Following a successful career as a trial lawyer with an impressive record of winning 100% of her cases, Sierra decided to take a bold and unexpected leap into the fashion world. Long frustrated with the issue of finding business suits to complement her athletic body type and fashion-forward personal style, Sierra set out to learn everything she could about manufacturing suits – for every body type. In fall 2018, Sierra launched SuitKits, a groundbreaking online shopping service that allows women to custom design suits and suit separates according to their exact measurements, preferred style, color, and cut.
Prior to entering the fashion world, Sierra worked in Entertainment as a Litigation Partner as well as a City Prosecutor. She has also served as a guest legal correspondent on shows like “Dr. Drew,” “The Daily Share,” and CNN’s “The Jane Velez Mitchell” show.
A native of Los Angeles and graduate of Notre Dame High School, Sierra received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Michigan where she was an All-American in basketball and track. She also received her Law degree Cum Laude from Duke University School of Law and her Master’s degree in Psychology from Duke University Graduate School.
Sierra currently lives and works in Los Angeles.
Who is Sierra Elizabeth and what was your motivation for starting your brand?
I characterize myself in a lot of different ways. I am now an entrepreneur, the owner of SuitKits. The idea was birthed last year and recently launched. I am a lawyer by background and training. I love the law and what it can do for people who can and cannot afford these services. I am passionate about giving back to disadvantaged populations and being a lawyer gives me the opportunity to help with those populations. I am also a mentor. It’s really important to me to mentor other people, especially young black women. To this day, I am generally the youngest and only female minority in any room that I enter into. I understand what it feels like to be the underdog. Even 10 years into my career, sometimes I still feel like that. So, I always want to make sure that I am checking in and empowering women who come after me.
I have an independent go-getter spirit. I took on this challenge of SuitKits out of personal need. As a lawyer, I found myself in situations where I needed suits and could not find anything that fit my body proportions. I’m not a large girl but I have odd proportions. I am big where apparently the apparel industry doesn’t think you should be and small where the apparel industry doesn’t think you should be. So through my own struggles, I was like, someone needs to come up with a concept that is stylish, addresses these issues for women, and at a price point that makes sense. I always thought some other big brand would do that. I did not want to take this on myself. I thought I would just be a customer.
After years of not being able to fill the need for myself, I went to Asia and got my own custom suit. People would always compliment me and ask me where I got it from and I’d say “well you can’t get it here.” I decided to take the leap because I recruit for my law firm, so I go to every big law school in the country- Harvard, Duke, you name it. I would sit in an interview room and interview these amazing young women looking for a prestigious job after going to this amazing school and getting a very expensive law degree. They were dressed inappropriately, clearly uncomfortable in what they were wearing, some would opt out of wearing professional clothing probably because they couldn’t afford it or couldn’t find anything that fit appropriately. As I was interviewing with mostly male colleagues of mine, I would notice how their perception of the candidate depended on things that should not matter such as how you look or how you are dressed. But because it came across in a certain way, I think it was preventing women who were qualified to get the job. I said, “this has got to stop and if no one is going to stop it, then I am.”
How did you discover your purpose?
Fashion is an amazing industry to enter into. First of all, I’ve always believed in individual, unique and creative expression. I have always tried to find ways that my personality would shine through, although I’ve always been in a corporate uniformed environment. I would usually do it through my hair and nails. That is why I wanted to do custom fashion instead of off the rack fashion. I wanted women to choose their colors and their styles. I feel like when you have ownership of what you are wearing and what you are doing, it breeds confidence and happiness. That’s important especially with women in these environments where you are the only woman in the room.
How did you conduct your research and determine your marketing strategy? Are you self-taught or did you outsource?
A little bit of everything. When I started, I had no idea what I was getting myself into or where to start. I read a bunch of fashion blogs and had tickers that would alert me when there were things talked about in the industry about fashion. I studied what the men’s suit lines were doing and what they were successful at. I visited New York and Asia, talked to people in design and fashion, and sent out a market research survey to women who I thought would be my eventual customers. It asked what they like and do not like about their suits? What are they looking for in a suit? And what are their fit issues? I got a lot of data on what the market was looking for, why they were unhappy, and the problems that needed to be solved. I couldn’t do everything myself so in connection with doing my research, I came across a man named Alex Keith who had been in the fashion industry for years and reached out to him because I thought he’d be a great addition to what I was doing. He was skeptical at first, to be honest. I literally cold-called him and he said he really liked my idea and would get back to me. In three very long weeks, he hit me back and said he was interested in working with me. He knew I was in Los Angeles and was actually moving from New York to Los Angeles in a few weeks. He really helped me get the ball rolling. He helped me find my manufacturers, pattern makers, and designers. He was so vital in getting the other pieces together that I did not know, and we went from there. Alex is currently my Operations Manager.
What were the main challenges you faced with building your brand?
