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Women in Business: Q&A with Sheila Nazarian and Laura Darrah, Founders of She + Lo

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Following the success of their first handbag ventures, Treesje and its offspring Joelle Hawkens, fashion entrepreneurs Sheila Nazarian and Laura Darrah have launched their first namesake company, She + Lo. Offering accessible California casual designs - easy to wear, with an edge - the new brand will debut its Fall 2014 collection this August in such retail and online stores as Henri Bendel, Bloomingdale's, Zappos and Amazon, as well as select boutiques across the U.S.

She + Lo (pronounced "She and Lo," a nod to each of the partners' nicknames) will initially focus on handbags, with the goal to expand into a broader lifestyle brand with jewelry, shoes and possibly ready-to-wear apparel. Infused with an urban, West Coast vibe, yet designed to appeal to the sensibility of women across different regions, She + Lo embraces custom craftsmanship as well as current trends. Many of its bags are convertible, morphing to reflect personal style, such as those with a longer detachable strap that allows a classic satchel, for example, to be worn long as a hobo or cross-body. Consumers can choose from a variety of shapes, from slouchy bags and messengers to more sturdy totes, clutches and wristlets.

How has your life experience made you the leaders you are today?
We are both daughters raised by entrepreneurial parents. We were exposed to great success and great failures, teaching us that mistakes are necessary for learning and moving forward. We have learned that it is better to try and fail, than not to try at all. We instill this into our everyday including our design approach. The confidence that comes from not fearing failure is truly liberating and has helped us become who we are as designers today.

How did your previous experience aid you in developing She+Lo?
The ten years we spent designing, operating, branding, and marketing our previous brands was invaluable, and is the reason we were able to launch she + lo within only eight weeks from conception! With every season, our aesthetic is more finely tuned and more easily identifiable. We also know the most effective paths to follow to hasten success and brand visibility. The fashion industry can be extremely expensive one to enter, and it was only through making several costly mistakes in our past, were we able to maximize our success rate with she + lo.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Honestly, this is something we both struggle with everyday. We'd be lying if we said we have this one figured out. We both have two children that are five and two. Juggling the fast paced schedule of running a fashion brand and being a "present" mom is tough, but it is possible. It took us years, but we have learned to stay more in the moment. We know our children's priorities and we make sure to be present for those. And while at work, we relieve ourselves of the "mommy guilt," as it inhibits inspiratioin and creativity. The lines of work and motherhood will always cross for us, so we remind ourselves to stay flexible and ask for help when we need it!

What have the highlights and challenges been in developing She+Lo?
It was extremely challenging to develop and launch the new collection in only 8 weeks. The handbag division is definitely saturated and has been generally dominated by "big brands," so it was somewhat daunting to enter the market again as a new brand. We are driven by the challenges this industry presents but fortunately both have the entrepreneurial spirit to move forward. The highlight is doing what we love, every day.

What advice can you offer women seeking to start their own business?
Do your research, but go for it. You will never regret trying and failing. Neither of us had formal design training but we learned by doing. The success has given us both more confidence as women, mothers and entrepreneurs.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The fashion industry is predominantly women, so we really don't encounter the typical challenges and issues of being a woman in the workplace. We have fortunately never felt that being a woman has hindered our success.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
These days the only books we read have illustrated pages! We have yet to read Lean In but look forward to it. We just feel blessed to own our own business since we were twenty two, so never felt being a women held us back. Besides juggling motherhood, it never made a difference at all.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
We have been fortunate enough to meet so many of the right people at the right time. We believe mentorship can happen in all situations. From anyone you meet on the subway to the buyer of Neiman Marcus. We have always learned that it is important to keep an open mind in every conversation. Each person that crosses your path can be a mentor in which you learn a great deal from. We owe much of our success to our mentors. Actually one of our biggest and most expensive mistakes was ignoring one of our mentors' pieces of financial advice (hire yourself a great bookkeeper, wink wink).

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Sara Blakely, the owner of Spanx. She had a vision and stuck with it and made a huge success for herself and her brand. Without any experience under her belt, she created a product in which she believed in and sold it. Her story really reminds us of the hardships we faced when we first launched Treesje. She inspires us to keep moving forward through the highs and lows of this business, as there are so many daily road blocks that can be discouraging at times. Additionally, what we admire most about her is her commitment to "The Giving Pledge." We both strongly believe it is important to give back to our community and admire entrepreneurs who are committed to this.

What are your hopes for the future of She+Lo?
Our hope is to make she + lo a lifestyle brand that has an identifiable design and aesthetic in all divisions from footwear, handbags, clothing to eyewear. We would love to eventually open boutiques internationally.