Picture yourself in the 4th grade.

Are you looking up at your teacher as you hand in your math worksheet? Standing on your tip toes to reach the breakfast cereal?

Franci Girard (MBA 2016) wasn’t.

In the 4th grade, Girard hit her growth spurt and shot up to 5’9”, making her taller than all of her classmates and many of her teachers, and making it a challenge to find clothes that fit. In the years that followed, Girard grew into “the sixes” now standing proudly at 6’1’’ and the idea for the business she would one day start, a business that would give “Fashion Freedom for Tall,” was born.

From Wall Street to 5th Avenue

Girard’s journey to launching The Sixes, a fashion brand designed specifically for tall women, may have started way back in elementary school, but the road to launching the business took many twists and turns.

“I stood out like a sore thumb and was bullied terribly as a kid so it took time for me to feel confident in my appearance,” Girard explained. “I found my place and my confidence after I became an athlete.” Girard was not just any athlete either, her athletic ability and drive led her to a professional volleyball career in Europe. When the time came to make a change, Girard’s next step was off the court and onto Wall Street as a Prime Brokerage Associate at Goldman Sachs.

“While at Goldman Sachs, I knew I wanted something more entrepreneurial for my career,” said Girard. “Specifically, I had this passion for fashion, but I didn’t know how to channel it.”

To pressure test her interest instead of wondering “what if?”, Girard followed her instincts to jump into learning more about the fashion industry. After full days at Goldman, Girard attended Parson’s School of Design at night working towards her Associate’s Degree in Design. As she immersed herself in the world of fashion, Girard quickly learned where she fit. “I found myself asking professors, ‘How do these design decisions impact margins?’” she laughed, “and that provided me clarity. I wanted to be in fashion, but not as a designer.”

Adding HBS to Her Portfolio

Ultimately, Girard decided that business school was the right next step for her to build a career in the fashion industry.

“Around the time I left Parson’s, Alexandra Wilkis Wilson (MBA 2004) and Alexis Maybank (MBA 2004), co-founders of Gilt Groupe, had released their book By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop, and I had the opportunity to interview Alexandra. Learning more about what she gained from her experience at HBS inspired me to give business school a real look.”

Once Girard landed at HBS, she experienced what so many students do. “It was like drinking from a fire hose,” she remembered. “And I had a crisis of confidence looking at my experience and feeling insecure about wanting to pursue a career in fashion.” However, two elements of the HBS experience helped propel her forward in her fashion and retail career. One was the network of classmates she met who shared her passion for the industry and another was conversations with her career coach.

“Conversations with CPD around where my passion lies and how I could turn this into a career were very helpful both in validating my interests and opening my eyes to potential careers in fashion,” said Girard.

Business, but Make it Fashion

Inspired to work with innovative fashion companies within the industry, Girard began making connections. Through her efforts she was introduced to a venture backed technology company that built sustainable fashion businesses.

“I went into meetings with the management team hoping to learn more about their business, but in one of our conversations I was asked to pitch them on a brand that would fit within their model,” Girard said. Channeling her life experience going back to the 4th grade, Girard pitched them on an idea that had been brewing for years, a fashion brand that would cater to tall women and make them the center of the shopping experience.

Impressed, the team then gave Girard a choice - she could come work with them directly or they would support her in launching The Sixes. Girard was all in as founder and CEO, and the hard work of turning this idea into a reality was about to begin.

A Look Behind the Scenes

Take a look at The Sixes website now and you’ll see the stunning and polished product Girard has worked tirelessly to build since 2018. What you won’t see are the challenges she faced to get there.

“We live in a world of instant gratification and as high achieving people we expect results,” she reflected. “I knew building my business was going to take time, but I don’t think I fully appreciated quite how long it was going to take. Ultimately I’m grateful for that time though because it allowed us to build a company that is connected with our customers and is operationally sound.”

On top of building out the business plan and managing manufacturing delays, one of the other challenges Girard faced as a new CEO was deciding what she was going to hire for and what she would do herself. Wanting to know every aspect of the business left her splitting her time between factory floors, design meetings, setting the strategy, and crunching the numbers. “I’m happy that I was there as the production manager when we started out, but I had to determine the best use of my time and skill sets going forward.”

Entrepreneurship has also pushed Girard out of her comfort zone in regard to how she would define and achieve success. “Up until this point in my life, I had a seek and destroy mentality for my goals, my career, and my education,” she said. “I understood the path or the steps needed to get where I wanted to go. But entrepreneurship is the Wild West!” From the simplest things like deciding what time she was going to wake up in the morning to the big picture of setting company goals, Girard was, and is, in The Sixes driver’s seat which is an exciting and at times overwhelming place to be.

What has helped her to achieve success with The Sixes and build a brand she loves is a strong support system. “It’s important to have people in your life who have walked this path and people who know you really well. I’m blessed to have a network of entrepreneurs who are at the same stage, entrepreneurs who have done this before, and family and friends who have watched me grow in my career and supported me on this journey.”

Commit to the Entrepreneurial Journey

When asked for any advice Girard would share with fellow alumni and students considering entrepreneurship, she had four powerful words – “Commit to the journey.”

“You hear all the time that entrepreneurship is made up of really high highs and really low lows and I’ve felt that,” she said. “It can be hard to remember how good the high feel, so I write them down. On days that I’m struggling or my team is having a hard time, I remind myself it’s not always like this.”

Customers flocking to The Sixes for the fashion and fit they crave would agree – Girard’s commitment to her journey and the journey of The Sixes has not fallen short.