First, I have a full-time job as a Lawyer. A lot of people think that they cannot start something because they have a full-time job, but that’s not true. It was really hard to balance the two, but I think I am managing as best as I can right now. It’s a challenge because I barely sleep. But when you’re doing something that would make a change in the world, those other things don’t matter. Second is the financial hardship. I rented out my house this past summer to save money because I needed to get bills paid for the business. You have to make those sacrifices. That taught me that I was dedicated and really in this. There will be naysayers. You are risking a lot and people will tell you that you are crazy. Some people in my world didn’t understand why I would start a fashion brand because I am successful in my career, make good money, and there is still upward mobility at my firm. They thought I was crazy. It’s hard because sometimes you get doubtful. I was supposed to get a shipment for my samples and it was delivered late which delayed me by two months and people would ask why I was doing this. So you start to question like why am I doing this? Am I doing the right thing? My view on it is that sometimes you have those moments and it is okay, but you have to see the long-term goal. When you have those successes like when the samples finally came and they looked awesome, you have to celebrate that. The last thing is that nothing happens as quickly as you want it to. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a hardship, but it makes things hard. If you stay the course, you’ll see it come together, but it won’t happen overnight as you imagined.
What motivates you to keep going?
I have a really good support system that is always cheering me on even when they do think I’m crazy. I also have a relationship with God, so I pray about it. I really do feel like I am not only providing a service and a product, I have always felt like there is a bigger mission in this. I wanted to give back to those girls who are not getting jobs because of their attire. From the beginning, we made it a point to serve our community. We started the SuitKits scholars program where these young girls who are enrolled in school and come from underprivileged backgrounds can apply to us for a free business professional suit by writing a personal statement. We’ve already named our first eight winners who would get their suits at the end of the year. I love money, but this is bigger than that and that is what keeps me going.
What advice do you have for women who are looking to follow in your footsteps?
You will get a lot of no’s, but you have to keep going. Sometimes you have to follow up even when people do not respond right away. Sometimes they are busy and are not ignoring you intentionally and if it is important enough for you, you have to have the thick skin and do it. Know that if it is meant for you, then you should do it.
Can you talk about a woman that has impacted your life?
My godmother, Helen Sugland – Founder/CEO of Landmark Artists Management (manages Laurence Fishburne) and Executive Producer of Blackish and Grownish. She has been a part of my life since I was delivered in the hospital and has had a huge impact on my life. She is probably the reason why I became a lawyer and an entrepreneur. She is one of the only and first black female managers to get an amazing client base and establish herself in entertainment. She moved from a small town in Connecticut to Los Angeles on her own and started her own business. She is a loving woman that treated me as her own child despite being so busy and always gave back to young women by sponsoring basketball camps, hosting giveaways, and mentoring women in the church. Growing up with such a strong role model has shaped me and encouraged me to do those things for others and impact people’s lives.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, and resources?
- “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg
- What Trump can Teach us about Con Law podcast (great especially for lawyers)
- Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell podcast
- The Stuff you should Know podcast (SYSK)
What are some of your accomplishments so far, and which one are you most proud of?
I was a college athlete. I got a scholarship to the University of Michigan to play basketball and run track. I won a national championship my senior year for track. Getting into law school was a great accomplishment. I got into Duke University for Law and got my Masters in Psychology at Duke at the same time, and graduated Cum Laude. After school, I was hired at Kirkland & Ellis and made partner in 2015. That was so rewarding. I cannot tell you how many people I was able to touch just by getting to that level of prestige. I am one of the few African American Partners in Los Angeles and in the field so that has opened up some doors for me. I don’t think I would have had the guts to open up this business in my early twenties. However, in my thirties, I am starting to get to know who Sierra is, what she wants, and what is going to make her happy. It’s only the beginning and I’m excited for what’s to come.
A lot of people thought suits would be irrelevant at some point because everyone is doing business casual and I get that point. But men’s suits are very popular and no one is saying men’s suits are going away anytime soon. So when you think about it, you’re having women who just by design are not wearing a suit and look less professional and less put together compared to their male counterparts. That to me is very dangerous especially with what I see in corporate America and the hurdles that women already face. I am not saying you have to wear a suit to be successful, but it adds an element to you. You cannot describe what you feel when someone walks into a room with a nice suit on. I don’t think we should lose just because we have business casual Fridays. I wear business casual just like everyone else and that is why we added our business casual line. I do think for things such as interviews, it is so important that women have access to suits where you really are being judged in those positions.
When I started this business, I started to reimagine what a women’s suit can look like. Men make a lot of women’s suits, but we have done a lot with the suit construction. We added a better waistband so it doesn’t give a huge stretch out, but you can grow a bit and your suit would still fit and we added removable sweat guards. When I used to work in New York and got on the subway, I’d be sweating outside of my blazer before I got to the meeting. I thought, how can I prevent this? We added a cotton insert that literally snaps into the blazer underneath the underarm and it is machine washable. So not only is it great for protecting your blazer from sweat, it is great for maintaining your blazer so that you do not have to dry clean so often.
What is your definition of winning?
Being unapologetic about what you want out of life. It took me a long time to start trusting my instinct and start doing things no matter what people may say. When you live that way, you are happier and you are winning.
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