This is style story 7 of the Real Style Project. To learn more about the Real Style Project and what it's all about, click here.
When I grew up, girls were taught to be
strong, individual and independent.
These are such incredible things for girls of all ages to learn,
but when you combine that with the belief that we need to be stronger and better than the women around us, all of those positive qualities quickly turn into negative ones.
A movement has started where women from my generation are starting to fight back against that competition mindset, and turning to a collaboration, or togetherness, mindset. We are seeing more and more female-run businesses working together on different projects, but also more and more women joining forces to start a business together. The idea of not having to be completely independent, or alone in business, has captured so many women and I am both inspired and intrigued by this and I wanted to hone in on it through integrating a "friends in business" focus in the Real Style Project.
Entering into it's second year of business, FORT Architecture is one of Calgary's newest firms, but they have also made quite an impact! Before I started this next chapter of the Real Style Project, I was chatting with a friend in the industry and she said Fort already has a reputation of impeccable talent, ethics, and fresh perspective.
Started by three friends, Tara, Meghan and Landon, each with a unique eye and incredible skill-set, the trio decided to take a major leap of faith and leave their steady jobs at different firms to create FORT. One year after its launch, when you ask them how it all works with the 3 founders, they say it is seamless- projects are done both as a team, but also independently- allowing one another to be true to themselves, but the teamwork mindset creates unity and cohesion. They know that they can rely on one another to bring each project to completion in a beautiful way that is also unique and distinctive.
You may have noticed that there are three people on the FORT team, two women (Meghan and Tara) and one man (Landon). Landon, you are incredibly talented, you have a huge heart, and are a great source of support & love for those in your life. However, the Real Style Project is about the stories of our featured women, and here is where we focus on Tara & Meghan.
A couple months ago I asked people to nominate a woman that they thought was inspiring, encouraging and had a great sense of self-style. Within minutes I received a message from Meghan, nominating her friend and colleague, Tara. Meghan said that Tara is a "super mom" and an incredibly hard worker. I loved how Meghan took the time to nominate her friend and business partner, and to me, that spoke to the type of woman that both Meghan and Tara are, but also to the kind of friendship and working relationship that they have.
Both Tara and Meghan are a part of this new generation of entrepreneur moms- Knowing that they could have a career that they are passionate about without having to sacrifice having a home life with their husbands and kids, they really are doing it all, but also learning as they go.
Just to show you how hard these women work, and to give you a tiny glimpse into what their lives look like, here's a little background about the women:
Tara, 37, is a born and raised Calgarian and has been married to her husband for nine years and together they have two kids (2 1/2 years old and 5 years old). Tara went to Mount Royal where she received her Interior Design degree, and continued on to the U of C to complete her Masters of Architecture.
Meghan, 33, is also a born and raised Calgarian and has been married to her husband for five years, and together they have two children (1 1/2 years old and 3 1/2 years old). Meghan completed the two year Architectural Technologies program at SAIT, then went on to complete her 4 year Masters of Architecture at Dalhousie University.
As you can see, both Meghan and Tara have worked incredibly hard to get to where they are in their careers, but when you add in their desire to maintain a healthy & loving marriage and being a present & passionate parent, their plates and hearts are full. These are two women that you can look at and truly admire, and possibly even wonder "how do they do it all?" or think "she really has it all together!"- but I can tell you that both Meghan and Tara are honest and open about how difficult it can be, and that things aren't always as they appear on social media. This lifestyle that they have chosen is tricky to balance, requires a lot of energy (which there sometimes isn't much of), there is often a tug-of-war of love & resources, but yet their lives are full of things that they have chosen, that they cherish, and that they wouldn't give up for the world! Tara and Meghan recognize that they love where they are at, and will continue to work hard to keep it all going.
Tara describes her style in the same way that she describes her design style. "I am always drawn to modern takes on classics with a hint of edge. When shopping, I always look for unique details- I personally think this is something that makes a person look effortlessly stylish. You can just be wearing a t-shirt and jeans, but small unique details can make an outfit that much more put together. This is why I am a big believer in jewellery and it's ability to add personality to an outfit."
While Meghan tends to take a simple, minimalist approach in all aspects of her style, she says she likes a "layered and simple" look. "I'll wear a simple outfit with a couple of layers and pair it with some meaningful jewelry pieces; such as my grandfather's watch, my wedding ring, or a family necklace."
What motivates you?
Motivation to achieve and accomplish is a powerful thing, and we are hearing the question "what's your why?" over and over again. Meghan is motivated by her family. "I want to have a successful career that I'm proud of and live a balanced life not only as a boss, but equally as a mom and wife. I want my children to understand the joy I find in my career and how hard I work in all aspects of my life to attempt a balance."
For Tara, the idea of overcoming, or surpassing is a major motivator! "Surpassing expectations motivates me. This can be other people's expectations, but more often than not, it's my own. There is something incredibly rewarding in surpassing your own goals."
Growing up, Tara felt the pressure to be perfect and felt the immense weight of that expectation in much of what she did. But now, being more confident & comfortable with who she is, Tara knows that perfection isn't a goal, rather it is found in those rare moments where the stars align and everything is as it should be (for example, I look great, had an 8 hour sleep, met all my deadline, and my kids are bathed and in bed by 7:00). "We all have struggles, and perfection is an unnecessary pressure we have to stop putting on ourselves and on others."
Tara goes on to say that "the use of the word 'surpassing' also highlights the fact that I don't always believe in myself. Just like everyone else, I always have that 5-10% of doubt that creeps in and says 'I can't do it.' But the questions of "what it?" really is the motivator: what if we get that dream job, what if I can make that deadline, what if I can do it. For me, that's just enough to challenge and believe in myself."
Who, or what, has helped shape you?
