In 2014, fashion industry vet Shelley Suh launched Loyal Hana, a collection of maternity and nursing styles designed to do much more than dress a new parent. After facing physical and emotional challenges during her birth and postpartum experience, Suh was driven to create a line that was functional and empowering.
“I went back to work when I was three months postpartum, and I wanted to be this powerhouse worker, but I had a lot of split feelings,” says Suh. She would find herself sitting among other executives and leading a team, then “scurrying into a closet to pump.”
“If I was wearing a dress, I’d have to take off the whole dress,” she recalls.
While Suh found the experience disempowering, it also set off light bulbs. Having spent time at luxury fashion brands like Botkier, she began thinking about how she could tweak her wardrobe to make it more functional. “I thought about making dresses and blouses with zipper seams that would make it easier to go back to work or life and to nurse discreetly,” she notes.
After having her second child, moving outside of New York City, and caring for her father while he battled cancer, Suh wanted to find a way to better balance family life and work—and to give back to other new moms who were facing similar challenges she did during her postpartum transition. “I was dealing with anxiety and the one thing that made me feel better was working hard to create a product that helped women,” says Suh. “It was a creative outlet for me, and it helped me get through the toughest time of my life.”
Now, Suh’s passion project has turned her into one of the most notable innovators in maternity style. She shares her advice and insights on finding the idea to fuel your success, bolstering your confidence, and forging your own path when going into business for yourself.
Listen to Your Gut
Suh believes her intuition led to her success, and she encourages others to trust themselves in the same way. “One of the main pieces of advice that I’d give is to listen to yourself,” says Suh. “Let the universe steer you. You’ll know what you’re meant to do if you listen to the signs. Don’t talk yourself into or out of something. Really listen to your gut.”
Once you’ve landed on an idea that feels right, the next step is to muster up the courage to step out and start talking about it, says Suh. “When you declare it to the world, that's when you've actually started to commit to it,” she explains.
Bounce Ideas Off of People You Trust
Being loud and proud about your idea is innately tied to sharing it with people you trust, in Suh’s opinion. Chief among those people was her father who had a habit of dressing impeccably and formally. “I remember asking him one day, ‘Why do you wear all these fancy suits every day? Even when it's 90 degrees out?’” recalls Suh. “And he said, ‘This isn't only for an appearance; this is about the integrity you have in yourself. It's good for your mind. It's good for your body.’ And I realized it was also for his mental health because it made him more confident.’”
When it came time for Shuh to declare the idea for Loyal Hana, she knew she wanted to share it with her dad. “I have taken probably half a dozen other ideas to my father, and he talked me out of doing every single one of them,” notes Suh. But after seeing Suh nurse her son in a Loyal Hana blouse, Suh’s father gave her the thumbs-up, calling the design “a great idea.”
Suh emphasizes the importance of not only asking for feedback, but being open to hearing it. “You also have to listen,” she notes. “You have to ask people to steer you in the right direction.”
Reframe Competitors as Collaborators
Suh quickly realized that her support network could extend to people working toward the same greater goal: supporting women through their prenatal and postpartum experience. “There are so many supportive people in the parenting industry who I’ve met who have really helped me or encouraged me to keep going,” she explains. “I’ve always welcomed people to call me and come to me if they want any advice. If we look at each other as competitors, we'll never grow the category together.”
Whether they’re running birthing centers, fitness brands, or designing clothing like she is, the mom of two says she’s found inspiration from her fellow entrepreneurs. “I’ve been very inspired by watching other women succeed,” she says. This has led Suh to get involved in various networking groups for female founders and leaders, such as Fashion Mamas, Hey Mama, and Female Founder Collective.
Focus on the Positives
While you’re sure to hit bumps in the road when launching any venture, Suh advises keeping your eye on the big picture. “Every day isn’t bright and shiny,” admits Suh. “There are always problems you have to resolve, and that’s what tests you as an entrepreneur. But at the end of the day, you have to give yourself a pat on the back and focus on the people you helped.”
For Suh, that means thinking about how Loyal Hana blouses or dresses might help a woman breastfeed for longer and more comfortably. “It makes them feel pretty and gives them their integrity back,” she notes.
This optimistic, heartfelt philosophy isn’t only fueling Suh’s success; it’s making a positive impression on her children. “I’m trying to be the best I can be,” she says. “I wake up and I’m so passionate about what I do; my daughter and my son see it. Kids will follow our lead if we’re happy and stay passionate, and we create something. I am really fortunate and happy that my kids can see and understand that.”