Cynthia Salim is the founder of Citizen’s Mark, a lifestyle brand for a generation of socially conscious and empowered women on the rise. She earned a BA in Political Science and Ethics from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and an MA in Human Values and Contemporary Global Ethics at King’s College London as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. Cynthia worked in international affairs and management consulting in Geneva, Switzerland before launching Citizen’s Mark in New York.
What is Citizen’s Mark?
Citizen’s Mark is a lifestyle brand for women on the rise. We’re building the go-to brand for professional women. I was working in international affairs and management consulting when I realized how hard it was for my female colleagues and I to dress in a way that was influential and credible. So I set out to build a brand with that specific design philosophy in mind in 2012. I spent two and a half years building a responsible supply chain for our first collection of modern, Italian wool blazers.
How did you decide on the design philosophy behind Citizen’s Mark?
I designed Citizen’s Mark specifically for women “on the rise.” It’s that space between newly minted professional and seasoned executive. If you’re an executive, it’s clear what the expectations are. If you’re an intern, it’s appropriate to look entry-level. But when you’re hitting your stride and starting to enter into those management roles, that’s when getting in right really matters.
I was in my early twenties, new to management consulting, and my mentor told me, “In these kinds of jobs, your credibility is really important, so you need to make sure you look the part.”
How did you respond?
It was one of the most important career conversations I’ve had. It made me think about how I dress and what that evokes in other people. When I came in for my interview there were two male Swiss engineers in black suits. I thought, the fashion industry doesn’t design for me in this situation – for the times that I need to look as serious as my male colleagues.
In a recent interview with Robert Herjavec, who is one of the experts on the TV show “Shark Tank,” he said there are three common stumbling blocks entrepreneurs need to get past to succeed. First is the feeling that “Now isn’t the time.” Did you face that?
There are two ways to break down that question: First is, “Is it the time for me?” and second is, “Is the world ready for it now?”
We’re in a time when the conversation around women on the rise is such an important part of our culture. Ethical fashion and responsible business are also issues that are here to stay. So absolutely, now is the perfect time for a brand that recognizes this dimension to women and designs accordingly.
Hervjavec’s second is “I’m not prepared to run a business.” Do you recognize that?
That’s something I certainly considered.
It’s a tremendous jump. I had many long conversations with friends and mentors about this before finally realizing that the most important thing is to “marry” your idea. I use this metaphor often - if you’re dating an idea and come across an obstacle, you toss it and go on to the next idea. But if you’re married to it, you’re committed to making it work. You realize that you’ll become more prepared as you go along.
The third potential stumble is “What if I fail?” Did you have that fear?
I think women can be less used to failing, especially if we’re not raised in competitive environments that see failure as normal. I grew up playing competitive sports, so I knew that not winning doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t play or continue to get better.
I’ve learned to see failure as data. If I go into a meeting and it doesn’t go well, I look at what happened objectively and say, “This is data. It’s information about what works and what doesn’t. Put it in an Excel spreadsheet and note it.” I think that’s an important way to look at mistakes – depersonalizing them so you can move forward.
How did you find financing to start Citizen’s Mark?
I raised funding through Upstart, which lets investors invest in high performing recent graduates instead of their companies. They receive an income share from us for ten years, regardless of how we make that income, and we keep the equity in our companies.
What are the challenges ahead that you know you want to tackle?
First, I want to remain authentic to our narrative while appealing to a broader audience. Secondly, I want to build us into a niche international brand. The first has branding challenges; the second has operational challenges.
What does remaining authentic mean to you?
We’re a brand for professional women who love what they do, are good at it, and are doing great things for their industries - and I think it’s important to have that voice in the fashion industry. Lifestyle brands acknowledge that certain lifestyles exist. It’s an important cultural mark that I want to make - that this is a lifestyle that is alive and well.
GlassCeiling.com’s New Video Series
Women and men communicate differently. You need to know why and gender communications expert Andie Kramer outlines some of the differences in this brief video.
This is one of many helpful videos—covering how to ask for a raise, how to create a more productive office, how to decide on the right makeup for a job interview and more—that are being added to GlassCeiling.com. Click the EVENTS & VIDEOS tab at the top of the page to see more videos.
Is There Still a Glass Ceiling?
Chrystie Martinez asked a variety of accomplished women if the much-debated glass ceiling still exists. These women—including film director Bronwen Hughes, actor Maria Bello, teacher/activist Naomi Ackerman, writer/producer Kathy Eldon and others—share their thoughts in this enlightening and engaging film, created for GlassCeiling.com. [Click the box in the lower right corner of the video to see it in full-screen mode.]
Says Chrystie Martinez, “I am the director of production for Creative Visions Foundation, a director, writer and editor. But more than anything else, I'm a storyteller.
“Working on this project has made me very aware of how I limit myself. I'm actually prone to limiting myself more often than not. Listening to the answers of the women I interviewed not only awakened me to that unfortunate fact, but it also encouraged me to see the opportunity for building a team.
"I have a tendency to think that I'm in this alone, but the women I interviewed are beautiful, strong, intelligent, passionate and more than willing to be a support system for each other. I didn't walk away from a project, but rather walked into a plethora of knowledge and wisdom from women I just met. I walked right into a support system.”
Step up. Break through. Join the conversation at GlassCeiling.com.
Six Reasons Why GlassCeiling.com’s STEM Program Matters
By Anil Ahuja
1. Technological advances and our dependence on technology make STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) emerging and growing fields for the 21st century.
2. All present and future high-paying jobs and entrepreneur opportunities will be in the STEM arena.
3. Technical companies require a diverse workforce to maintain gender and ethnic balance in the workplace.
4. STEM fields produce the cool cellphone elements we enjoy, like cool videos, graphics, communications and all sorts of social networks and media.
5. We have people in STEM careers to thank for the modern lifestyle we enjoy, from applications like Instagram, Facebook and Google to TV shows, concerts, cool cars and the everyday comforts we tend to take for granted. The balance between men and women in these careers should reflect the male-to-female ratio in nature.
6. STEM education will be universal as electronic technologies dominate every profession: Music, art, designers, engineers, healthcare, security etc. We now have software for almost every task and apps that can call a cab, book tickets, shop on line and more. This is the future.
Anil Ahuja is president of CCJM, a multi-disciplined engineering company headquartered in Columbia, Md., and is a strong supporter of GlassCeiling.com’s programs to introduce young women to STEM careers.