Even among great friends, there are a few things that women tend to deem too taboo to speak of: money, for example, and — wait for it — shapewear. Rachael McCrary, founder and CEO of Jewel Toned, is here to change that. You may never feel comfortable discussing your body (even though you shouldn’t be afraid to!), but Rachael wants you to feel comfortable no matter what you put on it — beginning with your very first layer.
Read on to learn more about Rachael’s innovative and life-changing company, the ways she styles her beautiful products, and, of course, the ways in which she’s paving the way for women everywhere — helping them to gain the confidence both to rock a mini-dress and to raise venture capital — all in the same day.
Name: Rachael McCrary, Founder/CEO of Jewel Toned
Location: Marina Del Ray, CA
Education: AA in Fashion Design from FIDM, San Francisco; Special Certificate in Lingerie and Corsetry from FIT; Certified Sivananda Yoga Instructor; RYT-500 Hatha Yoga and Meditation Teacher; Currently enrolled in the Stanford Innovation in Entrepreneurship program; Certified Reiki Master
What was your first job, and how did you land it?
My first job ever was entrepreneurship. I screen printed t-shirts and made custom dresses for clients in North Carolina in high school. My first real job in NYC right out of college was a temp at Victoria’s Secret design office.
Your career began in fashion design — lingerie design, specifically. How did your education shape your career goals and dreams? Did you always know you’d eventually design your own brand?
I knew I was a fashion designer in elementary school. It wasn’t something I thought about and selected — it chose me. When I say that, what I mean is it wasn’t a conscious career choice at such a young age, it was just who I was and I never questioned it. I think that’s what good career choices are, not choices at all, but answers to the question: “What would I do if I didn’t need money?” I do remember wondering if I could go to school for fashion design and when I found out that was a thing, I was very happy and excited. I loved going to FIDM and felt I was in the right place — it just felt like “home” to me and was very comfortable. I didn’t feel that way in high school.
What did you learn working at Victoria’s Secret? What about as a product developer for other well-known brands?
I was a temp at Victoria’s Secret. I faxed, organized things, and ran errands. I was 21 and just excited to be surrounded by it all. While working for other large lingerie brands a decade later, I lived in Asia on and off doing product development and sourcing. I embraced Chinese culture and really enjoyed the experience. It made me incredibly detail-oriented. I now notice everything.
Tell us about Jewel Toned. What led you to start it?
I started Jewel Toned because I wanted to change the way we as a society view the decision to purchase and wear shapewear. Most of the women I speak with have this air of shame surrounding shapewear, “Oh, if I need to wear that it’s because something is wrong with my body.” Shapewear is viewed in an entirely different light than other types of lingerie, like bras and panties. When women buy bras and underwear, it’s a fun experience that they look forward to. That is typically not the case when they buy shapewear, but it should be. I searched high and low and could not find any shapewear that was meant to be “seen” and branded as sexy, fun, and, most of all, comfortable. So I decided to change that.
Most of the women I speak with have this air of shame surrounding shapewear. When women buy bras and underwear, it’s a fun experience that they look forward to. That is typically not the case when they buy shapewear, but it should be.
Why are you passionate about your brand and your products?
I am extremely passionate about helping women feel good about their bodies and their clothing choices, as well as removing the stigma that surrounds the choice to wear shapewear. We aren’t out to fix bodies that are perceived as “wrong;” rather, we want women to feel empowered and in love with the body they have when they put on a Jewel Toned piece. Our products are meant to be worn as layers, peeking out and allowing each wearer to create her own style, comfortably and with confidence. Whether that’s smoothing out some lines with a Rockin Bodysuit under work clothes, tossing a fur jacket on over a Contour Hourglass Dress, or just allowing the lace straps from a bralette to peek out of your off the shoulder t-shirt, it’s going to be different for every woman. I believe that you should feel good when you get dressed, and who hasn’t had a “great outfit” day? It always makes you happier to love what you’re wearing, and it’s my goal to help women do that, whether they’re going to the grocery store, the conference room, or on a fancy date. Jewel Toned was created to spread the love, one confident and body-positive woman at a time.
What has been the hardest part of starting your own company? How do you manage this difficulty?
Raising money independently as the sole female founder of a women’s consumer products company while being faced with a culture of almost all male investors. Having to explain to them why lingerie is important is very challenging. Most men do not understand women’s shapewear, or even lingerie for that matter, and very few are willing to invest that much into these products. I managed this challenge by staying focused and working even harder to educate and convince these male investors that my brand is worthy of funding. I made diagrams and side-by-side comparisons explaining the differences between Jewel Toned and more traditional shapewear, and how there is a void in the market for “meant-to-be-seen” shapewear.
We aren’t out to fix bodies that are perceived as ‘wrong;’ rather, we want women to feel empowered and in love with the body they have when they put on a Jewel Toned piece.
What’s something unexpected that you have learned and/or gained from being a founder/CEO?
CEOs give goals and directives to upper level employees, raise money, and work with attorneys and CPAs. The primary skillset that comprises how the company was born is only 20% of my job, and also the easiest. As a founder/CEO you are not a manager, but a leader, and there is a huge difference. I embrace it and love that I have the opportunity to work closely with my employees so I can help them grow in the best way possible.
What do you wish more people knew about shapewear and lingerie?
