Equipped with an aim to help women of all ages to navigate challenges in the corporate world, discover their passion and live balanced and fulfilling lives, Elissa James launched her website irislillian.com and brand: Iris Lillian.
Elissa James was a corporate lawyer in the UK and Australia for over a decade. She loved her work but she felt she could achieve more if she put all her energy into a solo venture. An unexpected move to Hong Kong motivated her to reflect on her life and experiences in the corporate world.
“I could write an HBO sitcom about the hilarious, enlightening, disempowering and downright nasty experiences I tackled during my decade in the corporate world.”
She decided it was time for a change.
Although it is broadly a lifestyle platform, Iris Lillian showcases fashion and inspiring females and entrepreneurs. One of the key offerings for readers is a list of weekly time-saver tips to provide women with a quick read over their lunch breaks while they search for their next outfit, holiday destination or travel itinerary.
The New Savvy: How did you come up with the brand name “Iris Lillian”? Is there a special meaning behind this name?
Elissa: It’s my grandmother’s name. She was the quintessential “English Rose” but with kickass style, a no-fuss attitude and a pioneering spirit. In the 60s she emigrated from Ireland to the harsh Australian outback with three small children and she took it all in her stride. She was also a great businesswoman and we shared a penchant for fashion.
The New Savvy: Why did you launch Iris Lillian and what are its unique selling points?
Elissa: Women still face roadblocks in the workplace and in business because, structurally and culturally, it doesn’t vibe for us yet. I didn’t have anywhere to go for advice about navigating the tricky situations women face in the workplace, and neither did my friends.
For example, how to prep for pay rise discussions, what the heck am I going to wear to my interview, how to stop being a chronic people pleaser, when to take a chill pill, why is networking so awkward, how to back yourself and conquer Imposter Syndrome, dealing with unwanted advances from male colleagues, and responding to questions like, “so, when are you popping out your first kid?”
When I was clocking between 80 and 100 hours a week as a corporate lawyer, I often thought to myself “…imagine what I could create if I took my unique skill set and put all my time into something that was my own.” That was the seed, and it grew.
Enter Iris Lillian, serving up steaming hot pots of office-fresh, candid, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth, practical career advice.
From Anya Hindmarch in London to CEOs in Australia, from executive chefs in Hong Kong to social enterprise leaders in Nepal: we share the career tips, styling secrets and work-life balance know-how directly from the real-life experiences of women in the corporate, creative, education and health industries, as well as female entrepreneurs around the globe…all hustling as we speak. Iris Lillian is the first light-hearted webzine for the sophisticated, modern goal-getting woman.
The New Savvy: What are some challenges you faced when you started Iris Lillian?
Elissa: I knew nothing about running a website! My IT skills were woeful and I had probably spent an hour (max) on Instagram in my life. I had to upskill on a raft of new skill sets very, very quickly!
Additionally, it was difficult in the beginning because we had just moved cities and I was juggling other projects in Sydney and London. At that time, I decided to let Iris Lillian have the back seat while I set goals for business development, content creation and up-skilling on the side. With the completion of my projects, it is full steam ahead.
The New Savvy: How do you handle criticism?
Elissa: Constructive criticism is a gift. When I started Iris Lillian I was constantly asking for feedback…I still am! Knowing what your readers want, like and don’t like is the key. It’s obviously nice when you receive positive feedback, but I am most grateful to those who give me flat-out honest feedback, even if it’s brutal. This is the most valuable advice. Some feedback can be heartbreaking but it’s the fastest path to growth and improvement.
The New Savvy: Can you share three habits which make you successful?
- I’m organized – I live for lists and spreadsheets. Brightly coloured lists cover every piece of free wall space in my office, across the fridge and on the back of the toilet door.
- I’m a realist – If I can’t do something myself, I’ll find someone who can.
- When I get too bogged down in the detail, I flick the chill switch by going for a run, practising yoga or calling my family for a chat.
The New Savvy: How do you make decisions?
Elissa: If I am making big decisions, I would gather as much information as possible, list the options, undertake a cost/benefit analysis for each, test my conclusions with a few people (usually my hubby and my hiking buddy) and sleep on it.
The New Savvy: Do you have any career tips for women who wish to become entrepreneurs?
