During her time as a management consultant right out of college, Melina Flabiano was always frustrated by how her work clothes lacked style and practicality. They required dry cleaning, always wrinkled and didn’t have all the features she needed.
Thanks to her experience in retail and Wharton education, once she realized her colleagues had the same problem, she was ready to solve it. In April, her apparel brand, Keaton, was born. And now that she’s navigating daily life as the Founder and CEO of a brand she’s obsessed with, she’s got some advice for other women.
We spoke to Flabiano about how she started her company, how she’s building the Keaton community and how she moved past her perfectionist nature.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Melina Flabiano
Founder and CEO, Keaton
New York, NY
Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
I started my career at McKinsey & Company in Dallas. I've always loved fashion (I've bought Vogue's September Issue every year since I was too small to carry it). At McKinsey, I was excited to work with retail clients and understand more about how customers make decisions and how brands combine art and science to develop products customers love. As a management consultant, I traveled weekly to visit clients. I was always frustrated by how my clothes wrinkled easily, required frequent dry cleaning and lacked style. I've always felt most confident at work when I look my best — and I struggled to find a work uniform that worked for me.
After McKinsey, I joined the strategy team at PANDORA Jewelry. I wanted to dive deeper into the operational side of retail and I was lucky to spend time in our stores implementing new technologies that directly affected the customer experience. I realized I was very passionate about interacting with customers and learning from them.
I decided to go to Wharton to pursue my MBA and learn more about the direct-to-consumer trend in retail. After hearing from my female colleagues about their frustration with women's office clothing — which mirrored my own experiences — I decided to start Keaton. We make office attire that is all work and all play, blending functional fabrics with stylish silhouettes and smart features to create workwear you want to wear. We launched in April and we're currently selling our first style, The Perfect Pant, a machine-washable, non-wrinkle pant with large front pockets. We are online and @wear.keaton on Instagram!
What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
The best thing about having a business that sells apparel is seeing our customers wear and love it. I recently passed a woman on the street wearing Keaton pants and was completely blown away. That moment was life changing and I hope it's just the beginning! I love seeing how customers are styling the pant and hearing feedback on other products they want us to make.
What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
It was difficult to make the jump from having the idea for Keaton to actually creating our first product. Coming from the corporate world, I had little familiarity with the process of how to design and create a garment from scratch. I interviewed over 300 young professional women to develop the pant and worked with a designer to incorporate the features they wanted. I had to track down vendors including a designer, manufacturer and material suppliers. As a small brand, I had to negotiate at every step to convince them to work with me and provide me attractive pricing. I forced myself to go out of my comfort zone and created something that I'm really proud of.
Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? And why?
My former boss at PANDORA, Jenny Merrill. She is such a warm, genuine person and really cared about forming strong relationships with everyone she worked with. She showed me how I could stay true to my natural personality — outgoing, humorous, and not super serious — while still building authority in the office. Now that I'm starting to manage my own employees, I constantly ask myself: "What Would Jenny Do?"
What do you do when you’re not working?
I love to spend time with friends, my husband and our miniature dachshund, Leo. We just moved to Brooklyn, so we're having fun exploring!
If you could have dinner with one person—dead or alive—who would it be?
Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx.
What is your karaoke song?
Anything from “Mulan”!
What is your favorite movie?
“The Breakfast Club.”
What book would you bring with you on a deserted island?
Anything by Meg Wolitzer.
What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
Don't wait for perfection. I've heard this advice many times, but as a lifelong perfectionist, I always struggled to adopt it. When I first started Keaton, I would spend hours creating content for social media or drafting emails to advisors and investors. I became frustrated that I wasn't progressing fast enough. I've shifted my mindset to bring customers and advisors on the (often messy) startup journey with me. I'll share behind-the-scenes content rather than perfectly edited photos, or ping advisors with a few topical questions when I need help instead of waiting to have the perfect answer ready. At first, this approach made me feel more vulnerable, but over time, I've realized that letting people see the imperfect reality can be very helpful and really enables me to get feedback early and make adjustments accordingly.