“My friends tell me I always get what I want,” Sobels says.
And I like how her candid determination is cut with a disarming congeniality, which makes the dim, Spartan, stylishly-forward rectangular meeting room feel cozy.
We are seated in Fashiolista’s pad in Amsterdam’s centre discussing everything from how Fashiolista is making the world’s women more fashionable, its humble beginnings, to her experiences as a woman in the fashion industry.
So, what’s her story?
In her early-twenties, she juggled completing a fashion degree and helping establish Fashiolista—Mecca for women who seek to curate and share their style. “I did a lot, because we had such a small team then. I’d be flying from NYC to London and then back to school,” she said, recalling the chaotic excitement of the startup’s infancy, “I’d miss a month of school. I’d have to email assignments.”
Woman’s got game.
She completed her fashion degree, transitioning seamlessly into Fashiolista and becoming fashion director, setting the mode for millions of women in Brazil, the US, Western Europe, and the rest of the world.
“I don’t see it as being responsible for anything,” she says. She brings out the ideas of others and decides how to most effectively present them. That’s all.
Yet, “fashion is emotion,” she elaborates, “It makes you feel a certain way,” supplying women with the Beyonce-like swagger to confidently navigate their lives. It’s more than skin-deep.
So how does Emilie Sobels get what she wants?
She’s nice. She also flirts, an approach that has garnered attention from Forbes as a legitimate negotiating tactic for women in business.
There are even business flirting courses for women looking to get a leg up on men at the negotiating table. “It’s using the power you have as a woman to get what you want,” Sobels says, “as a woman you can smile, you can throw in a wink—all of that helps. Maybe in some jobs that doesn’t help, but in fashion it certainly helps.”
Although she doesn’t experience any negativity or discrimination as a woman in the fashion industry, where women dominate model incomes but are scarce in top design positions, she finds flirting useful when talking to men. Flirting harnesses her gender’s distinct advantage to achieve thier own ends whereas men, she says, would have to trudge down the long road of relationship-building.
But it’s more complicated than that and as she continues to explain, we delved deeper into the implicit assumptions we as humans have about our gender roles.
It’s not empowering, says Sobels. “A lot of people underestimate me because I have a soft voice, big eyes, a big smile. And I think you can use that to your advantage so easily,” echoing the sentiment of entrepreneur and founder of Maven International, Melissa Mowbray-d’Arbela, “Being a woman in business... sure you're treated differently. So I decided 'embrace that,' use it to your advantage."
Sobels turns men’s own sexism against them in a Trojan Horse-like maneuver to ready the negotiating table, but when the time comes, “when we can’t be cute, they will see that it’s not just that. There’s more in my head than just a friendly person.”
Research tells much the same tale, although not going so far as to make sexism the culprit for the competitive advantage. Just being friendly lowers women’s negotiating power because they are seen as overly accommodating but combining this attribute with flirtation signals the very competitiveness and self-interest lacking in simple friendliness. Though, the whole house of cards falls when flirtation is viewed by men as just being nice.
Sobels finds flirting to be effective, seeing it less as manipulation and more as a nudge in the right direction; a way to use her natural congeniality and femininity to her advantage by placing it on the table, front and centre.
So she flirts intelligently, and when it comes showcasing her acumen, she admits that it intimidates some men and in these situations many women, including herself, feel it’s their responsibility to remedy the situation.
“If you just mix it a bit. . . ,” she struggles for a justification for speaking less intelligently than she is capable to make men feel more comfortable.
And her affirmation, her need to justify her intelligence, and her need to break the ice by flirting speak volumes to what it takes to get things done as a woman in the fashion industry. Surely, her approach echoes across the broad spectrum of occupations and situations women find themselves in every day, raising questions about the distinctions between employing feminine charm vs. flirting and about where the power of negotiation truly rests.
*This interview was conducted on January 27, 2015