It’s Time for Men to Step Up Their Fashion Game in the Board Room

If woke corporate culture is real, it’s time for men to step up their “fabulousness” as described by Dr. Ben Barry. His article was published in Harvard Business Review 4 years ago and the world has changed since then.

I’m not shy about showing up to a meeting in style. At Meliá Hotels & Resorts, the culture celebrated individuality. As an entrepreneur our success reinforced my confidence to ignore pressure to conform to a traditional male dress code. While working at Kognitiv Corporation, our acquirer, my unique style was applauded for which I’m thankful. It helps that my wife is my full time fashion advisor!

My experience suggests there is room for men’s fashion in the board room. When I stood up in a sky-blue suit at a Kognitiv AGM in a room of shareholders and in jest, introduced myself as the company fashion consultant, it received a lot of laughs. Stylish attire is a great conversation starter in almost any meeting and is well received when one wears it with confidence.

Dr. Barry suggests that when people have to mute themselves at work, organizations are missing out on evoking creative problem solving and authenticity. I couldn’t agree more. Men’s ability to express their style reflects a company’s culture. It’s time for men to step it up.

Models Among Us

Ashwin Kamlani

My love for photography and fashion have prompted me to launch a new personal project:  Finding and recognizing others that not only take the time to dress nicely but who have the courage to stand out from the crowd.

I developed an appreciation for many things that influenced my life.  I developed a passion for travel because we would visit India from the US every 2 or 3 years, normally on a different airline, giving me the unique opportunity as a child to get to know several European destinations during our stop-overs.  My parents were foodies, meaning that wherever we traveled (and even at home), we were constantly eating excellent food.  My mother’s love for cooking rubbed off on me as well.  Fashion, however, was not something that I developed an appreciation for until I married my wife, Sina.

Sina always looked stunning from the first day I met her and every single time thereafter.  It wasn’t long before we got together before she started guiding me to make better decisions about the clothes I put on, or she might say “showing me the light.”  The truth is that she has an amazing talent for combining colors, accessories and styles to create a look that fits the person and their body type.  So for me that’s the scrawny Indian guy body type.

Zara Skirt for MenI rarely question her suggestions and over time she has started to push the envelope with hot pink hats, and plaid suits that I never would have chosen in a million years because it looks like it’s out of the closet of a NYC pimp from 1972.  Recently she noticed that Zara was introducing ‘skirts’ for men, to be worn over pants… I’m not quite there yet.  I think it would make me look like a waiter, and frankly I’m hoping that fad goes away really soon.

Standing out isn’t easy.  I spent so much of my life trying to fit in, and I don’t think I had the mindset ten years ago to dress the way I do now.  It definitely takes some courage and Ashwin Kamlania sense of security about who you are as a person.  I get looks and comments all the time.  Some positive, and some sarcastically positive.  Being an entrepreneur has helped, since I didn’t feel like I had to answer to anyone or any particular company culture that might frown upon a more eccentric sense of style.  I don’t think I would work for a company that would pressure me to conform to be like everybody else.  With the exception of one or two people, I would like to think that my style is celebrated at Kognitiv, the company that acquired mine and where I have worked since.  You never know what people say about you when you’re not around.  It would be a lie for me to say I don’t care, but I guess I don’t care enough to not be who I am.

Waking up to the world of fashion and style has given me a new appreciation for other people that take the time to dress differently, or to express themselves through what they wear.  I travel all over the world for work and pleasure and I constantly see people who stand out from the crowd.  So in July while we were spending the summer in Mallorca I decided to make a project out of it.

I have always loved photography and it has been a hobby of mine since I can remember.  Today with all of the photo editing apps that are available almost any photo can be made to look professional and artistic.  So I launched a new Instagram feed called @ModelsAmongUs.  My goal is to approach people who I think look stylish and ask them if I can take a photo of them for my feed.

Lina Maria VelezAt first I was terrified.  I used to get nervous just being around an attractive woman.  Forget about approaching and speaking with one.  I guess being married to Sina has somehow allowed me to get over that to a certain extent.  It’s still not easy and I think a part of me wanted to challenge myself to see if I could do it.  It has gotten easier since I started a few months ago but it still takes a lot of courage.  Lina María Velez from Medellin, Colombia was wandering through a street market in Pollenca, Mallorca and her yellow dress and hat caught my attention.  She liked the photo so much that she now uses it as her Instagram profile pic!

