I had a meeting with a woman who I would call a true trailblazer, founding partner of Froese Law, Ashlee Froese. She is confident, and tenacious, after having worked for the past 3 years to have the fashion industry recognized as a cultural industry. Ashlee is also a published author on branding and fashion laws and a frequent guest speaker at law schools, universities and cultural institutions. She speaks publicly on current leading brands and matters within fashion law, and recently had a chat with CBC about the push for fashion industry funding.
Ashlee told me that she wanted to be a lawyer from a very young age. She focused on it during high school and her undergraduate years.
The word ‘trailblazer’ first came to me when she told me about her focus on fashion law:
“There was no concept of ‘fashion law’ as a practice area in Canada. Given that I already had many years’ practical experience at the boutique law firm, coupled with years of official legal training, I felt that I was in a position to educate the fashion industry on legal issues that impact it.”
Ashlee admitted that, despite her determination and drive, she has met ongoing challenges while practicing law. The industry is very male-dominated with countless “Legally Blond” jokes directed her way. She views these as less of a challenge, but rather “irrelevant background noise.”
When Froese was first starting out, an older woman partner told her to cut her hair, dye it brown and avoid wearing heels – to make herself as male as possible. She told me this perplexed her, because, as she put it “being the most authentic form of yourself, is what frees you to succeed.”
Now that Ashlee owns her own firm, she is keen to “flip the script” and insists that “You can be feminine. You can wear what you want. You can be your own authentic self- not a role-playing version of yourself.” She now mentors young lawyers at her firm every Friday afternoon and frequently speaks at law school association panels.
I asked Ashlee if there was a woman leader she admired. and she named Margaret Thatcher saying, “I grew up knowing that an iron fist and a velvet glove is necessary to get the job done… and it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female…it just matters that you are a leader.”
Ashlee Froese, like many other women around the globe, understands that change is happening in the workplace, and when it comes to gender discrimination. The #MeToo campaign is a movement and a revolution that has unified women worldwide.
Speaking openly on the matter, she said ”I would be shocked if a woman doesn’t have a #MeToo story to share. The severity of the instances may not all be devastating or shocking…but I can’t imagine that a woman has led a life where they haven’t at least once been intimidated, discounted, underestimated or sexualized because they are a woman.”
I asked Ashlee to share her #Metoo moment, and here is what she said:
“I was working at a Bay Street firm,” Ashlee begins, then explaining that it was a casual Friday in the office and she was wearing skinny jeans and a blazer. “The managing partner entered into my office and pushed all my papers off my desk onto the floor. He then proceeded to say that he bet I wouldn’t be able to pick the paper off the floor because my jeans were too tight.”
He was obviously trying to establish his dominance and diminish her while doing it. Ashlee felt bothered because she knew that he wouldn’t have done it to a male employee. While it demeaned her to pick the papers up off the floor, she also realized that it made her strong. Pride wouldn’t limit her.
Ashlee even mentioned that a super power she wants most is to be sure that everyone makes “reasonable well thought out decisions that weigh both sides of the argument,” showing that her values rest most on truth, fairness and equality.
Not afraid to tell it like it is, to be herself, work hard and stick to her vision, Ashlee both encourages and inspires others to do the same through mentoring and guest speaking at various events and continuing to work hard as a founder of her own firm.
The one line that stayed most with me after my conversation with Ashlee was ” …if you do fail, fail fast, learn from it and recover.” She is the type of woman who isn’t afraid to fail and learn from that failure. A True Trailblazer.
To connect with Ashlee Froese and her firm, visit www.froeselaw.com