Interview With Nora Gardner: NYC's Power Dress Designer

Working on Wall Street, Nora Gardner was perhaps your typical finance girl. Today, she is the Founder and CEO of Nora Gardner, an NYC, 'Power Dress' collection for fashionable business women globally.

As a former corporate executive, Nora appreciates wrinkle-free and easy care fabrics, superior tailoring, and figure flattering construction. This creates comfortable, yet stylish, designs that empower women on their rise to the top - in the office and beyond. 

So, how does one go from working in finance to designing a globally renowned, trend-setting, professional collection?

I interviewed Nora Gardner for her inspiring and entrepreneurial story: 

nora gardner- office power dress designer - briar prestidge - deals in high heels

I'm wearing Nora Gardner's best-seller 'Evelyn' LBD, styled with a Guess handbag and Steve Madden heels. Pictures were taken by Dipesh Kotwani (@dipesh.kotwani) at City Walk, Dubai (dress and reader-offer is linked below!)

Tell me about your life before your started Nora Gardner?

"Prior to starting my company, I was the typical finance girl working crazy hours in Midtown Manhattan in boring work dresses and pantsuits. I gave the best part of my 20's to Wall Street. It was a fascinating time to work in investment banking, but deep down I felt the need to create something of my own, and I missed the arts - I have always had a very creative side. I combined my workwear frustrations, my entrepreneurial predisposition, and a hankering for a creative outlet launch my own brand."

How did your fashion change over the course of your career? 

"When I was a summer intern at Citi, I actually tried to look like a boy - I wore pantsuits, tied my hair in a bun, and often wore glasses. There were not many women working on the trading floor at that time. I desperately wanted to fit in and look smart, but unfortunately, I was teased and called "Norm". So sad. As I gained confidence over the years, my sense of style started to shine through. Each bonus season, I would gleefully visit Neimans or Saks to reload my wardrobe with chic power dresses - but I discovered these dresses were very hard to find and often extremely expensive. I would end up purchasing cocktail dresses and later have them altered to make them work appropriate, or I would hide them under a blazer, which looked awkward. It was incredibly hard to find anything I wanted to wear at all."

Who do you cater for?

"I make power dresses for busy executive women on the go - who have no time to shop! Having lived in that world, I know what this woman needs, and I have the skills and ability to make her life easier - and it is my purpose to do just that."

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For how many years did you run your business alongside your regular job?

"None - I only daydreamed and planned - and networked. I often worked until after midnight in banking so starting my company then wasn't really an option. After I left banking, I took classes to learn the business of fashion. I studied pattern-making, draping, sewing and textiles. It took a lot of time to get up to speed and I wanted to focus on the business 100%."

What were some challenges you faced when starting your business?

"I did not know anything about retail or manufacturing - and without the confidence of knowledge, it was hard to find the right people to help me."

How did you overcome these pain points?

"I studied and learned through trial and error. It wasn't until I started to achieve some success that I could attract great people to help me. I really had to learn it on my own and prove to the world that I could make a product that would sell. I also had to prove it to myself - and once I did that, I could inspire confidence in others."

nora gardner - office dress designer nyc - briar prestidge - deals in high heels

How many people work in your company now and where do you see it going in the future?

"Right now there are six of us - I would like to have at least ten by the end of the year. In the future, it could be 60+ or many more as we build our e-commerce and wholesale businesses."

Do you feel you have a good balance between your business and personal life? If yes, how did you achieve this? If no – why not?

"Yes, I think I do - but I also love to work. I love a challenge and there are so many challenges in this business. I cannot do it all - of course - and I am lucky to have a great team supporting me so that when I need to take a break, I know they can handle things. I would say that even though I work harder now than I did in banking, I am in control of my schedule at least, and I like that. I can be there for my friends and family when they need me."

What are your top 3 tips for people starting a fashion line alongside their regular jobs?

"Learn about every aspect of the business - from design to production to marketing. You need understand the business inside and out to run it well.

Don't wait to get help - you can't do it alone. Interns are great! 

Test your product before launching. Make a few samples of your product for friends and family to try - wear it yourself before launching. Make sure it fits and the quality is where it needs to be."

If you could change one thing about your start up process when you started your business what would that be? 

 "I wish I had started with a team. It was very hard to do everything alone."

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What does fashion mean to you in the work environment?

"To me, it means 1) Dressing in a way that flatters you - this shows that you are self-aware and not trying to be trendy and superficial; 2) Not making a statement but making an impression. Your coworkers and clients don't need to notice the outfit but rather that you simply look very "put together", "responsible" and "organized"; and 3) Functionality! It is work, after all, so wearing clothes that help you throughout your day is key (i.e. dresses with pockets if you need that, shirts that do not wrinkle so you don't look dishevelled, and skirts that cover what needs to be covered, etc). When all of these things are accomplished, you will look amazing and feel stress-free. Having a killer coat or heel here and there is also a must!"

What is your most hated office fashion crime?

"When men wear weird, artsy ties or when women try to get away with yoga pants in the office (we know what you are wearing...)."

What is the best career advice you’ve been given? 

"Run your own race. Regarding fashion, this means wear what you like and what looks good on you! You might just find that you are setting the next office trend because you look so good."

nora gardner office dress - briar prestidge - deals in high heels

Feel office chic in a Nora Gardner power dress - I feel incredible in mine! Visit, Instagram (@noragardnernyc) or Facebook (Nora Gardner - Clothing Store).

Nora is offering a 15% discount to Deals in High Heel's readers! Use the code High_Heels_15 at check out.

I hope you guys feel as inspired as me! Make sure you check out my latest blog and vlog on How to Crush a Business Meeting.

Until next time,


Briar Prestidge x 

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Image curtesy of Pinterest and Nora Gardner.