The House of LR&C Co-Founder and CEO Christine Day Shares the 'Subtle Power Moves' That Amplify Her Voice
The former Starbucks executive and Lululemon CEO has learned how to navigate the complexity that comes with being a woman leader in a still largely male-dominated corporate world.
"'Underestimate me at your own peril' is what my mother would have said," recalls The House of LR&C co-founder/CEO Christine Day as she reflects on this year's International Women's Day. Over the course of a 30-year career that saw her heading the Asia Pacific Group at Starbucks and serving as CEO at Lululemon, Day has learned how to reset the balance of power as a retail executive who, at times, was the only woman in the room where decisions were being made. As she puts it: "In a meeting, if I wasn't being heard and other people were saying what I was saying and then being heard, I learned how to jump back in and say, 'Thanks Bob, for echoing my idea — I'd like to build on that and say the following.'"
Refining what she refers to as "subtle power moves" has served Day incredibly well, paving the way for success after success. Now, she's putting her immediate energy into The House of LR&C ("love," "respect" and "care"), the mission-driven fashion company she co-founded with Grammy-winning entertainer Ciara and her husband, NFL quarterback Russell Wilson. The House of LR&C is committed to making the fashion industry more inclusive and community-led and creating large-scale positive change. To that end, 3% of the company's net revenue goes to Ciara and Wilson's Why Not You Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to education, children's health and fighting poverty.
Day connected with Ciara and Wilson through a mutual friend, and when Wilson ultimately asked her for help with his men's fashion brand and the development of Ciara's line, Day was happy to lend her expertise — on one condition. "I said, 'Look, I'll do this if we create sustainable fashion, we set it up as a public benefit corp and we strive to become a B Corp so that we measure everything we do through a third party,'" Day says. "And they said, 'Absolutely, we're all about impact and raising the bar.' Leveling up, as Ciara would say."
A new kind of fashion house
The House of LR&C has three distinct brands in its portfolio — Good Man Brand, Human Nation and LITA by Ciara — all of which are united in their dedication to providing quality and sustainability at an affordable price. "What you see in the industry today is some really good sustainable players at the very high end of fashion," Day says. "Stella McCartney, Gabriela Hearst and Ganni do a great job, but it's outside the means of the average consumer. Then you've got the mid-tier fashion brands, like Theory, Vince, etc. They don't do sustainability at all, but they do fashion well. And then you've got groups that do sustainability well, but they don't really do fashion — your Everlanes and Patagonias. [I have] great respect for what they're doing, but it's kind of the martyr's uniform to sustainability as far as fashion is concerned."
By coupling the styles consumers want with sustainability, The House of LR&C strives to make so-called fast fashion — items of clothing that generally only last for 10 wears — a thing of the past. "People won't change what they're wearing unless you give them the fashion that they're looking for at accessible price points," Day explains. "That was our theory when we developed the brand, but it takes a lot of expertise to do. You've got to go all the way back to the fabric and the technology. You've got to know where to manufacture, to do small production runs when you're first starting out so that you can hit gross margins so that it actually is a business as well. So a key part of forming the company was also bringing together the people that have the expertise to do this."
Independence and adaptability pave the way for success
Naturally, honing the kind of expertise that makes or breaks a business takes most people years. It can be the sum of entire lives and careers. Day traces the development of her own business acumen back to childhood. Her father was an engineer, so the family moved around a lot to follow his projects, and as the perpetual new kid in school, Day became "fiercely independent" at a young age — learning how to make new friends and adapt quickly. That same skill set was invaluable during her tenure at Starbucks and beyond.
"When I went on to become the president of Asia Pacific [at Starbucks], it was really about figuring out how to adapt and fit in and listen to what was going on in the different countries that I worked on," Day says. "And I think I was able to create really strong relationships with each of the business leaders and really be more sensitive to culture than a lot of other people might've been."
