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Meet the Team: Modern Citizen

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Photos of the Modern Citizen team by Melissa de Mata for The Style Line

Story by Rachel Schwartzmann – Shop Modern Citizen – Photos by Melissa de Mata for The Style Line

“I think the way fashion ties into feminism is foremost

by empowering a woman to be the best version of herself,” Modern Citizen Founder Jessica Lee stated in our interview below, “Our values as a company really embody that spirit, as everything we do is in service of her.” With the resurgence of feminism being a huge topic of conversation within the fashion industry, coupled with our mission to demonstrate how creativity can contribute to some of these larger conversations, we’re proud and excited to introduce you to a team who we believe embodies these values to the fullest extent. Enter Modern Citizen, helmed by a dedicated (and ultra stylish) group of women working to craft thoughtful collections of apparel, accessories and home goods that cater to the modern woman and her lifestyle.

The brand prides itself on fostering an authentic community of modern women whose shared values include travel, discovery and refined style. As we’ve learned from our own community, the idea of modernity can mean many different things to many different people – case in point this statement from Jessica: “Our definition of the modern woman is reflected in our name. She’s ambitious, forward-thinking, a citizen of the world — an old soul with a modern mind.”

For this story, we wanted to focus on what it means to be a modern woman in this day and age, how life in San Francisco has played a role in the brand’s story, and finally, thoughts on creative entrepreneurship. We were honored when the team allowed us to stop by their beautiful showroom in San Francisco to chat more and show us the collection firsthand. So without giving too much away, discover the full interview below and also enjoy exclusive snapshots from our afternoon by Melissa de Mata for The Style Line.

*THIS STORY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN MARCH 2016 AND REFLECTS UPDATED CHANGES TO THE INTRODUCTION

Jessica Lee, Founder, and CEO

Outside of Modern Citizen,

my interests are pretty varied — and by that I mean random! I wish I could say I have a very defined set of hobbies (does playing mahjong count?), but what really energizes me is learning something new by having a conversation with someone who’s super smart.  I’m a naturally curious person and take a lot of pleasure in learning things I don’t know anything about.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to shed the insecurity of having to know everything all the time; I’ve learned that being a bit vulnerable and asking the question, “What does that mean?” has really helped me to grow a lot as a person.

Overall, passion is something I truly value in life.  One thing I’ve discovered about myself is that my greatest weakness is also my greatest strength — I’m someone who cares deeply about what I do, and for the things I don’t care about, I have less of a tendency to engage.  Lately, there’s been a lot of rhetoric about work-life balance, but I think if you’re doing what you love in life, there’s no reason to feel guilty about not separating the two.  The moments I feel really alive are when I’m being honest about what makes me happy, and building Modern Citizen thankfully happens to be just that.

We love that Modern Citizen is all about empowering women. With this in mind, what do you think fashion’s involvement should be (or should focus more on) when it comes to awareness around feminism? Do you think Modern Citizen is playing a specific role in this conversation? 

I think the way fashion ties into feminism is foremost by empowering a woman to be the best version of herself. Our values as a company really embody that spirit, as everything we do is in service of her.  When it comes to our assortment, that translates into ensuring our products are accessible in price to reflect our respect for how hard she works for her money; and that they’re refined and polished to project how she wants to be seen. We want our customer to feel that sense of self-confidence and be providing the “power” she needs every morning when she gets ready to face her day.I n terms of the larger conversation, fashion has in general always been a really incredible platform to shine a spotlight on women. The more that women are elevated into conversations that give us a deeper look into their personal and professional lives, the better off we all are in understanding that perspective. 

Fashion is also one of the few industries that are largely dominated by women, though unfortunately, it’s rarely in positions of senior leadership. I think the more that those environments can foster a culture of mentorship — women helping create more opportunities for other women — that addresses many of the ideals that are core to feminism.

We hear a lot about “modern essentials” but based on your experience and in building Modern Citizen how has your definition of “the modern woman” evolved?

