As a corporate lawyer who has built her career in the fashion space, Theresa McManus Becerril’s early years gave little indication of the industry she would ultimately come to know and love. A young Becerril was intent on proving to everyone, especially herself, that she could do anything she put her mind to, regardless of fitting a traditional gender role, but fashion was the farthest thing from her mind.
“I just always found myself doing things that girls in the ’70s were supposed to shy away from, and most of the time, my clothes paid the price,” the current senior director and corporate counsel at Chico’s FAS Inc. explains. “I camped in lean-tos and learned mountaineering, I had a paper route, I learned how to change the oil in my dad’s car, and how to fix stuff around the house. If my brother could do it, I wanted to do it, too. I really didn’t like being told I shouldn’t try to learn what he was learning just because it wasn’t ladylike or because it would mess up my clothes.”
This mentality wasn’t due to a lack of strong female role models in her family. Instead, it was because of the strong example they provided.
Becerril’s mother had fiercely advocated for her own right to go to college at a time when women were still generally expected to marry and stay at home, becoming the first woman in her family to earn a college degree. She maintained a successful teaching career while also raising her very active family and continuing her own post-graduate work, earning a master’s degree at night.
When Becerril was trying to figure out her own plans after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, she kept coming back to one of her favorite memories: her grandmother telling her that she should become a judge because she was so good at seeing all sides of an issue.
At the time, the only judges Becerril knew of were on television, and they were all men, so the idea that her grandmother believed she could be a good judge really startled her. It also got Becerril thinking about what she could accomplish with her life if she stopped listening to people that said “you shouldn’t” or “you can’t” because she was a girl.
“After working for a few years after college, I knew I wanted to continue my education, so I figured I’d go with what my grandmother had said and try law school,” she remembers. “I never looked back.”
Becerril built out an esteemed career at the iconic fashion brand GUESS? over nearly fourteen years where she was awarded several promotions. Initially taken onboard as the company’s intellectual property counsel, she felt lucky to discover that her general counsel was an amazing businesswoman and a strong mentor who would provide her the means to grow in a million different directions at once. She also found strong female role models throughout the organization to guide her through the fast pace and vagaries of the iconic fashion house.
“I learned everything at their feet,” she says. “We had such a small department that I was able to take on a lot of different areas very quickly, but I was always safe because I knew that I could seek any of these women out, be welcomed in, and figure out what I needed to do to help enable the business. I learned from them how it feels to know you are supported in your career and how to support others in their’s.”
Becerril worked on just about any issue that an in-house counsel can expect to encounter: intellectual property, contracts, acquisitions, corporate structuring, litigation, marketing, logistics, operations, and licensing. Her career growth also continues to expand to this day. She strongly believes that making yourself available for new kinds of opportunities is the key to building a fulfilling career. In fact, doing the same things over and over just wouldn’t make her happy, so she has always been on the lookout for the next skill or growth opportunity to add to her toolbelt.
Along the way, she began to appreciate the grace, self-confidence, and grit that the women who came before her had to hold onto in their everyday interactions to succeed in the business world.
The mentorship Becerril received at GUESS? has been paid forward. The senior director admits that a recent intern at Chico’s FAS likely got more than what she bargained for, but in the best possible way. “Our intern was on a rotation in our department, but I was grabbing any extra time that she had to help her learn the business considerations for contracts or to issue-spot for any project she was working on,” she explains. “If you’re going in-house, there is so much about the business that you need to learn to provide effective counsel, and I love to teach and pass along what I’ve learned over the years. I definitely hogged her time.”
While initially focused on franchising and marketing at Chico’s FAS, Becerril shifted focus in 2019 towards other commercial aspects of the business and she has continued to expand her own areas of expertise since then. The senior director was appointed as the leader of the Chico’s FAS nascent environmental, social, and governance (ESG) program taskforce in the same year, though, admittedly, it was unfamiliar territory for her.
“There was a new leadership opportunity to develop an ESG program for the company,” she says. “I immediately leapt at the opportunity because I loved the idea of helping Chico’s FAS do better, whether for our customers, our people, or our planet.
“We set ten short terms goals that we were able to accomplish in our first year and our team has since established seven mid-term goals that tie to the company’s strategic growth plan and aligns to several UN SDGs [sustainable development goals] and ESG reporting frameworks,” she continues. “The program is still really just starting, but our progress thus far has been fantastic.”
Having grown her career in the fashion industry, Becerril says working with big personalities and big ideas is just part and parcel with the job. For those looking to make inroads, the senior director advises that finding one’s own voice and learning how to guide those big ideas and big personalities to account for the legal and risk landscape is critical to navigating the complexities of the fashion world.
As a woman, the right voice allows her to not just give herself the authority to provide advice, enable business, and drive results, but also helps encourage other women in the organization to find and use their own voices to reach their own goals.
“Chico’s FAS is a very women-focused and female-empowered organization,” Becerril says. “It’s the life and breath of the company, to help our customers look and feel confident and beautiful. I see such strong, savvy women here, and we all support each other. It’s incredibly important.”