Lauren Warkentine’s road to making custom women’s clothing sounds like the journey of someone with an abundance of drive, curiosity and creativity – the type of person who gets bored with one thing at a time and reads five books at once. Her family owned a pharmaceutical company, specifically pharmaceutical software, and Warkentine worked for them through high school and after college.
“The plan was to take over the family business,” she says. “I worked for them for 10 years after college – bachelor’s degree at University of Oklahoma and MBA at Oklahoma Christian University – and then a private equity firm purchased the business in 2016. I stayed a year and a half after that.”
Before she ever left the company, though, she started another company in 2015 that made custom men’s suits affordable. “It was a hobby,” she says. “I’ve always felt the pull to do something different.”
Eschewing the label “creative,” Warkentine nevertheless is the daughter and granddaughter of “good seamstresses.” Something in the genes, perhaps?
“My sister is very good,” she says. “She makes children’s clothing and they’re incredible. But I took a trip to China when I was in college, and all the guys were buying custom suits there. They were very inexpensive, and it got me to wondering how we could make custom affordable clothing for women. That has stuck with me.”
More than cost, though, Warkentine’s philosophy is based on being a woman in an industry dominated by men. Clothing, according to anyone who’s ever been dressed uncomfortably or inappropriately, is about more than style; it’s about feeling like you belong in the room. And then it’s about feeling confident in your presence at the table. Suits go a long way to help both those factors.
“The problem with women’s suits is that they don’t usually fit,” Warkentine says simply. “Custom men’s suits are easy – the template is basically a rectangle – but women’s bodies are much more varied. As a young professional woman, I had to wear suits to meetings, and I never found one that fit me right. It’s a distraction. You can never be fully present at the table if you’re distracted by your clothes or not confident in the impression you’re making.”
Her company, William & Lauren, just launched a line of custom women’s suits. She also puts her philosophy into practice via nonprofit The Uncommon Collective, an organization that helps “under-resourced” women in the community start and grow their own businesses. Again, it’s not just the clothes; there are numerous areas to help entrepreneurs … but clothes are important, too.
“I have this drive to help people figure out how to feel confident,” Warkentine says. “Clothing helps because feeling confident in your presentation creates avenues to step into and be successful. It’s helping them bring their best self – to step out, take a risk, show up and be fully present.”
The women’s clothing line she developed comes from her own sketches, which she then turned into prototypes by selecting colors and fabrics. Like the men’s side, once the measurements are in, women can simply log into the website to order more suits or components: blouses, skirts, etc. Her entire model is based on the idea that custom should not be exclusive, and in a move that will be surprising to women everywhere, the price is nearly identical to the men’s clothing. In a world where women are used to paying a “tax” on female-focused products, this should be a welcome change.
“Custom is for everyone,” Warkentine says. “Everyone who works in an industry where suits are required, or entrepreneurs who are starting a business – everyone should be able to access custom.”