Our courage is in our kindness, our strength, our intelligence, our intuition. It is our courage that defines us, that propels us forward in life, that makes us powerful. In honor of courageous women everywhere, we partnered with A.L.C. for a live interview series in Los Angeles (and later New York). For our first interview in LA, we spoke with A.L.C. founder, Andrea Lieberman and she detailed how she finds courage when you need it the most and what her biggest challenges have been in starting her own business.
“In 2009 when I started A.L.C., I felt that I had come to a crossroads. I had to walk away from a styling career that I felt very blessed have. I was making good money, I was traveling around the world, hanging out with rock stars—walking away from that knowing you’re not going to make money for a few years is tough. But it’s so important to follow your own personal definition of happiness.
I think that as women, it’s really important for us to see the life we want to lead, and take steps towards that—as scary as it may be at times. Because you’re never ready. You have to think of all the reasons why you can, not why you can’t. And that’s a core value of this company—it’s a mentality I bring with me to work every day. I think that there are so many obstacles we can create and let get in our way, but if we can just see the small steps that we can take daily—that’s what gets us closer. There’s no easy answer, there’s no rocket fuel, there’s no, ‘Just do this and its going to happen.’ It is a lifetime journey. It’s equally as important to look down the road and see where you’re going, but you need to acknowledge the incremental milestones that will get you there. Being able to recognize both the big and small picture is a beautiful thing.
When you’re forming a business partnership with somebody, subtlety is not helpful. Kind, thoughtful, appreciative? Yes. Gracious? Yes. Subtle? No. You have to understand what you need and ask direct questions. I think you need to look past that person’s successes and failures, and understand what their values are. It’s also important to think about what that person will be like when you face challenges together. You need to think, ‘Can I face challenges with you? Or are you going to be a part of the challenge that I have to overcome?’ And value your opinion as much as you value the opinion others. Always, always, listen to your gut.
When I was six years old, my mother went to law school and became a lawyer. She always worked. I think giving my daughter Paloma a similar example is important. I talk to her a lot about being kind, having passion for what you do, being excited about life, and the biggest thing: to not let fear hold you back. Because we face fear as kids, in our 20s and 30s. I face it in my 40s, almost 50s. I’m scared of failure all the time. Every time I put out a collection I worry that nobody is going to like it. But I make a conscious decision to not let fear get in my way. You need to say, 'Am I going to let this stop me from doing what I really want to do?’ And if you don’t allow yourself the opportunity to potentially fail, then how will you ever learn? You can let fear stop you, or you can rise to the occasion and be courageous. I believe that every woman on this planet is courageous, and that we each need to find our own way to tap into it. For me it’s deep breaths, and understanding that there are two choices. You can either be fearful, or you can say, ‘Fuck it’ and do what you want to do. You have the power to push yourself forward or hold yourself back.
The best advice I’ve ever been given is to: ‘Act as if.’ You might not feel it, you might not be living it, but if you show up and ‘act as if,’ eventually you become it. I remember walking into one of my first styling jobs, and being so nervous I was literally hyperventilating. I said to myself—just walk in there and act as if you’ve got this. And that’s what I did. And I walked out of there thinking, ‘YES, I did it.’ It’s those daily moments where you prove yourself to yourself, not so much to anybody else, that give you the strength to move forward.
When you run your own business, sacrifice is big. You sacrifice family time, you sacrifice going out with your friends, you sacrifice money. But the internal gain is so great, that it’s really more of a tradeoff than a sacrifice. That’s the way that I see it. But I will say, if you’re not down with some hard work, you might want to rethink things. It’s not a nine to five job, it’s five to nine. And then you’re dreaming about it and waking up in the middle of the night thinking, did I do that thing? And even when you’re exhausted, you’ve got to keep your eye on the prize. Otherwise it runs out of control. And that’s why finding moments for yourself are so important. You’re putting so much out, you need to put a little back in. Personally, meditation is key for me. No matter what your day looks like, you need to find time to be kind to yourself.
The business is who I am, it’s what I love. My family is who I am, it’s what I love, so it was so instinctual that the two should come together. There is enough love to go around everything. I had always envisioned a place where I could do what I love and have my children there with me. After I gave birth to Paloma, she was here for ten months straight being breast-fed. Behind my desk I had a crib and a high chair. I had a nanny who met me here every day. When I went to my first Barney’s product knowledge seminar, I brought Palmoa. They were all passing breakfast around and Paloma was being passed around as well. And then I had my son Leo, which made things more crazy. But you have to embrace it. There’s no such thing as normal. You have to embrace everything that comes to you. If something feels like a challenge or a drag, look at it in a different way. When I want to complain or I hear people complain, I think, ‘If this is as bad as it gets, it’s not that bad.’ There are plenty of people, no matter where you stand in life, who have it a hell of a lot worse than you, so take that strength and figure it out.
I don’t think that I’ll ever get to a place where I’m like, ‘Great. I’ve hit it. I’ve got the car. I’ve got the house. Now let me turn my phone off.’ I don’t think there’s a finish line. In my 20s, I travelled extensively. Then I started a little retail store, that by anybody else’s definition might have been a failure, but for me it wasn’t because I learned so much. All of those lessons, I bring with me today. Sometimes you’ll find your way by failure and sometimes by success. In my 20s it was more of a spiritual, internal journey, in my 30s it was styling, and in my 40s it’s this. And who knows what’s next? My goal for 50 is to be able to do a headstand for a really long time!”
At the end of this interview, Andrea’s eight-year-old daughter put her hand up and said she wanted to read something to the crowd that she had written. Here is what she wrote that night and read to her mother and the room full of people (minor punctuation added for clarity). And yes, everyone started crying.
“When I grow up I want to be like you. You are so lucky that you followed your dreams and everybody here should do that. Mistakes help you learn! If you try something and don’t get it, still reach for your dreams. Brave, kind and dream, but really love your dreams if somebody makes fun of you or your dreams still reach for them, still go for them. And just take a break, hug somebody. In a book called the North Star (it's great you should read it) a boy takes a path in a forest. All these animals tell him to go the path they think but not him. He takes his own path. So all the people here, pick your own road. It’s your life. Pick the choices you want. My choice is to be like my mom. Be brave, kind and love love love everything and especially look on the bright side.”
—Paloma Lieberman, age 8.