The age of Instagram has certainly helped.  Everywhere you go if you see an attractive, well-dressed person, chances are they are already on Instagram and it’s not a foreign concept that you would like to photograph them.  Especially here in Paris, there are people everywhere clearly taking photographs for Instagram.  The platform has created a swarm of amateur models.  Normally when I ask someone for a photo they already have a few poses that they are comfortable with and which they feel shows their best side.

One thing I have learned is that I have to act quickly.  I’ve lost count of how many times I thought about approaching someone and by the time I got up the guts to ask they were gone.  I feel like I have to approach people under the right circumstances:

  1. If she is with a group of female friends, is it rude to single her out and ask for a photo?  Does that send a message to the other girls that they don’t look as nice or aren’t dressed as impressively?
  2. If she is with her boyfriend or husband does he look like the type to take my request as a threat?
  3. Depending on where I am, will my approach make her feel uncomfortable?

IMG_9791Not everyone I approach is female by the way.  I ran into these two guys not too far from where we live here in Paris close to Rue Montorgueil.  I love seeing men that have taken the time to dress nicely.  It’s not as common to see and interestingly I think they get more attention on Instagram because of that.  These two guys were just strolling down the street and I asked them if I could take a photo.  They were happy to oblige.  For some reason I think men are going to be much less likely to say no than women, as they are less likely to feel threatened or uncomfortable.  This guy on the left is probably a model.  He had the pose and everything.

Anastasiya I met Anastasiya when I was in London for World Travel Market.  She was just walking by with her red coat and I asked her to take a photo.  As luck would have it there just happened to be a red wall right next to us (how often does that happen?).  Turns out that she is a model from Portugal.  My photo doesn’t hold a candle to the photos on her Instagram profile.  But it’s amazing how these people are constantly all around us and you never know because you never speak to them.  She was very nice and accommodating to drop all the stuff she was carrying to let me take a photo of her amidst the craziness of the trade show.

Zoe CollettiThe highlight of my project so far has to be this photo that you see to the left of Zoe Colletti.  Zoe was crossing the street with her mom in St. Germain.  I was crossing the opposite way with Sina and the girls and asked her if it would be ok if I take a photo.  She couldn’t have been nicer.  When we got home we discovered that Zoe is an actress and has appeared in films such as Annie (2014), which we have probably watched at least 20 times with Luka and Taj.  This is probably also my favorite photo so far in my feed.

I only have about 50 followers so far but hey, it’s a start.  I’m not really doing it to build a large group of followers but I think it would be really cool if somehow I can help people get discovered one day.  Right now I have my doubts about how real the possibility is of gaining a significant following in Instagram.  Five or six years ago when it first started, maybe, and even then with a little luck and publicity.  Today though it seems riddled with bots and Instagrammers who follow you in the hopes that you will follow them back and then they can unfollow you when you’ve forgotten about them.  All part of a ridiculous game to build up a large enough number of followers so that companies will pay you for sponsorships.  Making money is not my goal here.  I’m just doing it for fun and to recognize people that dress nicely.  If anyone has any good Instagram tips, I’d love to hear them.

Sina always says that if everyone took the time to dress nicely like people did in the first half of the 20th century, everything would be so much more beautiful and interesting.  She has a good point.  It may fly in the face of what’s politically correct today, in terms of not judging people by their physical appearance, but it’s one thing to judge people negatively for not dressing up, and another to recognize those that do.

Question: How would you react if a stranger approached you and asked if they could take your photo?


The “Pretty” Problem

Girls are led to believe that their self-worth is measured by their appearance. But teaching girls not to think about their appearance is not the answer.

After reading a post by Angela Noel called “The Problem with ‘Pretty Girls’ & Princess” in Open Vortex Magazine I was left with conflicted feelings.  Angela describes her emotional evolution from being a pretty young girl that was frequently complimented because of her appearance, to having her self-confidence diminished through the unsolicited criticisms of her appearance as she got older.  She is not alone as people, particularly women, are constantly judged and measured in part by their physical appearance.  Angela also describes how she has to stop herself from complimenting her nieces because they are pretty.  Is that the solution?

