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Fashion Entrepreneur Kareth Harley Shares Her Passion for Taking Women from Work to the Social Scene

by Jeroslyn Jovonn

Photo: Poise Ann

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Kareth Harley faced many challenges when she made the decision to open her clothing company, Poise Ann. But through her hard work ethic, perseverance, and personality, she was able to create an online clothing store that enables women to transition from work to social scenes with confidence and style. 

21Ninety spoke with Poise Ann's founder about the inspiration behind the clothing company and some of the challenges she faced as an entrepreneur, among other topics. She even gave some quality advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs and fashion lovers. 

Read on below to learn more about Poise Ann. 

  • 21N: What inspired you to create Poise Ann?

Kareth Harley: Poise Ann was inspired by the concept of having our inner purpose come through everything we do and being true to every moment of life. Often times people get stuck in a 9-5 mindset and that’s dangerous to our innate talents. We should be fashionably available for every opportunity that presents itself. I wanted to create a clothing store so we can be prepared to create our own realities. 

I chose the name Poise Ann because women have so much poise in the workplace regardless of being faced with racial and gender microaggressions, raising their families, balancing their social, and love life. These same women aren’t just handling work well. They’re dominating. My middle name is Ann which was passed down to me from my mother, Dr. Sharon Harley. I’ve picked up traits from her that equipped me for entrepreneurship. 

The phrase Poise Ann sounds like the word “poison”. Which is traditionally known to have a negative connotation. I’d like to change this and share a positive light similar to melanin. One drop is so powerful. The Poise Ann girl she impacts any environment she enters. She commands attention with her presence. 

Photo: Poise Ann

  • 21N: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced with starting your clothing store, and how did you work to overcome them?

KH: When I started Poise Ann, I gave myself unrealistic deadlines and I felt so defeated. People will give up if they don’t accomplish something in a given deadline. I had to be disciplined but also kind to myself. I gave myself time for growth. 

I struggled to find clothing vendors. Once I researched the fashion industry, I gave myself time to travel, network, go to tradeshows and network so I could get connected to the right people and businesses. It was hard to get accepted as a business owner when I first started because I didn’t have the business history especially with no experience in the fashion industry. What did stand out was my work ethic, perseverance, and personality. Although I didn’t have clothes at the time, I had a polished site, business cards and I was prepared to talk on certain topics. People were impressed with what I brought to this table. Now I have plenty of business cards and contacts in various cities that I can call for a reference. 

Photo: Poise Ann

  • 21N: When did you know you wanted to work in fashion?

KH: After I graduated from Howard University I got my first professional job in corporate America so I needed a wardrobe that would accommodate this shift as a working professional. My friends and coworkers would make plans after work hoping to make the most after the 5 pm workday however none of us wanted to be seen in our dreadful work clothes. We would either change outfits or completely cancel plans. 

As I got acclimated to my new lifestyle I realized this couldn’t go on. I felt like we lived double lives. I couldn’t find anything that channeled my inner “Olivia Pope” in the office without having me look like one of the “Golden Girls” at happy hour. I instantly saw the need for apparel that can transition us from professional to social scenes. I began to research the industry, plan, and save. 

Many clothing stores are disconnected with what young women want to wear to work and the evolving industries that we’re in. When I select clothes for Poise Ann, I keep in mind a varying professional range. I think of entrepreneurs, media personalities, consultants, teachers, lawyers, makeup artists, etc.

Photo: Poise Ann

  • 21N: Are there any life mantras that you live by?

KH: “My mission is bigger than me”: We’re supposed to be of service to our community. The opportunity we have today was paved by those who came before us. Every decision we make impacts others and will impact the next generation so we have to choose wisely. We have to think about what legacy we want to leave. 

A great spiritual advisor Dr. Tia Rusan from Divine Spine Wellness shared with me “Abundance is a byproduct of love and passion” this instantly stuck with me. When we do things with love we’re more inclined to live a more fulfilled life. Also, we have to understand to set boundaries for things that don’t serve us. I used to be such a people pleaser and it was so draining to show up for things that were well outside of my boundaries. Since I’ve launched Poise Ann, I have less free time so I have to be more intentional with my time. 

Photo: Poise Ann

  • 21N: Who inspires you?

KH: I’ll try my best to keep it short because I could write a novel. My mom, Dr. Sharon Harley inspires me. She’s a real renaissance woman. Just when I think I’ve discovered of all her talents she pulls another one out of her sleeve. She always reminded me of Claire Huxtable. But she’s brilliant in her own right. She’s an OB/GYN and businesswoman specializing in Anti-Aging medicine. She has owned her private practice in Atlanta for over 30 years. 

I watched her leave work all hours of the day and night. Her outfit of choice was usually a skirt suit but in my eyes, I saw a cape. She even looks nice when she wears scrubs. Not all doctors have this same elegance. She’s my hero and saves my life to this day. She reminds me that everything is possible and everything I imagine is possible. She was one of the inspirations behind Poise Ann. 

  • 21N: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs? 

KH: Accept and embrace failure. Entrepreneurs are constantly learning and growing. Often people stop once they see a sign of failure. Failure is part of the learning process. Every failure gives you the opportunity to learn a lesson. 

It takes faith. You have to pick yourself up without validation from people, society, social media, etc. during the growth process. Be kind to yourself and do the work.  Most people don’t pursue their passion because they want to see the end before taking the first step. Show up. Say yes. Trust yourself. It takes faith to be courageous.

Focus and flow. There is so much to do in entrepreneurship as well as uncertainty. It’s easy to get anxiety when you have a neverending to-do list. I think it’s important to focus on goals and learn how to flow with what you can’t control. 

Photo: Poise Ann

  • 21N: What is something you would like to see more women do to support each other?

KH: I want women to compliment each other. There are hidden talents in all of us that are waiting to be revealed. We’ve been programmed to be in competition with each other but we’re supposed to collaborate. I want women to recommend a woman-owned business to other women. We all know a woman-owned business that is killing it and we should be linking them with a friend, family member, classmate, coworker, etc. Both ends of the spectrum will benefit from this relationship, there’s just a missing link. 

I want women to tell other women “I believe in you”. You never know if your words can be the sign she needed to feel good enough to step into her greatness. There were so many times a friend shared this with me and that was simply all that I needed. I make sure I extend this with others. It’s such a small and powerful act of kindness. 

Photo: Poise Ann

  • 21N: What excites you most about being a part of events like Summit21?

KH: When I launched Poise Ann, I made a vision board filled with people who resonate with the brand and have now made their way to the Summit21 lineup. The day I found out I would be a vendor I looked at all of the pictures on the vision board and thought this is actually possible. I don’t have to know how but I trust that it is. 

Being a part of Summit21 lets me know I’m on the right path. Also as an Atlanta native, I’m thankful for an opportunity to build my brand and network in the city I love. 

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