“Girlboss” is practically a dirty word nowadays, but it’s a label worth revisiting for Sam Abrahart.
Even if you’re unfamiliar with Abrahart, you’ve probably seen her company, The Mayfair Group, on your Instagram feed—it’s the label behind those “Empathy” sweatsuits that have become so popular. And while at first glance, she could seem like another social media It girl, if you look closer, her story might give you hope for the next generation of leaders.
As a business owner, she’s philanthropic. As a boss, she’s empathetic. As an influencer, she’s intentional. But most of all, Abrahart is profoundly human. She carries around a leather-bound journal in case a mantra or affirmation strikes. (These may later end up on Mayfair’s Instagram grid or embroidered into apparel, sayings like “Being human is hard, please be kind,” “Burnout is real, take time to heal,” or my personal favorite, “BRB Sobbing.”) She meditates, she heals her inner child, and all the while, she runs a clothing-slash-social media brand with more than half a million followers. In her words, though, it’s not a brand. “We were a community first,” Abrahart tells ELLE.com. “That’s still how we see ourselves.”
Abrahart, 33, first started building said community from a place of loneliness. Her mental health worsened throughout college and in the years after, when she began working in the fashion industry in wholesaling, PR, and social media. Scared to accept a potential diagnosis, she stayed in denial for seven years, until one day in 2016, she couldn’t avoid reality any longer. So she left her job, moved to Arizona, and amid a breakdown, admitted it was finally time to get help.
“Through that year of total darkness, I would go online and be like, where is the community for this?” she says. She observed that, maybe, mental health conversations just weren’t being marketed as well as they could be. Although informative, there’s nothing particularly sexy about the content from clinical resources like the Mental Health Coalition or the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “I wondered, ‘What if we could take these messages but make it digestible, so people can see it in their daily lives and feel reassured?’” she says. Thus, The Mayfair Group was born. (The name, if you were wondering, comes from the London nightclub where her parents met.)
She started making her own graphics and posting them to Instagram from her guest room. The content was positive yet fashionable, presenting slogans like, “Your younger self would be so proud,” “Thanks for asking about my mental health,” or “You are so much more than your bad days,” in cutesy fonts or overlaid on Tumblr-esque photos. She designed posts that looked like others that went viral on the platform, images that lent themselves to being reshared. In 2018, the account started with 8,000 followers and ended the year with 300,000.
From the jump, Abrahart says the community was hyper-engaged. From strangers to prospective employees, she gets a lot of feedback from customers who tell her that other Mayfair followers were there for them. People in the comments check on each other and send encouraging messages. Some have even made friends because of Mayfair. Whether they meet on Instagram or in real-life, sparked because someone’s wearing Mayfair merch, it’s enough of a phenomenon that Abrahart started the “We Met Because of Mayfair” social series to highlight these meet-cutes.
It was actually “the community” that suggested Abrahart expand this social-only brand into merchandise. “They said, ‘You should put this on sweatshirts and sweatpants. We want to see these graphics on other things—make journals, make artwork for my room.’” So that’s exactly what she did. This hobby that began as her creative outlet quickly grew into a full-time job with a CEO title and 13 employees.
“All of a sudden, the things that I was doing came with deadlines,” she says. “I’m a big believer in living in my feminine energy and finding ways bring things to light and create. And now it was in a masculine system.” She means there were now red lines, small print, metrics, and strategy. It was the businessification of her self-expression. (To combat this, she says it’s been crucial to start new artistic endeavors and creative outlets—ones that are purely for joy, with no affiliation to her career.)
By the end of 2023, Mayfair’s retail was up 43 percent year-over-year; it’s now carried by major retailers Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, and Revolve. They’ve launched collaborations with Bella Hadid and DeuxMoi, among others. Plus, marketing isn’t too tough when your apparel is a favorite of A-listers like the Biebers, Jessica Alba, Vanessa Hudgens, Jennifer Lopez, and Selena Gomez.
“People can buy products anywhere,” Abrahart says. “But what are you getting for spending with a company? I think that is where great brands differ from good brands.” It was this ethos that led Abrahart to pour more of her resources into helping this community.
The Mayfair Group first partnered with MyWellbeing, a therapy organization with a vast network of providers, two years ago to help make mental health care more accessible to Mayfair’s community members. In 2024, they’re doing even more. As of January, Mayfair is offering free virtual group therapy sessions monthly. They’re calling it the Mayfair Mental Health Sessions.
In Mayfair’s early days, Abrahart admits she wasn’t the best leader. “I was still using my career and productivity to run from things,” she says. Accustomed to her corporate fashion past at retailers like Wildfox and Frasier Sterling, she remembers working long hours. “What I didn’t realize was I was unintentionally creating a culture where people felt like they had to work long hours because I was.” Although it was all she had ever known up to that point, she didn’t feel loyal to it.
“We had this really unique opportunity to redefine what work norms are and how they play into our life. COVID was the catalyst for that,” she says, citing remote work models and four-day workweeks. “Why are we abiding by these systems that are, I think, killing us all slowly?”
Ever a believer in astrology, Abrahart cites the current shift from the age of Pisces to the age of Aquarius, said to be a time of renaissance. “It’s about the crumbling of an old system,” she says. Mayfair honors shortened Summer Fridays year-round, and Abrahart is toying with the idea of a four-day work week. She wants to find ways to “honor rest like we do productivity” and encourages setting boundaries. When an employee takes a day off, she tells that employee that she’s proud of them for doing so.
“It’s a really empowering thing to not make your employees just leave everything at the door and mask the way that they’re feeling,” she says. “That’s the culture we’re trying to create.”
After all, she’s come to realize that no one’s ever really in the pre- or post-healing stage. “We’re all just in the messy middle,” she says. If she’s right, there’s no use in trying to get around it. And if we follow her lead, maybe we could all try to be okay in our own messy middles, while giving others the space to do the same—in a cute sweatshirt, of course.
Meg is the Associate Fashion Commerce Editor at ELLE.com where she researches trends, tests products, and looks for answers to all your burning questions. She also co-writes a monthly column, Same Same But Different. Meg has previously written for Cosmopolitan and Town & Country. Her passions include travel, buffalo sauce, and sustainability. She will never stop hoping for a One Direction reunion tour.