There is clearly a problem in American society (and many others around the world) where women are made to feel that the only thing that matters is their appearance.  It is a cruel burden to place on anyone given that as we get older it is impossible to preserve youth and what our society deems as “beauty”.  I do like that Angela says as she closes her piece that the next time she compliments a girl she will think more about what she does, but she goes on to say that she will not think about what she looks like.  I wonder if this is an over-correction, and that we are trying to ignore a natural instinct to favor the things in the world that one finds more attractive.  It may not be a politically correct thing to say, but the way people look (and I refer to both their natural features in conjunction with their efforts to dress and groom themselves) influence the way people perceive and treat them.  This is true in our personal relationships as well as professional ones, and while some people might try to push those preferences out of their minds because of recent social pressures that imply that those thoughts are evil, those preferences will still exist subconsciously because it is a natural instinct.  Seeing something or someone who is pretty evokes an emotional response, and that is why we will spend our money buying the prettiest house, the prettiest clothes, the cutest dog or cat…  and yes, when finding a mate or even hiring someone, the person’s appearance does affect the outcome.  Aesthetics matter.

Kamlani FamilyWhy can’t we teach girls to be proud of their physical beauty, understanding that it won’t last forever… at least not in a youthful form, as one aspect of who they are as a person?  Instead of banishing the concept of a princess from our minds, let’s redefine what a princess is.  Sina and I teach our girls to put some thought into their appearance.  But we also encourage them to be strong and take calculated risks.  They are not afraid to get their hands dirty, or of what minor injury may occur if they climb a tree or rocks.  If they see a cockroach, they will pick it up and put it outside versus most men and women I know that would just step on it in fear.  They are bad-asses, and I love it.  We are attempting to raise our girls not to be afraid, and to own who they are.  What matters is what they think of themselves, and not what other people think of them.  That said, if they take the time to brush their hair and dress nicely, it is a reality that they will be treated differently.  That goes for men too by the way.

I have always been scrawny, and not what society considers to be desirable when it comes to men.  I too spent many years between the ages of 10 and 33 thinking that I was unattractive.  While it may not be as pervasive as it is for women, the images of men with 6 pack abs, large pectoral muscles, broad shoulders and chiseled arms that grace the covers of magazines and movie posters most certainly make most men feel physically inferior.  I can honestly say that over the years, my frequent but ephemeral attempts at working out on a consistent basis were driven 70% by a desire to be more attractive to women, and 30% by how it made me feel on a day to day basis.

After I married Sina though, she taught me to shed my self-consciousness, and that one should not try to live up to the aesthetic standards of society.  That’s because most people just want to fit in, and not be singled out.  I never noticed it before, but just walk through any department store or shopping mall and look at the mannequins in the men’s department.  Khaki pants, blue blazers, blue jeans… these are staple clothing items of the American male and if you wear them, you can’t go wrong.  You can choose from skinny, slim, tapered, baggy, or even distressed, but in general the colors and styles are just safe.  Why can’t I wear an purple pants with flowers on them without people questioning my sexual orientation?

Sina has made me more aware of how people dress and I have definitely noticed that most people in America prefer to go to the grocery store or even travel in sweat pants or leggings, and choose comfort over style.  This summer we spent 3 months in Mallorca and noticed a distinct difference in the way people dress, even just to go out and run errands.  Dressing fashionably and making an extra effort to look nice definitely makes me feel more confident in my personal and professional  life, and I suspect that more people would feel better about themselves if they made the extra effort to look nice even if they’re just going to the grocery store.

The focus of our parenting is on being good, honest people, learning as much about as many cultures and languages as possible, and not being afraid of anything.  But both Sina and I want our daughters to embrace their appearance.  While we do not want them to define themselves or their self worth based on how they look, we do want them to to be aware that how they look, how they carry themselves and how they dress does have an impact on how people perceive and react to them.  We believe that this will contribute to their being confident individuals that don’t feel the need to conform or fit into the crowd.