In China, for example, Day worked to introduce the red bean frappuccino to celebrate the country's fall harvest festival, and in Indonesia, she helped change the calendar to keep cold drinks on the menu longer. "It's the ability to truly listen and follow the consumer, watch what's happening in the store and then make accommodations," Days says, "but still hold the values and goals of the company and the brand at heart."
Likewise, as the CEO of Lululemon, Day exercised that adaptability when it came to the company's real-estate strategy and consumer touchpoints. Realizing that an omnichannel reality had changed the game, Day and her team tailored their approach to both ecommerce and brick-and-mortar stores. "Building that integration right from the beginning was really important," she says, adding that it's about "not getting stuck thinking that the way you went to market before is the way that's right for the market today."
Day stresses how essential it is to keep a close eye on consumers. "Nobody in my family will go to a retail store with me," she says, laughing, "whether it's a grocery store or a clothing store or whatever, because I will ask people what they're doing. It's highly embarrassing for my children and my husband. He just gives up and says, 'Yeah, I'll be getting coffee down the street.' I'm just always curious about why people do what they do, and I think that ability to observe what people are doing has been key to my success."
Navigating the coporate world
Also key to Day's achievement is how she deftly navigates the complexity that comes with being a woman executive in a still largely male-dominated corporate environment. In addition to shutting down the Bobs of the world and ensuring her own ideas are given due credit, she's learned how to turn similarly frustrating experiences to her advantage.
"A couple of pieces of advice that people have given me is if you're talking and defending a lot, you have to shift into asking questions and making other people defend their position as opposed to staying in defense of yours," Day says. "So that's a power play. I learned pretty quickly that if someone was criticizing me, I'd make them explain that position as opposed to defending my position."
Day has always aimed to build good relationships with the people she works with to establish trust, but she acknowledges that that's not always possible: "If that person isn't working for you like you're working for them, get out — don't stay and suffer. Women stay and suffer way too much." She goes on to relay a story from her days working in the store-development department at Starbucks; her boss changed their meetings to 7:30 a.m., a brutal time for Day considering she had a 45-minute commute and two kids to get off to school. After six high-stress months, Day went to her boss to voice her frustration — and was met with a surprising reaction. "Why didn't you just ask to change the meeting back?" Her boss asked. "You're a valuable player."
"That was a really valuable lesson to speak into what I want or what I need," Day says. "And I think that shifted into powerfully saying what I needed versus being in complaint or letting myself suffer, and then making powerful choices about taking responsibility for whatever the answer was. And that came from understanding the confidence of my worth and my contribution. So you learn how to handle the different dynamics, but with trust and positivity and not complaint."
The future of executive equality in business
Fortunately Day has seen promising changes in the way people view women in executive roles today. "Generations of men now have grown up with more powerful women as role models, as working peers, as bosses, across so many different fields — even their mothers," she notes. "So I think you've got a different attitude coming in in many, many places." Still, Day acknowledges persisting cultural biases; for instance, she chose to work in Asia while at Starbucks because she felt like her knowledge was valued there and attitudes were less chauvinistic than those in Europe.
Despite the inevitable obstacles that come with being outnumbered by male executives, Day has connected with some inspiring women leaders on her road to success. One of the most important women influences in Day's life is former executive vice president at Starbucks Deidra Wager, who showed her just how much of an impact it was possible for women leaders to have. Wager would invite all of the women over to her house for their "version of the men's golf course," offering a space for bonding and support, making the men who put less effort into networking with each other envious and establishing relationships that are still intact to this day.
Trailblazers like Day continue to show girls and young women across the globe what is possible with hard work and the courage to persevere when the job and office politics get tough. And to her own younger self, Day would say, "You don't always have to go straight up the cliff. Being very competitive, I always took on the hardest assignments, sometimes even before I was ready, and I just muscled through — at great personal cost to myself. Sometimes you have to work harder at things because you don't know what you're doing. Once you've built up the skills, it's more effortless."
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