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Michele Dando

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Michele Dando is the director of sourcing, technical design and compliance at Soft Surroundings, a St. Louis-based women’s apparel, home and beauty company. Michele graduated with a degree in textile and apparel management with a focus on manufacturing from University of Missouri in 2001. Michele started her career at May Company; from there she spent time in Boston working for both Appleseed’s and Talbots. St. Louis called Michele back, where she joined Soft Surroundings. 

During her time at Soft Surroundings, she has been a part of the rapid growth from a catalog-based company to a multi-channel company that includes internet and retail. Michele has grown the technical design team, created the testing and compliance department and led the expansion of the sourcing department at the St. Louis headquarters and Shanghai office. Michele’s time traveling the world to all points of production for Soft Surroundings rounds out her expertise of the supply chain lifecycle. Michele is also actively involved in working with college students who are studying to enter the apparel industry at Mizzou, Fontbonne University and Lindenwood University. Michele is married to Chris Dando, a fellow Mizzou graduate. They are parents to Mabel and Fiona.

HLM: Tell us a little about yourself and your day-to-day.
MD: I’m a highly organized person and have routines to keep myself balanced. My notebook is my best friend; if I write it down, I’ll remember it. I keep a personal notebook and a work notebook. For me it is a great tool to get me through the day. My day-to-day in the office is never the same. Running three teams and working with suppliers all over the globe, I spend my day helping solve problems. I like that no two days are the same for me; it keeps me on my toes and always learning.  

HLM: Who or what inspired you and why?
MD: India is one of the most inspiring places I visit. I first traveled there in college and now travel there for work. I can’t quite describe what it is; it’s the feeling, colors, people, food, history.

HLM: What are you most proud of in your career?
MD: Being a leader. I’ve had three leaders, previous supervisors, in my career who made an impact that has stayed with me and gotten me to this point. They helped guide my way of thinking to see that there’s not only one way or solution for any problem. I learned so much from these women who pushed me to grow and find my best self to navigate successfully through the working world of the industry.  

I knew I wanted to hopefully be that same leader to another. I’ve made great products and worked for great brands; however, the moments that I see I’ve impacted someone in a meaningful way are what make me proud and those days are the ones that keep me motivated.

HLM: Do you have a favorite fashion vice?
MD: Black. Simple, elegant, understated; I love it. I saw a quote years ago that said, “She always wears black, but she has the most colorful mind.”  

HLM: What are you most excited about going into the holiday? Any upcoming trends you would like to leak?
MD: I’m excited about two aspects of what’s coming up for holiday. The first is the “cozy movement” of every outfit being versatile in that it can be casual and fashionable. The other is the extravagant side of holiday fashions with over-the-top beading, fabrics, layers and more. It’s just amazing to see much more involved outfits and they’re so much fun. 

HLM: How do you juggle your professional career with your personal life?
MD: It is a constant balancing act; we live by our family Google calendar! Everyone has their own color so we know who needs to be where and when. When I’m in the office I squeeze every minute of the day so that I can take the evening to spend with my family. Often, I may have late evening calls with our teams in China or India; luckily, they are starting work right after my girls go to bed. My mom is a huge support in balancing my life; she picks up my girls three days a week from school. We all have dinners together those nights. The girls love having G-ma time during the week and it gives my husband and me a more flexible schedule to arrive home those days.  

HLM: What’s your advice to the next generation of female leaders?
MD: Don’t wait for your shot or big break. Be the architect of what you want it to look like, jump in and do it! Then go to your leaders ask for the position, the raise, the bonus. Often first comes the work, then the title and then the compensation.

HLM: What’s next in store for you, moving forward?
MD: Continuing to expand my knowledge of supply chains to better navigate the current climate around trade. We are at a breaking point of finding ways to make the apparel supply chain more agile. We’ve had a run of 20 to 30 years of relative stability around supply chains. It is now time to find new and better ways of working.

HLM: What’s your favorite quote?
MD: “To truly be kind to others, you must be kind to yourself.” –Tracy Flori, executive and leadership development coach, TrueWay Coaching.

Instagram:  @soft_surroundings