This week, I'm excited to interview my friend Suzy Wakefield. She is the CEO and Founder of Suzy Wakefield Designs. Suzy Wakefield corporation specializes in lingerie, apparel, and swim design, development, and sourcing expertise. Her mission is to support individuals and companies to turn their vision into reality.
I met Suzy a while back through my old boss since we ran in the same circles back in the day. During Covid, I took a chance and reached out to Suzy to see if she’d be interested in chatting with me. I knew she and I were doing similar things in our business, and I had heard about her frequently over the years at Adore Me. Once we had our first chat and hit it off, everything else was history. Suzy Wakefield is an absolute star. And I hope this article makes you want to know her too.
Were you always interested in starting your own company? What inspired you to create your own business?
Suzy didn’t have much interest in having her own business. Until she left Victoria Secret, a company business that had been part of her life for nearly 2 decades while she rose through the design ranks.
“I was traveling so much, and I felt like I was spending a lot more time leading teams instead of being close to the product. That was my impetus for starting my own business; it was to get back closer to the product. And I could have a chance to help startup brands and other brands diversify what they had there as their offering with what I knew, how to design, develop and connect people.”
What was the beginning of starting Suzy Wakefield Designs like? Did you have a hard time getting started, or did the pieces fall into place?
“I would say, yes, I had a hard time starting. It was pretty seamless from the creative standpoint, from having my own business coming from a larger company. I had a big learning curve on my processes on that side of things, like invoicing processes and drawing up agreements and contracts with customers. So it was a learning curve on how to run and be the kind of chief cook and bottle washer of my company.”
I understand that feeling, that big learning curve when you come from working under someone to being your own boss. It can be overwhelming but don’t let it scare you.
Even I need to remind myself at times that I am still figuring it out...and that is OK. I always stress out whenever it’s the FIRST time I have to do XYZ, but by the 2nd or 3rd time, it’s like, ‘Oh, you again? I got this.’ You’ll figure it out in due time. Just be patient and kind with yourself.
Was it scary when you first went out on your own? How did you get started?
“I think the scariest thing was knowing that it was all on me, that opportunities, the good and the bad of whatever I did, was all on me. But it was also the great part of having my own business. I think what I've learned is to keep it moving, like put one foot in front of the other, and whatever it is, you know, you're going to figure it out. Everybody has a different way of doing things, and I have learned that I try to mentor my clients and friends to find a way that works for them and go with it.”
I think this is the scariest thing, but also the best thing in a lot of ways. When you are a creative person and have an entrepreneurial spirit, being self-reliant can be really good. Knowing that the outcomes and results are all on you is scary, sure. At the end of the day, though, you can’t blame anything else on any other outside person. It leaves you to take ownership of your actions, your choices, and how you deal with them.
What is the biggest failure you've experienced in your business? What did you learn from it?
“Everything doesn't always go as planned. With no ego intended here, I have to say I look at everything when I get a client. If I don't get a client, it wasn't meant to be. I wouldn't call this a failure, but I think it is frustrating when I spend time working with someone. And then I don't anticipate if they'll keep going. Meaning it never bothers me if a potential client comes to me and decides I'm more costly than they want or something else. But if I think someone will work with me to solve, you know, regardless of that, if that's not the hurdle, I do tend to wonder, well, what is it? And I, I like to know what doesn't choose to work with me. And so I would say that that would be not a failure, but frustration, but luckily that doesn't happen so often.”
I understand that frustration as well being in a similar business. I like to think of it in a similar mindset. Not everyone has to pick me to be their business’s design partner. If you choose us, that’s fantastic, and we’ll be eager to help you bring your vision to life. If you pick someone else like Suzy, I’ll be happy to know you’re in good hands. The worst thing to know is that someone went with another designer whose hardly an expert. “You’ll pay for that later,” is what rolls around in my brain. But hey, variety is the spice of life. Maybe it will work out for them, and at the end of the day, I always hope it does. The founders know their business best and making these decisions is part of the process.
What's the best advice you've ever been given, life or business?
