Laura Byrnes is one of those women that you either want to be or want to be friends with. Talented, driven and a steadfast entrepreneur, she founded the phenomenally successful Pinup Girl Clothing, a brand which no doubt graces the wardrobes of women in every country. Oh, and did I mention that she is outrageously attractive and has two beautiful daughters? You may have heard of ‘having it all’, but Laura is the living embodiment of making it all happen.
I knew that interviewing Laura would be one of the highlights of my career to date (and I have interviewed Status Quo… just saying…) and I was not disappointed. Just as forthright and engaging as her social media accounts would have us believe, she left me wanting to ask a thousand more questions.
What were your aspirations as a young girl? I’m willing to bet that you did not wish your days away planning your future dream wedding…
I definitely never spent a day planning a wedding, ever. I always saw myself in a relationship and with kids, but I never really understood the concept of marriage. Maybe it was because I saw my parents, who had a completely dysfunctional relationship yet stayed married. It seemed like a trap to me. When I actually did get married, we went straight to city hall and had done with it!
I wanted to be a lawyer, and later, a photographer. And I dreamt about traveling constantly. I’m glad that now I get to travel quite a bit.
You work with a group of incredible women including Micheline Pitt, Masumi Max and Doris Mayday. What do you think of claims that women cannot work together or be genuine friends because of envy and jealousies?
I believe that humans in general cannot work together or be genuine friends if envy and jealousy are found in one or more participants of the work or friend group. I take issue with the idea that women are the only humans who behave that way – I have seen groups of male friends where one or more people cause serious problems as a result of envy or jealousy. Ever heard of cock-blocking? Dude is interested in a girl and some other dude gets wind and asks out the same girl, or tells the girl something to make the girl not interested in the other dude?
Male privilege means that when men act like toxic jerks, we go “Wow, what a toxic jerk”, but when women do it we go “See? Women. They just can’t act like mature adults”. The dude doesn’t bear the burden of being an embarrassment to his entire gender, but we throw that burden onto a woman without even thinking about it. It’s crap. As a woman, however, I do focus on jealousy and other insecurities between women, but not to judge, to help. Micheline, Doris, Masuimi and I are close friends and are able to work together because we deal with each other in good faith. We don’t try to hurt or control each other. We bring up issues immediately. We are ‘confrontational’ in that we deal directly with each other, without bullshit, manipulation, or any other type of nastiness. And we understand that we are being watched, so we try to lead by example.
I feel that there are many women that are stuck in toxic relationships and sometimes don’t know how to escape them, or to stop themselves from drinking the toxic kool-aid and becoming like the people who are causing them problems. We try to show a way out of that dynamic
I thought we were moving into an age of women doing things for themselves and promoting our own successes but I keep seeing examples of women trolling and undermining each other. Why do you think we still live in a world that ‘shames’ rather than ‘supports’ our fellow gals?
We are moving into that age. But change always happens more slowly than we want or expect it to. There is a learning curve and there is also the backlash factor. There are people for whom being a horrible, toxic person has been kind of a winning thing for them for a long time. It’s working for them, somehow, but now all of a sudden you have girls going ‘nuh-uh’. We’re not going to rag on skinny girls just because we got ragged on for being curvy. We’re not going to let you make us feel like shit either. We’re going to find nice people and kick your toxic ass to the curb. And there are people who have been doing the toxic thing for so long that they don’t know what to do in the face of this new paradigm that they kind of double down on it. They want it to continue working for them so they keep at it.
When you change course, there will always be someone who wants to stop you from doing that. I always have this image in my head that illustrates this: A woman walking out of a village to make her fortune. As she leaves, bitter hags stand on either side of her path throwing cabbages at her. Because they are so pissed off that she figured out how to escape. So I feel that we’re just seeing some cabbage-throwing at the moment!
Do you consider yourself to be a feminist or do you think too many people have misappropriated the term for it to be a positive thing these days?
I am absolutely a feminist and if someone wants to throw a cabbage, they can go for it. I will never be ashamed to call myself a feminist!
