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Founder Feature: Melina Flabiano

“My work clothes are my armor in the corporate world. When I don't feel confident in how I'm dressed, it's so much harder to feel confident in other areas at work.”

Melina Flabiano, founder of Keaton, knows just what this woman, who was part of a focus group for company, means.

“I've always struggled to find work clothes that make me feel confident and powerful,” says Melina. “We spend so much time at work; shouldn’t we love what we’re wearing? My lightbulb moment was when I realized that 80% of women feel the same way!”

Melina started her career at McKinsey & Company in Dallas serving traditional retail brands. She loved working with apparel and consumer brands and focused on combining qualitative customer insights with data to solve retailers’ challenges. It was that expertise that led her to launch Keaton.

“What excites me most about starting Keaton is solving customer problems. Shopping for work clothes is a chore for most women, and we’re filled with anxiety about how to dress appropriately while being comfortable and expressing personal style,” Melina says. 

“I spoke to over 300 women to design our first pant, which allowed me to include features that really make a difference during daily wear: machine washable, non-wrinkle fabric, big pockets, and a higher-rise waist, to name a few. We are now in the process of designing additional styles for our line, and I love talking to our customers about what is missing from their wardrobes. And of course, it's absolutely amazing to see someone on the street wearing Keaton pants!”

Melina’s love of fashion may be genetic...her mother and grandmother were seamstresses. Her entrepreneurial instincts have early roots as well.

“Growing up, I was naturally entrepreneurial. I had a stand at the local farmer's market starting when I was about ten years old, selling handmade jewelry and accessories,” Melissa recalls.

“Of course, starting a full-scale fashion business is very different. My background in the corporate world was good preparation for the business side of things. Diving into the opaque world of fashion has been the biggest challenge; many vendors and factories don't have websites and you really need to find them through word-of-mouth. I have asked so many people, especially other female fashion entrepreneurs, for advice. I have found an extremely supportive community.”

Gradually, Melina has come to understand the wisdom of asking for help from this community.

“When I first started Keaton, I would spend hours creating content for social media or drafting e-mails to advisors and investors. I became frustrated that I wasn't progressing fast enough,” she says. “I've shifted my mindset to bring customers and advisors on the often messy startup journey with me. I'll share behind-the-scenes content rather than perfectly edited photos, or ping advisors with a few topical questions when I need help instead of waiting to have the perfect answer ready. At first, this approach made me feel more vulnerable, but over time, I've realized that letting people see the imperfect reality can be very helpful, and really enables me to get feedback early and make adjustments accordingly.”

“I'm motivated to help female founders because I want to give back to our community,” Melina says of joining The F Project. “I have held countless (hundreds) of coffee chats and calls with founders to help build Keaton. I want to pay it forward by serving as a mentor to new businesses and a partner to like-minded businesses.”

Katelyn Murphy-McCarthy

Katelyn is a writer and editor specializing in creative nonfiction. She comes from a long line of entrepreneurs, and loves hearing and sharing the stories of women who are making a difference.
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