Getting "Woke" at 3AM

 As a businesswoman, I often get asked what keeps me up at night. Truth is, my biggest problem isn’t what keeps me awake — it’s what wakes me up!

 Leading a business is a 24/7 job and my middle-of-the-night wake ups are usually about the business. Those of you who run companies know what I mean. 

The good news is that, in general,  business problems can usually be solved with collaboration, creativity, and smart troubleshooting. 

 But, a few months ago, I awoke at 3 am, thinking through a problem that didn’t have such a clear answer. 

 It all started when I was asked to sign the “Don’t Ban Equality” the petition posted in the New York Times that now has been signed by more than 365 CEOs on behalf of their companies. I immediately knew I wanted to sign it.

On a personal level, I’ve long supported organizations that fight for gender equality.

But this time, the ask wasn’t for me to personally sign.  I was asked to sign on behalf of Michael Stars.  And we had never taken such a strong stance on an issue like this. 

Living our values, sharing them with customers

When Michael and I started the Michael Stars Foundation 15 years ago, we were very clear that our approach would be inclusive and nonpartisan. We would focus on helping people rise by creating opportunity. That philosophy still guides our giving. 

 Yet my biggest concern about taking a stand on equality was our customers. They have always come first on our journey and we have always strived to honor their cultural and generational diversity.

Our clothes are worn by multiple generations within one family.  Mothers and aunts pass on their love of our products to their daughters. We’ve heard many stories about daughters going off to college and stealing their mother's Michael Stars tees.  The last thing we would ever want to do is offend and lose those customers by taking a stand on an issue they might not agree with.   

Equality brings people together

But as I was lying awake thinking about what to do about the petition, I realized that that standing up for equality isn’t and shouldn’t be about whether you're a Democrat or Republican. It’s about making sure that in America, we’re not holding people back, providing less opportunity, or fewer protections because of gender.

Throughout my life and travels, I have met people who, despite their different backgrounds and beliefs, all agree that gender equality can only make our communities better and stronger. An overwhelming majority of people believe equality should indeed be an explicit and basic principle of our society. 

No more losing sleep

I talked it over with trusted friends, business leaders, and activists who have faced similar challenges.  At my next 3 AM wake up, I wasn’t up long. I knew what I needed to do — get everyone on board at Michael Stars. 

I quickly discovered that the Michael Stars’ team was already on board. Many long-time and newer team members told me they joined the company not only because they love our approach to fashion, but because they love what we stand for and wanted to be vocal about it.

Here are just some of the wonderful team members behind the ERA campaign.

Here are just some of the wonderful team members behind the ERA campaign.

Now, we’re launching a new equality fundraising campaign – a limited-edition tee for Women’s Equality Day, featuring a powerful, inclusive message from author, activist, and educator bell hooks: “Feminism is for everybody.” Her words reflect what I’ve always felt about equality, which is that when women rise, we all rise.

And, I am happy to say that standing up for equality is a decision that I will no longer lose any sleep over!

Xox Suzanne

By Suzanne Lerner