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Meet Julie Cantor, Founder and Chief Executive of Harlen

Julie is the Founder & Chief Executive of Harlen. She is a graduate of Stanford University (BA, MA), Berkeley Law (JD), and the Yale University School of Medicine (MD). She practiced law with two elite firms before turning her attention to Harlen. And it was during her tenure at those firms that she realized the need for Harlen—a collection of elevated work bags, what the brand coined as modern career-pieces, that are exquisitely crafted, exude confidence, and express personal style. All Harlen pieces and their materials are made in Italy, and, through a philanthropic partnership with Room to Read, every piece moves opportunity forward for girls’ education and empowerment.






My first job ever was… Tutoring math. I was a senior in high school, and a sophomore was having trouble in Algebra II. I was recruited to help him. We moved his grade from a D to a B+. And we turned his self-concept around from “I’m not good at math” to “everyone has to practice math to get good at it.”


I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I think outside the proverbial box as an everyday thing. In medical school, during the various surgery rotations, I seriously considered redesigning scrubs for women. They were just not good. So if you’re the kind of person who makes connections between disparate things and tends to create what wasn’t there before, you have an entrepreneurial spirit. At some point, you let that carry you forward.


My proudest accomplishment is… Between creating Harlen and publishing opinion pieces about issues at the intersection of law and medicine in the New England Journal of Medicine.


My boldest move to date was… Traveling to Italy to find our ateliers. We work with more than a dozen multigenerational heritage ateliers, from those that create our custom hardware to those that handcraft our modern career pieces. I drove up and down Italy with two GPS devices that worked most of the time and a plan to find the right team.


I surprise people when I tell them… I teach an upper-division seminar on reproductive rights, medical ethics, and the law at the UCLA School of Law and give lectures to physicians on topics that fall under that broad umbrella.


My best advice to people starting a business is… To read books about how to do it, talk to people who have done things that parallel what you’d like to do, and keep going. Be like Edison. Find 10,000 ways that won’t work until you find the one that will.


“My best advice to people starting a business is to read books about how to do it, talk to people who have done things that parallel what you’d like to do, and keep going. Be like Edison. Find 10,000 ways that won’t work until you find the one that will.”


My best advice from a mentor was… Don’t take on too much. It’s ok to say no.


I would tell my 20-year old self… It all works out. Enjoy the ride.


My biggest setback was… Not something I remember. Probably because there are always a lot of setbacks or opportunities, depending on your outlook.


I overcame it by… Just moving forward. Whatever happens, you have to traverse the terrain with class. I like to keep this quote from Maya Angelou in mind: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”


Work/life balance is… Something that everyone deals with, and I think we need new language to describe the issue. The current nomenclature is just too binary. Maybe you’re not dividing work and life into neat little sections. Maybe it’s messy and maybe it overlaps. We need to get away from that ‘50s mentality of home versus work. It all blends. And Senator Duckworth, who is now pregnant with her second child, should be able to bring her child onto the floor of the U.S. Senate when there’s a vote if she’d like. These kinds of things should not be issues anymore, and they should not be big news. They should be reality. We’ve just got to realize that family isn’t cordoned off from work.


If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I really have the worst sweet tooth ever. I love candy and all kinds of sugary junk. Such a problem.


I stay inspired by… Reading about inspirational people—people who have overcome greater adversity than I ever hope to know.


The future excites me because… It’s full of possibility.


My next step is… Forward. Always forward.