Your company, Pinup Girl Clothing, is an internationally successful clothing phenomenon; did you always ‘know’ it would reach such amazing heights?
No, it wasn’t my intention when I started. My intention was to make enough money from the business to pay my mortgage and pre-school for my daughter. Once that was achieved, I set a slightly more ambitious goal. Then repeated that over and over. I have said in other interviews that I feel it is best to set small, realistic, relatively easy to achieve goals instead of having a grand goal in mind. At least, this has worked best for me.
Your have such a fully inclusive range with dresses, separates and accessories for everyone, were you determined to be one of the few non-size-ist companies out there?
I was determined to not be a jerk. I never understood why I couldn’t do it, and I never saw it as a big deal that I did. I always felt that the only thing keeping clothing companies from selling a more inclusive range was pure bigotry. They didn’t want bigger girls wearing their stuff. End of story. As I learned more about the apparel industry I realised that most of the reasons companies gave for not doing plus (“It doesn’t sell!” “It’s a different body type!” “It costs too much!”) weren’t really valid. It costs a *little* more to do plus. Like a couple dollars. Big deal. It’s a *slightly* different body type, you don’t have to wrack your brain to figure out how to make it work, and if you call yourself a designer, you should be able to figure it out! And it sells – if you don’t insult your customers. We are finally seeing companies make plus clothes that aren’t black, waist-free ugly things and women are happy about that and are buying it.
You are a prolific social media user and not afraid to ‘out’ people who have behaved inappropriately or, as I have witnessed, copied your exclusive designs. Do you go public as a last resort or take to social media straight away?
My approach is; if you are offensive in public, it is perfectly appropriate for me to respond and correct you in public. I deal with jerks privately all the time. If you make an exact copy of my dress, down to the pattern/fabric/color and publicly market it as your own, I’m going to publicly point out what you did.
This is another area where women are shamed for standing up for themselves. I have seen blogs by dudes that are dedicated to exposing people who have copied their work. Nobody tells them that they are being unseemly or “unprofessional”. Instead they get support. When a woman does it, you get cabbages. I don’t worry about it. If you do something nasty, bullying, or unethical, someone should say something. In fact, anyone who thinks it sucks should say so. Is this “public shaming”? Maybe – but if you look at societies all over the globe and during all time periods, you will find that public shaming is the way that polite, acceptable behavior is and has been encouraged and enforced.
Do ever feel that social media almost invites complete strangers to cast aspersions and make unwelcome comments about your private life?
I have said in other interviews that bullies are just scared people pretending not to be scared and so the internet is a bully’s wet dream. They can swoop in, say something horrid, and watch the magic happen, all from the safety of their home. The internet does make it easier. But again, they are frightened and insecure people so when you stand up to them online, or make their antics not-fun (laughing at them is the best way to do this), they slink away. A bully always goes after the target they feel will be easiest, so all anyone needs to do to make them go away is to frustrate them.
You have two fabulous daughters, do you hope they will follow in your entrepreneurial footsteps?
I hope they are able to achieve whatever they want to do. The entrepreneurial dream is mine, I don’t know if it is either of theirs. I wish to teach them both to solve problems and overcome obstacles. If they learn this they will be able to do whatever they wish.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever heard that you would be willing to pass onto all our readers?
A golfer named Gary Player said “The harder you work, the luckier you get”. This has stuck with me since the first time I heard it. I didn’t take it to mean “plug away doing the same thing and sooner or later you’ll get what you want”, I see it like this: Work hard at the thing you love doing. Get good at it. Strive to be better at it every day. Change your strategy if you encounter a hurdle or problem. If you become really good at something, others will take notice and you will be presented with opportunities (luck). Opportunities are worthless if you are not prepared to take advantage of them, so you have to do the work. Also, in the words of Chuck D of Public Enemy: Make yourself valuable, so the money chases you. Same concept!
To see the beautiful range of clothing available from Pinup Girl Clothing, click here