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A Lesson On Courage with Payton McGriff

Voice Lessons Podcast

Release Date: 04/22/2020

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Led by a calling that she couldn’t ignore, Payton McGriff, founder of Style Her Empowered (SHE) has made it her mission to keep girls in school. Her company, which started as a project in undergrad, is now an award-winning startup with a scrappy team on three continents, in four cities and across many time zones. In this “Lesson in Courage” we discuss how she assembled it, why she believes it’s important for every woman to use their voice, and why recalibrating her personal values has been key to her success.


  • School uniforms have been shown to be one of the most cost-effective ways to keep girls in school around the world.
  • What the day in the life of a schoolgirl in Togo, Africa looks like and the obstacles girls there face towards education.
  • How Payton came into her first round of seed funding to open her doors.
  • Why and how SHE creates uniforms that “grow”.
  • Creating a zero-waste process.
  • Why it’s good to rely on creative input from others when developing a product.
  • Why fighting for your cause and standing behind what your beliefs will drive your ideas to the fullest.
  • Assembling an A-Team dynamic that empowers everyone.
  • *KPMG women's leadership study found that 80% - 86% of women report that when they see more women in leadership, they are encouraged and they can get there themselves.
  • Finding your voice through adversity and articulating your values.
  • How to create thoughtful, circular systems to expand your impact even further.
  • Creating a holistic space for women through courageous pursuits that resemble the natural cycles of our environment.
  • Solving problems based on listening.
  • Women lead from a place of empathy and community because we often feel excluded.


(7:54) About six months after we provided our first group of girls with new school uniforms, we had 65 girls sponsored and the majority of them had grown out of their school uniform just months into the school year. So we wanted to create a well-tailored dignified uniform that could grow up with these girls and didn't become a repeat barrier to their education.

(8:38) We worked at the university that I graduated from with students to try to get the first prototype working that expands and we tried it on our girls in Togo and it just wasn't something they liked. So we honestly tabled the idea for quite a while because we didn't want to impose a product that our girls were not interested in. And then it was about a year later, we looked back at the uniforms and realized there was still some potential there.

(9:00) And after about a year and a half of failed attempts at creating a dress that can expand, we came up with the Xi uniform and it grows six sizes a foot in length. And because we know that environmental impacts impact women and girls at a much greater rate, we wanted to create a product that was really truly sustainable and circular and thought about the full process

(12:22) There have been moments of burnout during the journey that I think every startup encounters, but it all comes back to just the incredible people that we work with and serve in Togo.

(15:53) When I stepped off that ledge into SHE, I had to really meet some incredible people that could help me select the metrics I measured my life by very intentionally. Because I think that is all of the training that you don't get in entrepreneurship classes or programs or competitions.

(17:50) I think the fact that we started with something tangible, like a uniform, felt actionable and that was, ever-evolving and wanting to do more, perhaps there is more courage associated with it.

(18:34) It's really how you bridge that gap between the first year and really proving your concept.

(19:09) There's this quote I love that says talent is equally distributed. Opportunity is not. And so it was just apparent to me that I am someone who really has benefited from a ton of privilege in my life. And so that is on me to start to dismantle the systems that I have benefited from and to start to really redistribute opportunity in an equitable way. Because if I, someone who's benefiting from privilege, am not doing it, nobody's going to and we have to be a huge part of that conversation.

(22:58) I think there's absolutely a such thing as feminine leadership. I think it's very much community-based and from a source of empathy and values. I think the conversations that I have with women leaders are very much centered around all stakeholders so that it's not just your customers, it's your employees. There's just a real thoughtfulness and a real care in feminine leadership. And I think that's because we have experienced a system that's not working for us all of the time.

(20:42) Having a strong conviction for the problem and a truly deep passion for wanting to solve it I think is always been a successful first step for me.

(24:05) It's to create a circular system where girls have access to education and skills training and adult women who've never been able to access the classroom, have access now to education and employment development. So it's these two pieces really serving each other and expanding the impact and doing that all in a way that benefits the environment and creates thoughtful circular systems.