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Argent’s Sali Christeson Knows You Want Pockets in Your Suit Jacket

a headshot of sali christeson with her name the date above and the office hours logo below

Courtesy of Argent

In ELLE.com’s monthly series Office Hours, we ask people in powerful positions to take us through their first jobs, worst jobs, and everything in between. This month, we spoke to Sali Christeson, founder and CEO of Argent, the workwear brand beloved by women across industries, from comedian Amy Poehler to public servant Huma Abedin. Beyond filling their closets, Christeson’s goal is to give working women a central community where they can network, ideate, and inspire one another. Most recently, that’s meant opening up a new brick-and-mortar store in Washington, DC. “There’s some very real magic that happens in the store where women are connecting and meeting one another,” Christeson says. Below, she discusses how the brand first came to be, the time she was shocked to see someone wearing Argent, and of course, her own personal power outfit.

My first job

I desperately wanted a first job, so at 14, I convinced a woman in Hardeeville, South Carolina, to hire me at a restaurant. That entire summer I made $1,000 in cash, but I loved it. I grew up in this tiny town—like, a single-stoplight, 10,000-person town—and the woman who started this restaurant was this stand-out, rock star working woman. That was really novel in a southern town, as you can imagine, so just working for her was a good experience for me.

My worst job

I was always entrepreneurial, and when I was about eight years old, I made these piggy banks out of glass liter apple juice bottles. For the most in-demand one, I would draw people on the bottle, and it would take 20 hours; I’d just be inhaling paint fumes. Definitely my worst job.

a q and a that reads from the desk of sali christeson best career advice i have received always hire slowly worst career advice i have received i talked to a male founder before launching argent, and they cited another company that was starting up and going after womens workwear he was like, because they are doing this, you should just focus on building community, because that seems to really excite you that was the worst advice, but i knew it in real time my dream job i haven't done yet i'm drawn to politics, but on the policy side i could rattle off 100 jobs that excite me though my go to email sign off best my power outfit me at my best is probably a relaxed suit with a tshirt and a sneaker

Courtesy of Argent

What I wanted to be—and didn’t know I could be—growing up

I vividly remember going to work with my dad. He had a rug store, and I would sit on the computer at the office next door and just dream of one day having a stapler. That was my aspiration: to have a desk and a stapler. I always knew I wanted to work for myself, and I wanted to solve something that I felt was a problem. But I grew up in a place where work— and what work can look like—wasn’t really modeled. If you fast-forward to what we’re doing now at Argent, that is our aspiration: to celebrate and elevate professional women and tell stories about what your career can be. To be honest, growing up, if I could have seen what an exec at Nike looked like, and it looked like me, I would’ve been dreaming of that job. Or if I had seen a high-powered lawyer. I think I could have gone down a lot of different paths, but the representation wasn’t really there in my childhood.

The personal reason I started Argent

I took a more traditional corporate path, and across all my experiences, it was obvious to me that women have been an afterthought when it comes to professional clothing. I read a study that showed women are judged based on appearance, and when they quantify the impact of what you wear on your bottom-line over your lifetime, it’s quite significant. That, coupled with the fact that no one was really paying attention to this category, felt like an opportunity. It’s a very real problem that we’re solving. We’ve created a product that women actually want to wear, and we’ve done it in a way that allows women to show up as their best selves and be able to focus on the work. We’re taking one thing off her plate. But the bigger opportunity I saw on the brand side was the fact that no one was creating space for professional women outside of work. I was really excited about the potential of featuring these powerhouse women that I was seeing and telling their stories in a way that inspires the next generation, but also celebrates them. Everything we do is about catering to and serving the professional woman in an effort to remove barriers and give her tools to optimally navigate her career and fight for gender equity and equal opportunity.

a q and a that reads from the desk of sali christeson my open tabs always shopify i have multiple gmail accounts open our website depending on what events we're planning, i usually have excel docs or guest lists the 19th news argent on neiman marcus then work friends casting is always up every six months, we cast six real women that we shoot, and that takes a long time for us to put together my typical workday eats gt’s gingerade kombucha two eggs every day, or it's not going to be a good day more caffeine than anyone should ever have and i'm a sustenance eater, so i eat peanut butter sandwiches in the office on more days than i'd like to admit how i manage stress i will shift focus so i'll clean my apartment, i'll work on a different project, get my personal life in order i just have to stay active and be asserting control over something

Courtesy of Argent

Adding much-needed functionality to Argent clothing

Who doesn’t know that women want pockets? The irony is, before we launched, there was a very high-profile male that said, “Women don’t want utility in their clothing.” I’m like, cool, awesome, well, I’m just going to do this thing. Our interior pockets—what you don’t think about is a lot of times women will break from meetings at work and men will go straight to lunch, and maybe it’s an opportunity for them to connect and continue the work conversation. Women are going back to their desks and having to grab their purses. We’re trying to really remove those subtle micro events that happen for women that disadvantage them and streamline their experience at work as much as possible. We’re also in a luxurious position of being able to iterate on our product with our customer. We’re definitely taking feedback and incorporating it into our design process.

The first time I was shocked to see who was wearing Argent

We knew that Secretary Clinton had a piece, because at her first major public appearance post-election loss, I had the opportunity to meet her and introduced her to what we are doing. She is fully our customer, and she had a physical reaction to the pockets, the colors. It was such a special interaction. Her team immediately followed up, and she’s been supportive ever since. We sent her a piece for consideration for the Champion of the Century Award she received from Planned Parenthood. The first image I saw [of her wearing the clothing at the event] was on Chelsea Handler’s Instagram with two of them together. I had to sit down; it was wild.

planned parenthood 100th anniversary gala, inside, new york, usa 02 may 2017

WWD//Getty Images

Hillary Clinton wearing Argent in May 2017.

Why Argent will be part of the political conversation in 2024

We want to be an easy resource and escape for women, but we also want to be true to our values and her values and ensure that we’re showing up for women and women’s rights. The power in having a platform is to use that platform to support your community and your customer base. So we’ll do everything that we can to energize women and Gen Z especially, and remind them what’s at stake.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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