in her shoes

The Woman Teaching Corporations to Do Good Things

Susan McPherson believes in dressing with a conscience.

Photo: Gabriela Herman
Photo: Gabriela Herman

You might be skeptical when you hear the words “corporate social responsibility” but Susan McPherson is here to change your mind. As the founder of McPherson Strategies, her job is to help big business enact positive social change. She considers herself a matchmaker, pairing good people with one another so they can do good things together. For example, she’s currently partnering with NARAL to educate companies on the relationship between reproductive rights and women’s economic empowerment. McPherson Strategies is also working with Dell to ensure they hit their 2030 sustainability goals, and working with Gender Spectrum to help companies apply a non-binary, gender-inclusive lens to their businesses.

After studying broadcast journalism at Boston University, McPherson began her career at USA Today as a researcher before pivoting to sales and marketing. Eventually she wound up at Fenton Communications, where she led their corporate responsibility practice. She founded her own company in 2013 and counts Tiffany & Co., Dell, and Intel as some of her clients.

The Cut caught up with her at The Wing, one of her many meeting spots, where McPherson talked about her love of bright colors, why she believes in a good bargain, and how she aims to look inspiring, warm-hearted, and generous.

On her everyday shoes: I don’t really have a go-to pair! It changes almost every day of the week depending upon what’s on my calendar. But if I had to choose my favorites for running around, I love my Jil Sander ankle boots or Eileen Fisher patent-leather platform loafers.

On high heels: I’m extraordinarily petite — 5 feet to be exact — so I certainly benefit from a few extra inches. I’ve always loved wearing heels, but after years of running marathons and recovering from foot surgeries, my feet tend to be much happier in flats. I do bring out the heels for dates, special occasions, or when giving major presentations or speeches.

On big meetings: I feel most confident in a brightly colored dress and my favorite perfume, Comme de Garçons Lily.

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On her lack of desk shoes: I don’t have a dedicated desk as I’m often bouncing around different meetings in the city. I’ll work from home, at coffee shops, or at co-working spaces like The Wing. So I can’t stash any shoes but I do carry pairs just in case. In the summer, I’ll often bring my Robert Clergerie sandals in my bag for nighttime events.

On evening events: I’m a sucker for dresses! I’ll wear a DVF, Theory, Vince, or Pink Tartan during the day with casual flats from Stuart Weitzman or Claudie Pierlot velvet sneakers. And then I’ll carry with me my Jimmy Choo 70 mm suede pumps (purchased proudly on consignment at Eva’s in Brooklyn) and do the switch right before arriving at my destination.

On Mondays: If I’m meeting with my team and not seeing clients, I will wear my AG skinny jeans, a chunky cashmere sweater, and ankle boots or my velvet sneakers. I like to keep it comfortable but still want to love what I’m wearing.

On who she dresses for: I try to dress in bright, comfortable clothes as I think it helps project a sense of warmth and accessibility when I go to meetings. We see our clients as partners — people who we roll up our sleeves with while solving problems together. When I’m presenting, I like to keep it colorful and will typically wear a dress. My vibe is all about optimism and inspiring businesses, individuals, and nonprofits to step up to make the world a better place. What I wear helps emphasize that message.

On corporate responsibility and fashion: People often don’t think about how, by whom, or with what materials their clothes are made. It can be tempting to want to just buy the cheapest sweater you can find, but I push myself to buy clothes that I know are made ethically and sustainably. There are a lot of ways to be more conscious in terms of our shopping, including asking brands to do more to eradicate child labor in their supply chains.

We worked with Participant Media on the action campaign for The Price of Free, an eye-opening documentary about child labor that you can watch for free on YouTube. We also count The Tiffany & Co. Foundation as a client, and the company was one of the first luxury brands to stop selling anything made of coral. Certainly, that taught me to be far more mindful when purchasing jewelry.

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The Woman Teaching Corporations to Do Good Things