As we go through life, we encounter people that help shape who we are. They are either a part of experiences that rock us to our core, or they build us up and encourage us to be our best.
Tara reflects on both of these scenarios.
Talking about her mom, Tara realizes just how influential her mom was in shaping her as a young woman, but also in her daily life. "I have never met someone so giving with her time or committed to her family. I wouldn't be where I am now without her support and willingness to help me. If I am lacking in confidence or belief in myself, she is definitely the person I go to for a pep talk. Even though our lives are very different (she was a stay at home mom, and I am a working mom), we recognize the toll that both roles take on mom. She is definitely my person that I lean on most for support when I need it...and offers the perspective that I need sometimes to step back and give myself a break."
When did you start dreaming about having your own company?
Tara: I have always dreamt about having my own company but lacked the confidence to follow through or doubted my abilities to just jump in and start a company from scratch. There is no question that I have always felt like I was destined for something bigger than whatever my work situation was, and that "what if" question would always pop up. As someone with very strong intuition, I have come to recognize these questions as forks in the road where the question arises because life tells me I need to make a change.
Meghan: I was on my second maternity leave and realized how quickly my kids were growing up. With a regular 9-5 job I was not seeing the flexibility that I wanted to be able to spend time with my family. Don't get me wrong, I probably work more than I did before, but it's flexible. Part of out agreement in partnering together was just that- if I wanted to walk my daughter to school mid week, it's not an issue. Beyond the flexibility, it was also a desire to have more ownership of my work."
How did you know you wanted to start FORT with your friends?
Meghan: I worked with both Tara and Landon for a few years and we all got along really well and worked very well together. Over some drinks, it came up that we were all searching for the next step in our careers and many of our goals were the same. We all bring a different skill to the table, but align perfectly with many of the others.
The biggest challenge in starting your company:
Meghan: One of the biggest challenges was getting up the guts to make the leap. It will always be the riskier and more difficult choice to own a small business, but the benefit has already out weighed the alternate. We have been very fortunate in our first year with the wonderful jobs that have crossed our paths. My other big challenge is balance. I am starting to get a groove of family/work/life balance, but when a large deadline comes around, I still struggle to manage it all gracefully.
Tara: Sometimes the biggest challenge is having confidence and comfort when you are knee deep in the unknown. That's why a partnership is really great- odds are that at least one of us has a positive outlook and is capable of stirring up some motivation when things are feeling tough or intimidating.
How do you split your time?
Tara: Splitting time is hard. I don't yet have a magic routine where I feel like I am always winning. I am trying hard to let go of the desire for perfection and realizing that's a fluid dance where sometimes things go right, and sometimes they don't. It's important to me that my family has a normal dinner and bedtime routine so that we have time to reconnect and check in. But the reality is that work is always waiting for me when bedtime is done and sometimes that's a hard pill to swallow. I don't want my kids to ever feel like I prioritize work above them, but sometimes on weekends I have to work outside of nap schedules and bedtime routines to meet deadlines. It's a constant juggling act, some weeks are great and some weeks are chaotic. I think the key is being open-minded and flexible. If you don't leave room for something to shift, rigidity is going to be the reason you feel like you are not succeeding at having it all."
Dreams and goals for the next three years:
Meghan: So many! 1. An office space: FORT is currently home-based but exploded at the seams with tile samples! 2. FORT to be known as a firm pushing the envelope in all aspects of design. 3. Collaboration. It's a relatively new term in the design world beyond large scale project and joint ventures. There is a trend towards these co-work movements, and out industry could use a little more peer collaborations. Everyone wins in the end.
A little bit about their friend...
Meghan: Working with Tara previously and now has been so much fun. I've never met anyone who is more thoughtful or considerate than she it. Tara is such a hard worker and always a team player. Not to mention she is extremely talented in her field or really whatever she puts her mind to. The decision to work with Tara and Landon was an easy one as they both are simply amazing all around.
Tara: Meghan is bold, driven and says it like it is. I appreciate and admire both her honesty and integrity. She is incredibly organized and always plans ahead in both our business and her personal life. I truly admire Meghan's confidence and it's what I would like to aspire to.
It is evident that both Meghan and Tara are passionate about their families, their work, and to being true to who they are and what is important to them. This includes maintaining a sense of self and being true to their own personal style. Both ladies looked through the Apostle jewelry and found some pieces that they loved and wanted to incorporate into the shoot.
Meghan: I was instantly drawn to the earrings for their beautiful green colour and simple brass detailing. They could easily be paired with an everyday outfit or something a little more formal. As I don't usually wear a lot of jewelry, I wanted to pair the earring with something delicate. I chose to layer two bangles to add a little texture to my outfit.
Tara: It's probably the architect in me, but I am always drawn to strong geometric jewelry and statement pieces. If I go with a simple outfit, I like the contrast of a bold piece of jewelry to offset the look. This typically leads me to opt for one piece of jewelry or mix scales- large earrings and no necklace, or a large necklace with small studs. I also feel that picking jewelry is a lot like picking home décor- it is the last item you put on or add to a room, and is the piece that can tie a look together. It's the small details that can add that special touch. I also feel strongly that as with home décor accessories, it's ok to change it up and not be tied to a particular style. Have fun and don't think about it too much!
There is a lot to learn from Meghan and Tara's style story, and I know we can all relate to something. Whether it's feeling an expectation of having to be perfect, the heart-felt desire for something more, the fear in taking a leap of faith, or maybe the struggles that come with balancing work, family and personal life.
We can all learn something from one another, and that is the purpose of the style stories told here in the Real Style Project. What do you take away from Meghan and Tara's story?
The photography from Meghan and Tara's style story was captured by Melanie from Grey Lily Photography. To learn more about Melanie and her work, click here.