One of the things we talk a lot about internally is differentiating a classic from a basic.  Most of what we offer I would characterize as classics — pieces you can wear this season and next from the office to out, completely irrespective of your age — and those items are what really form the foundation of a modern wardrobe. At Modern Citizen specifically, we tend to not focus on the basics because we believe the difference is in the details.  We really live for that fashion moment, whether it’s a perfectly placed slit or an unexpected take on a trend. There’s always something a bit more special there than just the “essentials.” Our definition of the modern woman is reflected in our name. She’s ambitious, forward-thinking, a citizen of the world — an old soul with a modern mind.

What role do you think creativity plays in some of the world’s bigger conversations and how do you think fashion is contributing to this shift in thinking? 

Fashion is one of a few industries that has always had the benefit of valuing creativity as a core part of its identity.

It’s a great conduit for taking a lot of complex ideas and emotions and making them widely accessible given its reach, and importantly, also communicating that primarily through the visual — a democratic and universal language no matter where you’re from.But what’s exciting about living in our world today is that we’re seeing creativity really being celebrated and applied in innovative ways across a variety of trades, from technology to medicine to finance and politics. Fashion is one of the few industries that is predicated on constant change and evolution. Companies have to creatively evolve and be forward-looking in order to stay relevant, and that same paradigm will become increasingly true in so many arenas.

How would you say entrepreneurship has affected your life and style? Do you also believe personal style/fashion influences leadership style?

Entrepreneurship has left really a lot less time for everything else in life, so ultimately versatility and comfort became increasingly important filters for my personal style.  

Fashion has always been my vehicle for self-expression and the mood of the moment for me is now real, beautiful clothes that I can live and work in. I think my philosophy on personal style probably translates very directly to how I lead. For example, I believe dressing well is dressing smart; I have high expectations for quality, but I also know that a dress should not have to cost a month’s salary. What that means to me is that excellence is table stakes whether it’s a fabric or a work project and that I always value a hustler’s approach!

Jessica wears: Leighton Off-Shoulder Top (Black)

LIZZIE Agnew, Co-founder, and COO

Outside of Modern Citizen I

love being – outdoors, traveling and exploring new places with my closest friends and family. Growing the company is my top priority and I find that what I do outside of Modern Citizen gives me the balance to bring my full focus and attention to it. On weekends I try to maximize my time outside whether it is leaving the city to hike or exploring San Francisco.  One of my favorite rituals in San Francisco is the “neighborhood of the month” group that my girlfriends and I organize.  We incorporate culture, history, and food into our exploration of new neighborhoods in and around San Francisco.  I have also been lucky enough to travel around the world, and I am always planning new trips.  New experiences and discoveries energize and inspire me, and give me a new perspective and energy when I’m at the office!

We hear a lot about “modern essentials” but based on your experience and in building Modern Citizen how has your definition of “the modern woman” evolved?

The modern woman has several priorities that she is optimizing her life around, and typically it’s a hard to manage and complex set.  Modern essentials are the clothes and accessories that help the modern woman achieve her goals.  An example of this might be a bag that’s beautiful, but also isn’t so heavy that it leaves her shoulder aching at the end of the day.  For another woman it might be a dress that is comfortable and versatile, so she isn’t itching to get out of it and it can transition from running a meeting to drinks after work.  Through building Modern Citizen and speaking with our customer, I am constantly learning about a diverse set of women with diverse priorities; we are striving to style her with clothes that are practical and beautiful.

How has launching this venture encouraged you or re-inspired you to celebrate personal style?

The most fun part of launching a venture like Modern Citizen is meeting and interacting with our customers.  We are lucky to have incredible customers; our “Modern Citizens” are truly an inspiration. I love that our customer constantly shares her experiences wearing our products.  Whether it is an outfit for an important meeting, first date, or bridal shower, hearing how Modern Citizen makes our customer feel and empowers her in her life inspires me to celebrate personal style.

