The story of how True Style was formed is one of my absolute favorites to tell. The word that comes to mind is simply ‘providential.’ You might even call it a miracle. It still leaves me awestruck whenever I reflect on it, and I only hope I can do it justice in such a brief space.
Ever since 2015, when the Pure Fashion program came to a close, I felt thrilled by the idea of picking up the torch, creating a radically different sort of runway show and developing a full-fledged formation program to help young women walk with grace, confidence, and poise. That sort of creative and entrepreneurial work was always where I felt most fulfilled, and I had an inkling of that even as a senior in high school. However, I assumed that I would wait until I was in the stage of life that Pure Fashion’s director had been: married, with several kids, and with a decade of experience out of college. It turns out that God had other plans.
During a weeklong silent retreat in the Fall of my junior year, I heard God calling me to start an organization like Pure Fashion, not to restart it as it was, but to take the business model and to build on it. I had a sense that He was calling me to move quickly too, while most of my former teammates from Pure Fashion were still figuring out their post-college plans and might be able to join forces. Honestly, I procrastinated, focusing on other projects and finding full-time work that I could use to launch my career. Well, somehow, procrastination worked in my favor.
If I had begun the process of starting the model academy during college, it would have looked almost identical to the original program. I hadn’t attained enough distance from it yet to look at the project with fresh eyes. If I had started up the organization with my former teammates, it would have been a lot of fun, but we would likely have reinforced each other’s biases and assumptions about what was most needed. The fact that I waited ended up serving a greater purpose, though I will not take credit for it.
I certainly had a lot of things going on in the meantime. I went to professional bartending school, graduated college, bought an apartment, did consulting fellowships with a few companies in Europe, and started an awesome job at Saffron Ventures that I’d been looking forward to since the fall of senior year. However, a few days before I started my job, my boss emailed all of us new hires to say that applications were being accepted for the DC Accelerator, though the deadline had technically passed. It was a new program for men and women in their 20’s that offered coaching and workshops for improving your work habits and developing a professional plan. I applied and made it into the Accelerator just in the nick of time.
From August to November, we were tasked with reading books, discussing with mentors, and writing down our professional goals. Slowly, the vision I had for the model academy took a more concrete form, and I could see myself launching the program within the next 3 to 5 years. I know now that I was still thinking too long-term, but that was the timeline I presented to the executives on the panel at the November session. They set me straight. I’ll never forget how one panelist told me I should get started. “You’re going to take your licks either way,” he said. “It’s not about you, it’s about the mission.”
In that moment I thought, “OK, God, it’s pretty clear that I’m supposed to start now. But how, I can’t imagine. I don’t have a name for this organization, I don’t have a team, and I don’t even think I have the time, but I guess you have a plan.” He sure did.
That evening, I took the Metro back with one of my friends, the guy who had won the competition for best presentation to the executives. Because he was also in my small group, he got to see my presentation and was intrigued. I was unusually exhausted, but he pressed me on what the purpose of the organization was. I explained more, and after a few minutes, he pulled out his phone and introduced me via text to a fashion designer he’d met through another accelerator program called Praxis. Her name was MollyKate Cline. I was so tired I didn’t even look at my phone. Things were moving way too fast for me to keep up, and I wanted to stop the train.
The next morning, I was too sick to get up. It was the first time I ever took a sick day from work, as far as I can recall. When I did finally wake, I looked at my phone and saw that MollyKate had texted back just a few minutes after our friend had made the introduction. I threw up my hands in surrender, overwhelmed.
After a few hours of thinking, what struck me was that God was giving me the space that day to reflect and confirm my resolution. I’d had the pressure from mentors the night before, and now I had a message from a total stranger waiting for me to make this commitment. I took a deep breath, replied to set up a meeting for that weekend, and spent my evenings preparing the pitch. I went so far as to find all the videos and articles that I could about MollyKate Cline’s story and design work, and I was beyond impressed.
I wrote three potential job descriptions that I thought would pique her interest, and I put the longest one, ‘Creative Director,’ as #3, trying to craft what I thought might be her dream job. It ended up being a great pitch, if I do say so myself! Additionally, after years of writer’s block, and with a little inspiration from a friend, I finally came up with a name for the organization: True Style.
In my first video call with MollyKate, I was quite nervous, but we connected well, and she seemed most interested in the Creative Director position. I took this as an awesome sign, but it only got better from there. I found out the following day that my family would be dropping by Dublin, Ohio in a couple of weeks for a cousin’s hockey tournament. We would be just 20 minutes away from where MollyKate was at school, the Columbus College of Art and Design. I texted her to see if she’d be in town, since it would be Thanksgiving weekend. Her exact response was, and I quote, “Whoaaaaaaa what?!?! I live in Dublin!!!!!!!!!” I wrote back, “What are the odds? Until a few days ago, the reunion was limited to Louisville, KY! Now we’re literally coming to your backyard.”
A couple of weeks later, on November 30th, we met up at Stauf’s coffee shop and talked for about two hours. Towards the end of our conversation, I asked MollyKate if she was ready to jump onboard as the Co-Founder. She said yes, and not just yes, but that this was something she’d taken to prayer, and that one of her mentors had told her directly, “Don’t let this go.” Sometimes, God’s voice just comes through loud and clear. When it happens, I hope we never take it for granted.
Before MollyKate and I walked out, we asked a lady to take our picture in front of the fireplace as newly minted business partners. Now MollyKate is not only the Creative Director and Co-Founder of True Style, but she’s also my friend and a true kindred spirit.
The rest is history! We’ve had many ups and downs, like when the fax machine ran out of ink at the State Corporation Commission and they didn’t receive our documents until almost two months after we submitted them. The Coronavirus has also massively impacted our regular jobs and forced us to improvise. At the end of the day, though, there’s no obstacle that can’t be overcome with hard work and the grace of God.
Our story is just beginning to unfold, and as we meet and share our experiences with the girls of the Model Academy, I’m certain that we’ll discover even more ways in which Providence is at work to help us meet the challenges ahead. It’s a mystery MollyKate and I hold dear: that we and every person alive were made for such a time as this.