Shapewear and lingerie are necessary foundations that we believe should be inclusive to all women, regardless of their size. Your undergarments are the first thing you put on when getting dressed and set the foundation for your outfit every day, so they are very important. Sometimes certain outfits require an undergarment to make a dress look smoother or to provide an additional layer beneath a sheer garment, and this is where shapewear comes in. Somehow that mindset was lost over the years, and now the mentality around shapewear is that something is “wrong” with women who wear it.
I wish more women were unashamed to wear shapewear, rather than being proud of NOT having to wear it, and that’s the driving force behind Jewel Toned. So many women I speak to have expressed wanting something about their bodies to be different — bigger/smaller/longer/thicker/etc. We want all women to celebrate and feel sexy in the body they have right now, and all of our pieces are designed with that in mind.
Which of your products is your favorite and why?
I can’t choose just one. They are all so great in their own way and can be worn in many different ways. It’s so unusual that comfort meets sexy and fun, so we offer women this rare circumstance. All of our products are designed to go easily from day to evening, no matter what your preference — bright, sheer, lace, crochet, off-shoulder, etc. For example, the Major Mini Dress can be paired with a long cardigan and flats for a daytime look, or tossed on with a jean jacket, scarf, and over-the-knee boots for a sexy night out.
What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs? What’s unique about the startup environment?
Don’t listen to the word “no” if you feel a path is truly right for you. That being said, be flexible in how you arrive there, as that will change often. You will lose sleep. You will lose friends. Make sure that the reason you’re doing what you’re doing is something you really value more than those things, because it has to have a higher purpose in order to be worth it. Big impact is only born out of big efforts. I’ve found this environment is relentless, and when you think you can’t go on anymore, you must forge ahead and create new doors of opportunity. Often you have to build the door yourself (alone, in the dark, with no budget). When you dig in deep to survive, the rewards are great. Become comfortable with being uncomfortable, and really get down with delayed gratification. None of what you want is going to happen overnight.
What do you look for in your employees, and what do they bring to the table?
Drive, strong personality, and strong sense of self. Cultural fit and aligned upper level values.
I hire people who align with what we stand for and energetically feel right, more so than having a list of impressive qualifications. They must possess the ability and desire to learn fast, pivot when necessary, and constantly evolve as individuals. When the team stops growing, so does the company. We have to stay united as a family through the ups and downs and become stronger in the tough times so we can celebrate together later. They bring a sense of community both in the office and globally. Our customers can sense it.
Often you have to build the door yourself (alone, in the dark, with no budget). When you dig in deep to survive, the rewards are great. Become comfortable with being uncomfortable, and really get down with delayed gratification. None of what you want is going to happen overnight.
Tell us about Jewel Toned’s motto: “I’m not beautiful like you, I’m beautiful like me.”
Every woman’s body is different. We aren’t fruit. We aren’t pears or apples. I don’t believe in defining women’s bodies by comparing them to fruits. Jewel Toned is designed to gently hug each woman’s individual curves and enhance their bodies, not hide or “fix” them. We are all different and beautiful in our own ways, and I want to celebrate those differences. At the end of the day, all women deserve to feel beautiful and confident when buying clothes. As a designer, I’ve seen a trend in recent years that has been more inclusive and open to all women and body types, and I’d love to see more of that. Strong women are beautiful women because of who they are, and they know who they are without having to be told, “You are/are not a piece of fruit,” or whatever other rigid idea of beauty is being thrown at them.
You’ve won many awards and accolades, and you were even the first single woman founder to raise $1M in 2015. What does all this recognition mean to you?
It’s not enough. Only a few tech investors know/care. The business world needs to be educated on the flaws and gender inequalities in tech, startups, the venture capital system, and other funding methods. More women need to become comfortable talking about money. As a society, we need to freak out when women achieve things in business like a raise or a promotion. We shouldn’t shy away from sharing our achievements so we can celebrate them!
I recently attended a women’s networking dinner and every woman in attendance was of above average accomplishment, yet none of them had raised venture capital independently, and that has got to change. I am here to help break down that barrier and show more women that they can do this on their own.
The business world needs to be educated on the flaws and gender inequalities in tech, startups, the venture capital system, and other funding methods. More women need to become comfortable talking about money.
Where do you see yourself and your career in five years?
Running a global lingerie empire with many facets and brands. We are launching an A-list celebrity brand in the fall and I would love to expand and bring on additional lines. I want to be the go-to lingerie/loungewear/shapewear company for new brands and licenses. Eventually I would like to create a platform/community that would support more women to be founders and investors so that we can increase the number of women involved in startup world.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
You get out of your career what you put into it. For me, that means being relentless with my goals and where I am going. At least I know I will have tried everything in my power to succeed regardless of what happens.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Do not ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. There will always be negative people trying to knock you down or being jealous of your success. If you have the passion and drive for your dream, you have to completely ignore those people and go for your goal with full force. Ignore the haters and stay focused on what’s really important: making your dream a reality.
Rachael McCrary is The Everygirl…
Most recent splurge?
Lots of bikinis!
Favorite item of clothing?
A vintage kimono, and my grandmother’s jewelry
Guilty pleasure song?
“Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira
Biggest celebrity crush?
How much time do you have? #boycrazy
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Oprah. She is both intellectually and spiritually inclined and intertwines the two in business which results in divine feminine magic powers.