The M Dash

For the woman with #BetterThingsToDo.

MM.LaFleur’s Narie Foster on Building a Brand from the Ground Up

Every company needs one of those unflappable types whose specialty is—to be quite blunt—getting sh*t done. At MM.LaFleur, that role is firmly held by one Narie Foster, our intrepid COO.

A native of Syracuse, NY, she grew up winning science fairs and wearing hand-sewn Halloween costumes that were optimized for trudging through feet of snow (“the now-obvious seeds of my career in fashion”). But despite such early indicators, Narie never thought she’d end up running a clothing company.

Like most things she attempts (she ran the NYC marathon on a whim last year), she’s figured it out pretty quickly. Below, we chat with her about data visualization, Dr. Ruth, and the importance of always being nice.

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Narie’s stealth look: the Winfrey top and Soho skirt.

What does a startup COO do, exactly?

I run the operations here at MM, which is an ever-evolving task. I like to think of early startup operations as the glue that keeps things connected and working. Once the “what” and “when” (e.g. the bigger picture) is figured out, it’s my job to worry about the “how.” This includes the operations of the MM Bento™ program, our warehouse and fulfillment, our website and technology, and the internal management of our incredible team. Most recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about our data: how we collect it and how we’ll use it to scale and innovate.

Are you surprised you ended up as the COO of your own company?

Yes! I got my degree in systems engineering, and only later did I realize I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Finding my way to MM has been a combination of accident and intention, yet it makes perfect sense. There’s absolutely nothing I’d rather be doing.

What are a few of the lessons you’ve learned since starting MM?

There’s nothing like doing a thousand things you’ve never done before to help you get to know yourself. Get familiar with your own capabilities, shortcomings, and hidden talents—and those of your colleagues. Learn how to tackle the unknown with (possibly feigned) conviction. Sometimes you can gather information and make careful decisions; sometimes, you just have to go for it. Get comfortable asking for help, favors, and money. Be nice to everyone. All the time.

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What’s your morning routine before you start work?

I’m a natural morning person in the body of an under-slept workaholic and over-committer. Basically, I set my alarm to the last possible minute and my routine can be characterized as “efficient.”

When you were little, what did you want to be?

A teacher, then an architect, then a meteorologist, and then a NASA systems engineer.

When you “grow up,” what do you want to be?

Really truly myself.

What’s the best career advice you ever got?

Two mentors told me these phrases, which have stuck with me and become my unofficial life/work philosophy: “Do something that scares you every day,” and “Why the f*ck not?”

If what you do is ultimately about the experience and the curiosity, then it’s not so much of a risk.

What do you wish you’d known when you started working?

I’m actually grateful I didn’t know what I didn’t know. If you’re going to start a business, you have to be just delusional and naïve enough to go for it.

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How do you like to dress for work?

The more I’m exposed to clothing design, the pickier I get with fit and quality. My increasingly discerning fingertips and eyes are debatably a hazard. In many ways, I’ve become more adventurous with how I dress, but I still lean towards modest cuts and subtle colors.

What are you reading lately?

I’m obsessed with the book Dataclysm by Christian Rudder, one of the co-founders of OkCupid. He tackles love, race, and so many other fascinating aspects of humanity, and combines some of my favorite things into one book: beautiful data visualization, an analysis of modern dating, human psychology, nerdy humor… obviously I’m riveted.

If you could have a power lunch with any woman, who would it be?

Dr. Ruth!

Success is… part of the continuous journey, not just an end state.

Happiness is… the coexistence of purpose and indulgence.

Waiting until after dinner to have dessert… is overrated.

Long flights… are underrated.

What’s your motto?

I’ve always liked, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” To me, it means: Try everything. Revel in the variety. Be sensible. And every once in a while, don’t worry about being sensible.

Photos by Frances F. Denny

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Tory Hoen is the editor-in-chief at MM.LaFleur and the founding editor of The M Dash. She has written for New York Magazine, Bon Appétit, Condé Nast Traveler, and Time Out New York. Current home base: Brooklyn. Current spirit animal: serval. Read more of Tory's posts.

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