How do you think San Francisco plays a role in shaping the MC woman and how do you hope to see the city support the growth of MC and its values?

Modern Citizen exists to allow women to express themselves through personal style, which translates to empowerment in their lives. 

San Francisco is a city that makes space for individual expression, particularly because it is a practical city without a formal dress code. We believe women can look polished while being comfortable.

The modern woman today demands more from her clothing than ever. She expects beautiful clothing and accessories — but she also expects comfort and quality at a reasonable price. Modern essentials have to suit all of her needs; not just work, weekend or evening, but pieces that transition seamlessly between all three.

Lizzie wears: Jocelyn Structured Panel Top (White) (Available March 21)

Nichole Powell, Head of Business Development

I am an adventurer  —

at heart. the result of an outdoorsy childhood filled with backpacking vacations and family road-trips. Today that translates to everything from rock climbing to camping, wine country weekends to trying new foods in the epicurean playground that is San Francisco. It’s impossible for me to sleep in, but I love having quiet mornings to myself. I used to constantly be on the go, but I’ve recently learned the beauty of unstructured time, and it’s been such a powerful and positive influence. I’ve grown to value balance and presence in all ways. In others, I value kindness, a keen sense of self, curiosity, and a sense of humor—and am eternally thankful for the community of people around me who appreciate those same things. I look to my community of friends and family for inspiration, support, balance, and guidance, and they truly mean the world to me.

How would you characterize the Modern Citizen community and how do you think your respective experiences and approach to style have shaped the community?

I’m continually impressed by the incredible women that make up the Modern Citizen community. These are women that are building companies, starting families, trying new things, and constantly growing — but they know how to have fun and look stylish while doing it. The opportunity to interact with these women and hear their stories is easily one of the best parts of what I do. At the end of the day, Modern Citizen is meant to be a place where women can also meet other like-minded women and be a part of our greater community. Anytime I’m working on event or developing a new program for our San Francisco showroom, I try to think of how we can make everyone feel welcome — welcome to bring friends, to have a glass of wine (or not), to try things on, to experiment, to ask questions, to enjoy themselves, to be themselves. Some of my closest friends are women that I met through Modern Citizen, and that’s been a really unexpected and beautiful side effect of creating such a wonderful community. 

We hear a lot about the importance of personal style and at The Style Line, it’s something we like to use as a lens to tell stories. Can you think of any moment when personal style has been a part of a life-changing or pivotal moment in your life?

My personal style has always been a reflection of who I am, and I take a lot of joy in getting dressed every day. I used to work in tech and had experiences where personal style wasn’t celebrated — it was almost seen as being frivolous or silly — and I was really disappointed by that.  

Our personal style says so much to the world about who we are! I love celebrating the creativity behind personal style, whether that’s with my own style or in helping women find pieces at Modern Citizen that they can work into their existing closet. 

The Style Line was built on the premise of discovery, exploration, and transit. With this in mind, what is your “the style line” in your wardrobe? 

I take a lot of my inspiration from travel and from other places, so I spent a lot of time poring over foreign magazines and Instagram. Instagram is such an incredible channel for discovery! 

Nichole wears: Nell Open Back Jumpsuit (Black)

“Our definition of the modern woman is reflected in our name. She’s ambitious, forward-thinking, a citizen of the world — an old soul with a modern mind. Fashion is one of a few industries that has always had the benefit of valuing creativity as a core part of its identity. It’s a great conduit for taking a lot of complex ideas and emotions and making them widely accessible given its reach, and importantly, also communicating that primarily through the visual — a democratic and universal language no matter where you’re from.”

– Jessica Lee, co-founder, and CEO

ADDIE Brevde, Head of Business Operations 

Outside of Modern Citizen,

I am a creator and an explorer. I love sewing clothes and painting and have transformed a walk-in closet in my San Francisco apartment into a craft nook. It is filled with sewing machines, fabrics, acrylic paints, and endless supplies. When I’m in there, I’m in my zen mode. I also love exploring new cities and planning trips. I so enjoy road tripping through stunning California and adventuring to off-the-beaten-path locations. I just got back from Colombia where my husband and I explored the small coffee-growing regions and beach towns.

