MaryAnne Gucciardi is a proud Italian-American. Both of her grandparents are 100% Sicilian, and she remembers a fun childhood spent playing with cousins at her grandparents’ house in the North End, Boston’s Little Italy. Years later, after attending Harvard Business School, then starting and later selling a new business abroad, family and fun are still what drive her most.
Dragonwing girlgear is Gucciardi’s newest venture. As her daughter approached her “tween” years, Gucciardi watched her and her teammates changing from their practice t-shirts into their game jerseys — on the field, in front of everyone. They seemed too old to be so exposed, but many of them were still uncomfortable with bras. She immediately thought, “I can do something about that.”
Starting with the first sports camisole she developed, and extending to the nine other products in her line, Gucciardi is committed to a sustainable, high-quality product that is produced by laborers under ethical working conditions. She says Dragonwing girlgear is about promoting positive self-image for girls through quality, high-performing athletic gear.
We sat down with Gucciardi at her Cary, NC, home on one of the first blisteringly hot days of this summer.
What was it like going to an all-women’s college? I went to Wellesley College and I loved it. I’m a big promoter of girls-only learning. Every leadership position was filled by a woman. You have a ton of role models of people doing it in their own way and in a women’s way. When your hand is up you get called on. There is no one telling you you’re not good at math. It’s a very freeing environment.
Why did you choose your field of study? Like most children of immigrants, I had three career options: doctor, lawyer, and accountant. I did so badly in all those science courses, but then I took an economics course in my sophomore year and I just loved it. I ended up loading up on economics my last two years and majoring in it as well.
Tell me about your current work. When I started, I was just making a few hundred pieces for my daughter’s team, but as I got going and I got more into the business, it just became a bigger business and a life goal.
When you think about things for girls, performance wear can be too fashion-oriented for it to truly perform, or because it’s licensed the quality is not that good. Sometimes it’s not age appropriate, like bathing suits for 8-year-old girls don’t need padding and under-wire. A lot of things like that really bothered me. When do we start teaching girls they’re only about how they look and not what they can do with their lives? We don’t teach boys that.
Research shows today that eating disorders in girls start to present at 5 years old. That is unacceptable. When are we going to do something about this? I can do something small: making really, truly, excellent fitting garments for athletic girls that allow them to move freely and really perform.
What is your life like with Dragonwing girlgear today? Today we have 10 products. We have a few different types of bras depending on the coverage you like, a couple pairs of compression shorts, two pairs of leggings, a chill-weight long-sleeved shirt, and the camisole that started it all. We also have a hair accessory and a bag. All our products are made of high-quality fabrics, and manufactured in factories that make the best quality product — some items are made locally in North Carolina and others overseas. I always make sure to use fair labor practices because my grandmother worked as a piece-worker in Boston’s garment district. She was always treated fairly so it’s important to me that the factories we use treat their workers fairly and pay a sustainable, fair wage.
How do you balance work and the rest of your life? It helps that my business is focused on the soccer field and basketball court because I do some marketing there. I don’t like the word “balance.” I like: ‘What are my priorities, and do I struggle with meeting them?’ For me, family is always first, work is second.
What’s your proudest accomplishment? I haven’t gotten to it yet, but it will be giving people opportunities that are economically good and also flexible and sustainable, and teaching women and girls about business. I also feel very good about making good family choices. I have a great husband and great kids and I am proud that I lead my children to find their way.
What is a pressing issue that you’re concerned about for women in North Carolina right now? I would like to see more women and more girls involved in having their voices heard. That mans voting, working for a candidate, running for an elected position, or getting onto a board. It is so important that we have a critical mass of women running for and getting elected to office.
I dream of having another woman governor, and a legislature that’s equally represented with women. And with school board and county commissions, and all appointed positions, we need to be at the table to have our voices heard. Until we get there we are not going to be quite as effective, or be able to actualize our potential as women. I want equality in every sense of the word.
Of the Fortune 500 CEO’s, there are 23 women. They all played a sport. This cohort of girls now so active in athletics in 40 years will be in a position of being CEO’s. So I urge you all to go for the top office! C-suite. Don’t go for anything less, because you don’t have to. Women CEO’s will make businesses more profitable and more socially responsible. There is research that says businesses are 20% more profitable when they have women on the Board of Directors.
If you could have the ear of every young woman today, what would you tell them?: First, you can do anything, don’t let anybody tell you you can’t. Have some Teflon about everything. By teflon, I mean, let comments about things that aren’t important to you roll off. Every day is a gift, do something every day, have fun every day. Call your mother. And I want to tell people, “You’re enough. And we need you.”