Just mention how hard it is to find good clothes for work when you’re pregnant. That goes double if you’re talking to women in high-level positions like law, business, or politics. It goes triple if any of the women need petite or plus sizes.
During my own 2 pregnancies, I found it nearly impossible to buy work clothes that were appropriately professional for my roles as a school principal and education director. Professional maternity options are limited enough, and being 5’2” narrowed my choices to about 3 office-friendly items in cyberspace. When I shared this experience with the many high-powered women in my personal circle, each related a similar experience of frustration and the palpable loss of workplace status during pregnancy.
The inability to look put-together at work is a professional detriment. Period. As any woman leader can tell you, there is still pressure to prove that we belong in the room in 2022, and this pressure absolutely extends to the polish of our office wardrobes. Coworkers’ judgements around pregnancy are keenly felt by expectant mothers. Lack of quality workwear only adds fuel. Not only are we pregnant, which means we won’t be pulling our weight for at least 9 months, but we don’t even bother to dress for the job anymore. Further proof of our lack of commitment. Further confirmation that a steady, dependable, never-pregnant man should really be in our powerful role.
It was this experience that prompted me to found MARION, a sustainable, elevated maternity workwear brand that features all pieces in both petite and standard lengths. MARION officially launched in March 2022, and I’m thrilled to have created a collection that provides pregnant women with the quality maternity items we have long needed.
But I keep asking myself the question, “How is it possible that this doesn’t already exist?” We’re in the 3rd decade of the 21st century, and women are continually rising to greater heights professionally. Women increasingly outpace men in college enrollment and completion, putting us on a path to comprise the majority of the white collar workforce within the next few years.
And the maternity market isn’t shrinking as women flex their professional clout, it’s growing. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2016 findings, more women are having babies than they were a decade ago; 86% of women will have at least one baby by age 44, up from 80% in 2006. Women are also waiting to have babies longer, putting them farther into their careers and in need of better boss clothes when they do get pregnant. I should also mention that American women are getting shorter as our country gets more diverse. The average American woman is now 5”4’, and 40% of us fit in the petite category of 5’3” and under.
Knowing all this, I ask again- how has MARION not already been done 100 times over? More than half of people are women. The vast majority of us will be pregnant at least once and will need a maternity wardrobe. We’re delaying pregnancy and rising professionally until more and more of us will need to have pretty fantastic workwear in which to grow our babies. How has the market failed to catch up, leaving billions of retail dollars on the table in the process?
I have to conclude that this lack of innovation in maternity workwear, a fundamental necessity for women’s progress, speaks to some deep assumptions that still exist in the American cultural subconscious. Assumptions go even deeper than good old-fashioned capitalism.
About women. About pregnancy and motherhood.
It’s not the 1980s. Women are no longer teased about going to college for their MRS (I hope!), and it’s no longer a given for most women to quit their careers when a baby arrives, even when it’s financially possible for them to do so. Perhaps some in power within the fashion industry grew up during the era of “a woman’s place is in the home,” and perhaps they have unconsciously retained some of its postulations: that women may be in the workforce, for now, but they’re not really part of it.
Let me gently correct you- we ARE the workforce, and we’re not going anywhere.
To be clear, any woman who wants to stay home with her kids and can afford to SHOULD be a stay at home mom! Stay-at-home parenting is a grueling and thankless job that would leave most Fortune 500 CEOs cowering in a corner within weeks (see also: classroom teaching), and it deserves deep respect.
Obviously, I look forward to selling in an unsaturated market when MARION launches! But for the good of professional women, I also hope that a much-needed update is coming soon to the broader maternity market. Because for the countless women who earn and lead and innovate professionally while simultaneously raising their babies, it’s about damn time we made them the right outfits.
*A Note: MARION is launching with the offering of petite and standard lengths in our maternity garments. We are working to further increase accessibility by offering sizes and styles that suit a greater range of body shapes in future collections.
BIO: Joy O'Renick is a longtime teacher, middle and high school principal, and director of education. She is a mother of 3 amazing boys- 1 adopted and 2 biological. She is a Native American education advocate, founding board member of LatinX arts nonprofit Bailamos, and longtime advocate for children in foster care. She is passionate about furthering gender equity through her work with MARION. In addition to the empowerment of professional women, MARION is committed to donating a portion of all profits to women's education, safety, and healthcare.