We hear a lot about the importance of personal style and at The Style Line, it’s something we like to use as a lens to tell stories.  Can you think of any moment when person style has been a part of a life-changing or pivotal moment in your life?

It is so fulfilling that my job allows others to express themselves and tell stories. I’ve always been interested in personal style, but for me, style changed my life when I started sewing and learning about the creation of apparel. It is such an undervalued artistic skill, and the product has the ability to transform one’s confidence and self-expression. How beautifully powerful!

We love MC’s refined approach to style, so in an industry that advocates for self-expression and dressing in things that are unique to one’s style, why do you think less can truly be more?

Simplicity is often undervalued – a less is more approach can also be interesting and unique. My favorite part about the Modern Citizen aesthetic is that it serves every occasion in a modern woman’s life – work, drinks, night out, events, etc. – and translates well across all ages.

What is one question you wish you were asked more often?

Want to go to an art show?

The Style Line was built on the premise of discovery, exploration, and transit. With this in mind, what is your “the style line” in your wardrobe?

While it may sound frivolous, my largest source of discovery and exploration is my Instagram feed. It is filled with international bloggers and brands that instantly transport me to another part of the world. I feel so lucky to live in a generation in which I can instantly interact with new art and self-expression every day, constantly opening my eyes to the greater world around me.

Addie wears: Adriana Strapless Knit Dress (Black) and Marion Open Tissue Vest (Khaki)

Lorna Simpson, Stylist, and Content Manager

I grew up a military brat –

constantly bopping around military bases in and outside of the U.S. I spent a majority of my life in the Midwest, and wearing layers of clothing in order to survive winters was getting to be a little too much — so I packed up my car and moved!  I really value creativity in all areas of my life, so San Francisco felt like a place where I could grow and be more in my element. Outside of MC, I go to a lot of concerts and shows. There’s great local music here in the city that people don’t know about but should!  Having a car here is a blessing and a curse.  On the weekends you’ll usually find me driving my surfer buddies to Pacifica or Santa Cruz and maybe squeezing in a basketball session. I’ve been trying not to use my car as much, which has made me explore my neighborhood more – The Richmond. I’ve stumbled upon awesome galleries, restaurants, bookstores, and thrift stores which have all been great sources of inspiration and entertainment for me.

As someone in a creative role, how would you advise the next generation of makers, creative/fashion professionals or people, in general, to leave an imprint in the world by doing something they love? 

If you ask any of my friends or co-workers, they’ll tell you the one phrase I say the most is “follow your heart.” Don’t be afraid to stand out and be weird.  Make sure you surround yourself with creatives and non-creatives. You can learn a lot from the people you least expected to. Embrace your imagination and never stop creating.  Don’t let the haters get you down!

What is one question you wish people asked you more often? 

Something along the lines of, “What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve learned?” When I was young, I had this glamorous idea of who I would be at this age. There’s an internet meme that has been floating around that I’ve found quite relatable that says, “Remember when you thought people in their 20s were adults… now we’re all in our 20s, just kinda fumbling around bumping into things looking for food.” That said, I also have a great group of friends, family, and co-workers who have helped make the transition into adulthood much smoother. And I also live in San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Can’t complain!

How do you hope to see Modern Citizen evolve as it becomes more deeply rooted in the fashion industry?

Not only do I want women to feel smart, confident, and sexy when wearing our designs, but I also want Modern Citizen to continue to create a community where women can collaborate and develop relationships, helping each other to achieve their goals. We’ve spent a lot of time cultivating our customers and community through really personal interactions and events, and they’ve been such an amazing platform for women to network and get to know one another.

