News & Events

Hollywood Comes to Owen

Jul 23, 2016
Girls and women in business find support from actress Reese Witherspoon

By Ryan Underwood

Imogen Roberts, Vanderbilt MBA, interviewing Reese Witherspoon at Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management.

Reese Witherspoon gives a talk to an intimate gathering of students in Averbuch Auditorium at the Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management. Photo by Joe Howell

Students regularly fill Averbach Auditorium for talks and visits from CEOs, entrepreneurs, and other business leaders, but one new entrepreneur may have drawn listeners for a slightly different reason: star power.

In Nashville to open a flagship store for her new business, actress Reese Witherspoon spoke to members of Vanderbilt’s Women’s Business Association about the retail venture she launched in spring 2015.

While shooting a movie in Atlanta several years ago, she realized there were no stores that captured the uniquely Southern life of everything from tailgating to sprawling Sunday suppers. That was despite the evolution Atlanta was seeing in the middle of its culinary and artistic renaissance.

Today’s South

“I was being approached at that time by some big American brands to represent their businesses,” Witherspoon said. “But then I thought, ‘Why isn’t anybody telling these Southern stories?’”

After considering and abandoning the idea of creating a blog about the lifestyles of a new kind of cosmopolitan Southern woman, Witherspoon ultimately decided to launch a retail business that would appeal to women like her.

Thus was born Draper James, a kind of southern take on Tory Burch. With backing from Forerunner Ventures—the financing company behind brands like Warby Parker, Bonobos and Serena & Lily—Draper James (named for Witherspoon’s grandparents) launched online in May 2015 and opened its first store in Nashville’s 12th South neighborhood in October.

Seek new challenges

Sales from Draper James benefit Girls Inc., a national nonprofit that helps young girls set and achieve life goals. Before the visit, Owen students asked several elementary school girls what they would ask Witherspoon if they had the chance. Like the graduate school women, the girls wanted to know how the actress and mother does so much: running a Hollywood production company, launching a retail business, making blockbuster films, and having three children.

“I can’t sit here and say I have the typical life experience,” Witherspoon said, explaining that she has a supportive staff to help her manage everything. Even so, she said,
“If I lean in any more, I’m going to fall over.” The Nashville native said it’s important to keep seeking new challenges and opening different chapters in life. When things
do get rough, however, Witherspoon says she thinks back to advice given to her by a former NCAA softball coach who was helping her while working on a movie: “You’re allowed to have one bad inning, but you’re not allowed to have seven. So give yourself a minute to feel rotten, and then move on.”

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