck and loved the cool scarf vibe. As I walked home through SoHo, 3 different people stopped me on the street to ask where they could buy my “scarf necklace.” From there, I knew I had something special and there was a huge opportunity.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Ha, maybe separation between work and home, which is ironic in the post-COVID WFH world we live in! When we first started the Company, to save money on office space we worked out of my apartment for 2 years. While it was absolutely the right decision from a business and financial perspective, we learned the hard way (after a few hundred cardboard boxes and countless arguments with our building super about running a shipping operation out of a TriBeca loft) that it was time for us to get a real office! We became real good friends with our Fedex team though, they would come inside and hangout with my cat Franklin during pickups!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I could never name one person. Obviously, I am insanely grateful to so many people along the way: co-founders, employees, investors, believers, and each and every one of our customers. But every moment comes with unique challenges — I truly believe every experience provides an opportunity to learn. It could be as trivial as someone who compliments your outfit, or as deep as your oldest friend, mentor, etc. Support and encouragement comes from unexpected places along the way. I am so thankful to be where we are today and MG wouldn’t be here without the team surrounding us.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

From what I’ve witnessed, as my peers have had kids, each family meets a crossroad … who is going to stay home and watch the kids … is it Dad? Mom? Nanny? Daycare? Often, even if a family has help, so much of the day to day household tasks and childcare responsibilities fall on women, regardless of if they are working a job outside of the home or not. It makes it very challenging to focus on either work or family, let alone give 100%. Spending the last almost 20 years in New York City, I’ve witnessed a shift in women empowering and supporting each other to create companies and fulfill their dreams, whatever that may be. Having your own support system of women that are there to help you move forward or help you pick up the pieces and always have your back is critical. I’ve always relied heavily on the advice and support of successful women. Loving what I do has helped me with the juggling that is being a working parent and allowed me to prioritize work and family at different times to be the best Mom and Founder that I can.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

More female conversations and support groups to fund and advise young entrepreneurs. I believe the world of podcasts has been a great tool for listening to other founder’s stories in their own words beyond written words: unscripted, unedited and more honest. Additionally, more access to flexible, quality childcare is so critical for the advancement of working women (and all working parents).

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women have superpowers. our perspectives and ideals are vastly different than those who have held the reigns before us, we have a different vantage point. I would say if there’s one thing women are good at — it’s multitasking! The key to running a successful organization aside from having the passion and drive would be to be able to juggle many hats at once, especially at a startup.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

There are a lot of false narratives about entrepreneurship, but forums like this one are helping dispel those myths and paint a real picture of what it’s like to build and run a company. Some truths that may contradict perceptions about starting a company/being a founder: It is HARD work. Starting a Company is not a get-rich-quick scheme, it is a long winding road with many ups and downs. Entrepreneurs aren’t just born with a stomach for risk tolerance, you need a genuine passion for what you are building in order to weather the many storms along the way.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

Being a founder and being a leader really requires leading by example and being willing to put in the work and show your employees the kind of dedication that you want to see from them. Being an employee often allows you more of an ability to leave your work at work. Being a founder means taking your work home (almost always) and often taking on your employees’ personal challenges as your own, especially in a small company where you don’t necessarily have dedicated HR, etc. Blurring those lines can become challenging, and I can recall losing sleep over employee’s personal situations — both out of love and care for them, but also as a response to how those situations can affect the business. Being able to navigate those challenges is a huge part of being a founder, and it takes a lot of time to figure out strategies to help work through personnel challenges and decide how to handle different situations from both a personal and a business perspective.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Know your strengths. I see color and pattern and texture all around me and with my ADD, I need to compartmentalize, make priority lists, hire people who have expertise in areas I do not.
  2. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t get caught up in the small stuff. Keep pushing forward.
  3. Understand your P&L. Knowing the numbers is everything.
  4. Understand your customer. Knowing who you are designing for, what are their interests, likes and dislikes, etc.. There is so much customer data at our fingertips, leverage it to make informed decisions.
  5. Go with your gut. No one knows or cares about your business the way you do.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I entered fashion when the industry was not a kind place … everyone wore black … it was cutthroat. At MG, I wanted to foster a culture of positivity. It’s policy that MG employees treat each other with kindness and respect. No problem should be on the shoulders of just one person. We are all in this together and will solve each problem together.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I consider myself an environmentally responsible person. Protecting the environment and animals/wildlife is very important to me. I am a lover of animals, birds, wildlife in general (as anyone who sees our collections would know ☺), nature is such an inspiration to me and my designs. We are all witnessing the drastic climate change and the impacts this is having on all of us. It’s our responsibility to protect both our land and the animals in danger of extinction. We know what we have to do to stop it — it will take courage and ambition, but we can do it.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

There are so many women entrepreneurs I respect and admire, a few that come to mind for me would be Tory Burch for how she has taken her namesake brand and transformed it into one of the most successful lifestyle brands, Lori Grenier for her passion to bring joy to people and lead with kindness, Sara Blakely for her ability to lean into failure and remain true to her vision, Kirsten Green for her risk tolerance and commitment to drive growth and support success.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Female Founders: Mignonne ‘Maggie’ Gavigan On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.