Lorna wears: Georgia Tencel Artist Dress (Beige) (worn as a shirt)

During the week, our office space is always welcoming of others wanting to come in and work, mingle, or just chat about life. However, we can bring that to more women outside of San Francisco will be an interesting and worthwhile challenge.

The Style Line was built on the premise of discovery, exploration, and transit. With this in mind, what is your “the style line” in your wardrobe? 

Living in a city, there is inspiration practically everywhere. I could be taking a stroll in my neighborhood and a house will catch my eye because I like the color combination, and I’ll immediately start thinking of an outfit or creative ideas that incorporate those colors.

Art and film play another huge role in what inspires me; I love that each medium has its own special way of creating a world of imagination. Another huge inspiration for me is people — exploring creative minds and different ways of thinking. I love that about living in a city, where people are more willing to express how they feel through what they wear.

Therese Jacinto, Social Media Manager

Hi, I’m Therese! Outside of

Modern Citizen, I am an interior designer, stylist, and social media aficionado. I run a personal style blog, Craft, and Couture. Over the years I’ve documented my interior and DIY projects, photography, and sartorial pursuits.  I really enjoy dressing and decorating with refined, minimalist pieces and mixing high style and bargain finds. You’ll often find me rummaging through thrift shops, consignment stores, and sites like 1stdibs or theRealReal. I wear many hats on a daily basis, but my favorite and most important role is wife and mom. I have a daughter, and I hope to inspire her to dream big, discover her passions, and work hard.

As someone in a community-driven role, how would you advise the next generation of makers, creative/fashion professionals or people, in general, to leave an imprint in the world by doing something they love? 

First, be honest with yourself with regards to your strengths and weaknesses. Know what you are willing to sacrifice and set realistic goals. Know when to ask for help and learn how to work with a team. Second, be patient. Take as much time to truly hone your craft and get experience. Third, realize that there’s a difference between being good at something and loving what you do – the best career is a marriage of the two. Fourth, create meaningful connections –  get out there and get involved with the community. Last but not least, develop a strong work ethic – your creativity is worthless if you can’t follow through.  It’s also important to have this mindset of constantly learning and exploring. Embrace change and challenge the status quo. The opportunity to get into something you truly love comes with time, sacrifice, asking the right questions and a lot of mistakes along the way.

How do you celebrate personal style?

I like to say that I’m in constant creative pursuit of refined simplicity and modern elegance. I have a capsule wardrobe that consists of lots of neutrals and classics-with-a-twist.

What has working at Modern Citizen taught you about approaching and celebrating fashion as an integral part of our lives and how has San Francisco also played a role in your approach to style?

I’ve always believed that aside from being a great form of self-expression, what we wear greatly influences how we feel, think and act. Modern Citizen reinforces that notion by creating clothes that aren’t just beautiful – they’re easy, comfortable and most importantly – sensible. By making luxury accessible, we’re in turn empowering the modern woman – so she can always look and feel her best. San Francisco is a huge melting pot of so many styles and cultures. Living here constantly inspires me to try new trends and have fun with what I wear. I’ve also learned to choose more practical items – like sneakers or flats to conquer these hills. 

While my general aesthetic remains the same, I like to experiment with silhouettes and hemlines. Right now I’m having fun with mom jeans and cropped trousers or culottes. When it comes to accessorizing, I prefer the less is more approach. I’ll try trends if it works for my body type and doesn’t give me horrible grade school flashbacks. I gravitate towards comfort and clean lines with an architectural twist, like these Modern Citizen wrap trousers I am wearing.

The Style Line was built on the premise of discovery, exploration, and transit. With this in mind, what is your “the style line” in your wardrobe? 

The hills of San Francisco and the weather! I’ll always choose a pair of sneakers or great flats over heels any day. I like being outdoors and being active – and there’s nothing worse than not being able to explore this beautiful city because of footwear limitations. That said, I definitely gravitate towards clothes that can move and keep up with me throughout the day.

Therese wears: Kiersten Front Overlay Trouser (no longer available)