'Ridiculous' AOC not taken seriously for wearing hoops, Good American CEO says

Megan Sims
·7 mins read
(Photo: Courtesy of Good American)
(Photo: Courtesy of Good American)

During this Women’s History Month, MAKERS wants shoppers to empower women with their wallets. To make it easy to do so, we’re highlighting some of our favorite female founders and the amazing products they sell. Check it all out at shopping.yahoo.com. (We may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Pricing and availability is subject to change.)

Emma Grede and Khloe Kardashian had a problem many women can relate to: it was hard to find good jeans that fit their bodies. So in 2016, the pair launched Good American, making denim in trendy and traditional styles in sizes 0 to 24. And while most fashion companies historically only incorporate extended sizes after initial success — or, more predominantly throughout the industry, not at all — the co-founders were determined from day one to not only stock items for a wide range of individuals, but feature them in campaigns and imagery on the Good American e-commerce site as well. “The conversation between Khloe and I was never really about should we do this, it was like how are we going to do this? How are we going to make this a reality?” Grede says.

The effort has paid off. And while Grede’s obviously ecstatic from an entrepreneurial perspective to be in the black, the fact that a business plan based entirely on inclusivity has proven to be so successful is what makes her the most proud — and the larger societal implications of that.

Grede spoke with MAKERS on the importance of helping women to thrive in the workplace, promoting diversity as a black female CEO, the struggle to source plus size models and more.

MAKERS: How do you support women in the workplace? Benefits, perks, hiring, etc.

Emma Grede: This is something that I'm so passionate about, not just for women, but for everyone. At Good American, 80 percent of my workforce is female so you're really talking about a brand that is made for women and by women. When we created certain performance styles or our range of Good Mama, which is our maternity product, employees were inspired by moms-to-be in the office and also definitely by Khloe.

Then you start looking at how you make life work as a working mother. If the schools are closed and the banks are closed, as they are on numerous days, I just made it really easy for my employees to not have to come into work those days because otherwise they would have to incur additional childcare costs. And actually, we have unlimited vacation for all employees and you just find that those things make an enormous difference to people.

How do you promote diversity within your business?

I find it incredibly important that all races and ethnicities are represented in my business. I think that when you are a woman of color, there's no fear, there's no question mark behind hiring other people that wouldn't necessarily make it into other companies where you hire what you see and what you feel comfortable with. The whole question with diversity, especially around companies in fashion, really comes down to leadership. If you have mixed leadership at the top then that will automatically filter down.

And it really is just about hiring extremely diverse individuals from our designers and the people who work directly in tech to those in marketing and digital. And it's not difficult, you just need to hire like that from the outset.

When we started the company, we were really dumbfounded on how shallow the pool of plus-sized models was and then when you try to look at plus-sized diverse models, it becomes even more narrow. So we just took it upon ourselves to start our own initiatives and really invite our customers and a wider group of women to be involved in our brand. And one of the things I'm most proud about with Good American is some of those girls that we found very, very early on have gone on and continue to have incredible careers.

As a company becomes bigger and there's more people involved, you have to instill and really make sure those values are written down and that becomes an absolute and a way of working. You don't just take it for granted that as a black female CEO everyone's going to think like you do. So, it's something that I work very hard at every single day.

Good American's ethos is all about size acceptance. Why is inclusivity so important to you? How has it impacted your business?

The easiest place to start is the impact because what I hear in the industry is how hard it is to do and how costly it is to do, but customers really reward you for them being at the forefront of your mind, for you including them and thinking about them. Good American from the outset has always been a zero to a size 24 and that means customers immediately know that anything they come to Good American for they're going to find it in their size and that makes them incredibly loyal to you. And the conversation between Khloe and I was never really about should we do this, it was like how are we going to do this? How are we going to make this a reality?

And it feels like a really small thing that you have a brand and you make it in all the sizes. But actually, the net effect of it is really big. The societal change we'll start to see is that women in all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and ethnicities are actually represented and you'll start to see amazing things happen. So I think it is something I'm really proud that we do, but I think it has a much bigger cultural impact than just making clothes and those clothes being commercially successful. Again, it is one of the things that I'm really proud of and one of the things that I'm just really passionate about. It's not just about acceptance and it’s not just about something that we do, it's a principal.

Who are some women that you have looked up to and who continues to inspire you today?

I have so many idols, but someone who I really do admire in a number of different ways is my friend and also my investor, Natalie Massenet. She founded Net-A-Porter and she is an OG in this fashion-digital game. She did it before it was fashionable, before anyone believed it would work, and I really appreciate having someone around me that is not only inspiring, but also reliable.

I'm the kind of person that knows what I don't know. One of my biggest strengths is that I'm happy to ask for help all the time, but there's not always many people out there that are willing to give it. She's really selfless. She's always got a nugget of information, something she's learned along the way, and she's very happy to share.

What do you hope people take away from Good American and the impact it has had on women's fashion over the last three years?

I think that the fashion industry is inherently size-ist and I think that's starting to change. I grew up in a family where bigger was considered beautiful so I've always had a broad range of what beauty is. Good American does this by showing all different types of women but also showing them in a sexy way, in a serious way, in an empowered way; it's really good to get a different version of women.

But I think that the biggest individual shift we can have is showing women in their true dimensions and that has a greater impact on society because we're talking about how women are often stereotyped; that to be taken seriously, you have to have a buttoned-up suit on that looks like it was meant for a man and if you are wearing a low-cut top, or if you're like AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and you're wearing hoops or something then you can't be taken seriously and that's ridiculous to me.

So I think that one of the biggest impacts we can have is being a part of the change and the shift in the way women are perceived and thought about in the wider media. And even if we were even a small part of that change, I'd be really happy with that impact.