After ten years from start to finish, the wild, extraordinary, and transformative experiment of Worn has come to an end. Worn started as an art magazine I launched at age 22 — I photographed, designed, and wrote most of it in collaboration with a super talented team of creatives who volunteered their time and skills. It transformed into a successful New York-based creative agency focused on women-led brands. Our team of 13 women worked with over 100+ startups and several of the Fortune 500. We proved that a creative agency could also be a social enterprise when most people didn’t think that was possible. My business partner, Carolyn, and I chose to put all our cards down and focus on the needs of women, years before Hillary’s loss, the Women’s March, and the #metoo movement became national conversations. Far before most brands and agencies realized that feminism was good for business.
Every day at Worn challenged me and my team with incredibly important questions:
— How can we build a culture led by feminist ideals within an inherently patriarchal business environment?
— How much can we grow our business in an ultra competitive agency landscape while staying true to our mission and focus on women-led companies?
— How can we support our team’s professional, healthcare, and emotional needs in the ways they deserved while doing business in a country that treats women’s needs as an afterthought?
– How can we get all of this right while learning on the job and building a business for the first time?
I have to admit, these were extremely difficult questions to navigate and even more difficult to create policies around.
We set the bar high, and I believe that most of the time we met or surpassed the goals we set for ourselves, but not always. Worn was a constant work in progress. Even in the areas where we failed, and as a first time CEO I know I failed many times, we did so while in the arena. We dared greatly to attempt to build a mission driven agency with all the risks and sacrifices that came along with it.
On top of the typical challenges, I’m a first generation Latina woman born to immigrant parents and as such carry a heavy responsibility to my family to prove this company was a worthwhile endeavor.My father immigrated from Argentina and built his own company over the past 30 years in the Latin music industry. I was always terrified of becoming a failure in his eyes. And on top of that, there were few strong, creative Latina women role models for me to learn from. If I were a white man, I could easily just look to David Ogilvy, Stefan Sagmeister, or even Shepard Fairey for inspiration.
I have more to say about women in advertising but that’s a post for another day…
The fall of 2019 was a tipping point both professionally and personally. As every agency owner knows, the agency business model is full of financial volatility. We were able to weather this volatility pretty successfully over the years. We hired slowly and managed to avoid the rounds of layoffs that have become so common at bigger agencies, until the summer of last year when a downshift in new business hit us particularly hard and a layoff became inevitable.
Added to that, almost seven years of running a relentlessly high stress business had taken a heavy toll on me physically, emotionally, and mentally. My health had started to deteriorate and I developed frequent migraine headaches, back pain, hives on my face, and a list of other autoimmune symptoms. I lived with constant, often debilitating anxiety. My marriage truly suffered. We made several emergency trips to couples therapy, sometimes in the same day, with my workaholism being a central issue.
Last year I was forced to ask myself — were the long term effects to my health and marriage worth it? Was it the right thing to continue to build the company with a smaller team? I decided it wasn’t.
The wind down of Worn was a six month process focused on completing our existing clients projects. The majority of the team went onto new roles within weeks while a small core team stayed on to help with the wind down.
In the midst of the tragedy and death that our society is facing from COVID-19, economic depression and systemic racism, I’ll be honest and just say that I don’t regret that Worn is now closed.
We’ve entered a very different reality and what the world needs now is more creative and entrepreneurial people addressing the most pressing societal issues of our time — gender inequality and income inequality in particular remain on the top of my mind, and deeply in my heart.
I’m taking time to heal and recover from this last journey so I can get back to playing a role in these efforts in a new way.
In the meantime, the ending of this chapter is bitter sweet. While I will have the opportunity to recuperate and reenergize after this long adventure, I will miss my team very much.
I am forever grateful to our team for all their hard work over the years, and for my extraordinary friendship with Carolyn Rush.
If you want to stay in touch, you can send me a note on Linkedin here.