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Beyond the Pencil (Skirt): Meet Jessica, Founder of Modern Citizen

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Los Angeles native and Stanford graduate, Jessica Lee started her career at Gap Inc.’s e-commerce division and became intrigued with building a brand online. Fast forward to the launch of Modern Citizen, Jessica’s solution to providing a clothing line that is edgy and chic, but won’t break the bank. The latest collection, “Summer Love,” ensures you have the perfect dress to flounce and flirt in (and a necklace to mix it up). Read more to learn how Jessica took on the ultimate e-commerce branding project, and then reward yourself with some shopping.

Originally from:

Los Angeles, CA

Currently located:

San Francisco, CA


Stanford University, Communications

Brief overview of Modern Citizen:

Modern Citizen is an online shopping destination made for the modern woman. We’re creating the wardrobe that suits her full and on-the-go life—everything from a t-shirt to a gown, to each essential finishing touch. We recently shot a behind the scenes video that really captures our brand and mission.

What sparked the idea for Modern Citizen and what were the steps taken to make your idea into a reality?

I’ve always been fascinated by building a brand online, and I spent most of my early career at Gap Inc. focusing on e-commerce. Modern Citizen was born out of my interest in offering something I felt was missing in the marketplace—sophisticated, urban elegance with a distinctive edge, but at an accessible price point.

I wanted to elevate the taste level of fast fashion for modern women who have diverse personal styles and a strong sense of individuality. At Modern Citizen that means we strive to offer clothes that are cool and wearable, but still very chic. We always want to include an interesting element that also feels classic.

Before launching Modern Citizen I:

I was part of the strategy and business development team at Gap Inc.’s e-commerce division.

What was the “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to work in fashion?

I’ve always known I wanted to work in fashion. Through the years, I’ve realized success in this business requires a strong partnership between both the creative and the analytical. I feel very lucky to be able to flex both sides of the brain every day.

Office Style

Your office style in a few words:

Elegant and understated, with a hint of irreverence.

Style icon:

Mélanie Huynh who is a former French Vogue editor and now stylist.

Favorite up-and-coming designer?

Simone Rocha. Her clothes are modern and strong, but with a fun, youthful voice.

Describe San Francisco style in a few words:

Very laid-back and unassuming. While it’s not considered a fashion capital, I admire that people clearly feel comfortable in their own skin and that shows in the way they dress.

Which city best describes your personal style?

Just given the sheer diversity, I’d have to say New York City.

If you could stock your closet with three designers, who would you choose?

I love designers who have really signature, striking pieces that you can mix-and-match effortlessly with more foundational items like what we offer at Modern Citizen. My go-tos are 3.1 Phillip Lim, A.L.C. by Andrea Lieberman, and Isabel Marant.

Office Lifestyle

As an entrepreneur and founder, what does a typical workday look like? How many people are on your team?

We’re a tiny team that makes a lot happen with a little. As a young company, I think it’s important to keep our vision clear and deliver on it consistently. Every day presents a new challenge, which is equally exhausting and exciting.

Where do you look for design inspiration? Do you design the clothing?

It sounds cliché, but our merchandising process is inspired by the things we encounter every day. We deliver a new assortment every month—so sometimes an idea for a collection starts with a single photograph or swatch of fabric that captures our attention, and it organically builds from there.

What is the process for taking your inspiration and turning it into a piece of clothing for sale on Modern Citizen?

Once the overall theme is decided, we typically run through the must-haves, whether it’s a particular silhouette or color combination. We make it a point to only assort pieces we feel really suit our brand. We have a high bar for what makes it into the final collection.

Your latest collection is Summer Love. Can you describe the woman you envision wearing these pieces?

It’s for our core customer who’s looking for more fun, feminine options this summer. We made sure to include separates that mix-and-match together, as well as a few standout dresses for events where she might want to make a subtle impression.

Work Life Integration

Morning routine:

E-mail, gym (on a good day), and probably a few too many iced coffees.

Fashion magazine(s) of choice:

I love and read them all, but my favorites would probably be Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire. Though not solely fashion-focused, Vanity Fair is interesting and smart—which is fantastic when you’re in a curious mood.

Favorite style blogs:

My favorite blogs are from girls I’m honored to call friends who really have such a distinct point-of-view on fashion—Anh Sundstrom of 9to5Chic and Blair Eadie of Atlantic-Pacific.

San Francisco brunch:

Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, so you can sample a bit of everything

San Francisco romantic date dinner:

Baker & Banker

Next place on your travel list:

Southeast Asia—Vietnam, Cambodia, and Bali (Indonesia)


Best piece of advice ever received:

You make your own luck.

My mentor:

All of the wonderful and intelligent women I’ve had the honor to work with, and of course my Mom—the most dynamic and humble entrepreneur that I know.

In 10 years:

I hope for happiness and contentment, whatever that might mean.

Career wisdom for young professional women:

I think Steve Jobs simply put it best:

You’ve got to find what you love….Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

Check out all of Jessica’s remarkable journey on her Levo 100 Profile!

Photo editing by Pinsi Lei


Entrepreneurship #Beyond The Pencil Skirt Fashion #Role Models
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Join the conversation:

"I hope for happiness and contentment, whatever that might mean." I always look forward to the new beyond the pencil (skirt) pieces. I love how Jessica's focus for the future is on happiness and contentment but that she leaves it open to be defined by where her open ended journey might take her! Love that! Reminds me of Amanda's go with the flow piece!

I say it every week but Beyond the Pencil Skirt just continues to amaze me. Jessica seems like such a put together, well thought out women who knows what she wants and what she needs to do it make it happen. I loved getting a look inside her brain! I also love the slideshow feature, perfect touch!

As someone who is not familiar with the behind the scenes of fashion brands, it's really interesting to see how one starts.

Elana Gross
Elana Gross

I really love Jessica's description of her team & work day, "As a young company, I think it’s important to keep our vision clear and deliver on it consistently. Every day presents a new challenge, which is equally exhausting and exciting." This explanation provides great advice for aspiring entrepreneurs & startup team members! Another great BTPS!

Love the post Kathryn! Definitely having closet envy right now.

I love her perspective on doing what you love & her style is oh so fabulous!

I actually like "Beyond the Pencil Skirt" as a business name! That's what brought me to this article. Well if you won't use it ;,)

I like Beyond the Pencil Skirt, but I would like a wider selection of industries represented.

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