Elissa: I wouldn’t advise becoming an entrepreneur just for the sake of it. If you have a great idea with a point of difference, you’re prepared to work harder than you ever have (and you would marry that idea if it were a person) then go for it.
Start slowly, save your pennies, identify your competition, and learn, learn, learn. It’s not cheap. The only reason I am able to work on Iris Lillian full time is that of my husband’s support.
Embracing Fashion And Travel Goals
The New Savvy: Can you give us a tip or two on how to dress fashionably professional in the workplace for today’s modern women?
Elissa: My mantra: “Steer clear of plain black suits and embrace your femininity.” Start with a well-tailored pencil skirt or pair of wide leg trousers – oversized is the look du jour. Pair with a silk top or a pure cotton blouse.
Right now, my go-to outfit is navy wide leg cotton trousers and a white silk top with oversized cuffs (it’s all over the Iris Lilian Instagram feed if you’re interested). Blazers and light coats in various colours and shapes are perfect for showing a little flair and insuring against overzealous office air-con. I also love a statement red lipstick.
The New Savvy: Where is your favourite place in the world and why?
Elissa: A few years ago my husband and I lived apart because his job was in Sydney and mine was in London. It wasn’t an easy time so, every so often, I would steal off to Paris. There is a café on Rue Vieille du Temple: I used to sit outside in the sun for hours watching the world go by. It’s my happy place.
The New Savvy: What is the right financial mind for women when it comes to budgeting for their travels?
Elissa: To actually set a budget. That’s what I usually fail to do. But, I’m getting better at it. I would refer to The New Savvy when I need some useful references.
The New Savvy: What are some things you would like to learn financially?
Elissa: I would like to learn more about structured investments and to keep up-to-date on changes to tax treaties which impact me. I would also love to work on an IPO – I think it would be really interesting and exciting! #nerdalert
Pushing Limits One Step At A Time
The New Savvy: What are some patterns you’ve noticed over the years about women at work or in business, and things they could be doing better to advance their careers?
Elissa: Speaking quite generally, and not just in relation to women, in my opinion, we tend to make a few major career limiting moves (me included!)
a) We don’t ask.
For example, many women find it difficult to negotiate salaries or to ask for pay rises because they don’t want to be labelled “difficult” or “money hungry”. These feelings are social constructs. We need to ignore them and just ask.
b) We aim to please. Always!
This can lead to over-commitment at work at the expense of important things like networking and…life.
c) We are great at advocating for others but not for ourselves.
For example, if we don’t tick every requirement of a prospective role we immediately pass on the opportunity, assuming we won’t get it. In these circumstances, we need to back ourselves, apply for the position and figure out how to do it later.
d) Doing the laundry.
When women are responsible for all things domestic they end up being the parent who, for example, has to dash out of the boardroom if the child is ill. “This is the single biggest dynamic limiting women’s careers”, according to Georgina Dent who recently featured on irislillian.com. We need to start splitting the household chores 50/50.
The New Savvy: Who is your role model, and why?
Elissa: Hmmm, I don’t have one role model. I look up to many people for different reasons. I admire my sister for being the kindest and generous person I know.
There are two very senior women I have worked with; one a judge and the other a law firm partner.
Both embrace their femininity despite working in dreadfully male-dominated industries. They are true pioneers paving the path for the rest of us and for this I will always be grateful. Oh, and HRH Queen Elizabeth II – she’s 90 and still works every day of her life!
The New Savvy: If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? Why? What would you change?
Elissa: Absolutely. The only reason I am where I am today is that of the path I took. I loved studying for my Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Commerce degrees.
I built up discipline and a valuable skill set by working as a commercial lawyer and I will continue to practice as a lawyer because it’s my passion. If I could change one thing, it would be to have kept singing! When I was 19 I lived in Italy for a year and won a singing competition. The single was submitted to MTV Italia. It was SO much fun.
The only reason I am where I am today is because of the path I took.
The New Savvy: What is a skill you think all women should learn and why?
Elissa: Girl, boy, woman and man – everyone should get their meditation on.
The New Savvy: Give us a parting quote!
Elissa: Can I give two? It’s your obligation to be happy. Fortune favours the brave.Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in