“I would say it pertains to both. The best advice I've been given is that I'm a creative person and therefore I'm good at telling and painting stories, but I have to be careful as any creative should be cautious that they don't tell stories to themselves. Advice that I got from a good friend years ago, I am constantly reminding myself whatever you think people are thinking, they're probably not. If you're putting your energy into actual stories, outside of creating beautiful stories for your clients, then you're in a good place.”
That is really good. I think many of us can relate to telling stories to ourselves, and let's be honest; they're not always positive messages. We tell ourselves we aren't good enough, that no one will like our ideas. We also sabotage ourselves by assuming people are thinking about us in a negative light. Your job is to put all your energy into creating something that you can be proud of, don’t focus on the negative stories you tell yourself. Rewrite new stories.
What's the most recent lesson your business has taught you?
“Stay organized and hire people with a set of complementary skills. For example, I hired someone to help clean my whole studio. It immediately paid off because it's just not how I naturally think about setting up my system, but I'm good at following the procedures set up. So, I tell my clients to hire people that can help them grow. Whatever you're paying will be worth it because it's going to save me money in the long run.”
Think Smarter, NOT Harder. Organization is critical in my book! I love the idea of getting an outside organizer in your space to help you reach your maximum effectiveness! I might need to borrow this tip, Suzy.
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?
“Always reach out, do not hesitate to call/text, link, DM, etc., connect….people are always willing to help. Always reach out, do not ever hesitate to contact or text or LinkedIn or DM someone that you want to talk to because people are always willing to help.
Suzy has been interested in meeting certain people and decided to reach out to them just to say hi and build a relationship.
I think the power of reaching out and giving a genuine compliment, genuine questions, genuine curiosity without wanting them to provide you with a job or a client or anything, in the end, is so fruitful for everybody.”
Take a chance and reach out; you never know what opportunity is right around the corner! After all, this is exactly how Suzy and I met!
What's your favorite part about being a business owner? What's the hardest part?
Favorite: “My favorite part about being a business owner is the journey. And I would say every day I do what I love to do. Most days, I'm talking and creating, and ideating with partners. I would say the choice, as my favorite part. It's my choices, my choices of who I want to work with, whether it's client or vendor or colleague and the choices of projects, and also the autonomy of knowing it's all at my speed, whatever speed that is per day per hour.”
I agree 10000%. I love choosing what I work on and who I work with. It’s one of the best parts of owning your own business.
Hardest: “I think the most challenging is probably when I see the potential of a client's brand, and they're not quite ready to hear advice because they have a particular ideal in my mind or they admire a competitor so much. When I see promise in my clients, and there are certain choices they make, I feel like, oh, I've been there before or seen that. And you know, you want them to come to it sooner.”
Another sentiment I can totally relate to. Sometimes the founders need to learn hard lessons themselves before they can take your word for it.
What is something you have accomplished that you are most proud of?
“It's been different in every aspect of my life. My kids would be my greatest accomplishment. As my father would say, building good citizens. However, workwise, the most significant accomplishment is that I rose to this design executive position at Victoria's secret. And then my biggest accomplishment was knowing when I wanted to walk away and start my own business. I knew I was ready for a new opportunity. I was ready to do something different to get back to designing. And I think, recognizing that and being able to take that step towards my next journey. I'm proud of it because that's what brought me here.”
SO much to be proud of here. Especially knowing when you need a break. It’s usually much harder than you’d think for many of us.
What are the most important skills or traits you've found helpful in entrepreneurship? Are there any traits you've discovered that make it harder to succeed if you don't keep it in check?
“Be willing to fall on your face and try things! Don't compare yourself to anyone else. Like all creatives falling on your face and trying things, I have found out that the work of having your own business. And once you get to be willing to do that, everything opens up because you're not afraid to figure it all out. And don't compare yourself to anybody else. Be patient, know that you're planting your garden, and if you look at a garden, it's not like you can grow something, and then the next day, it blooms. You've got to plant the seeds, and you've got to be willing not to rush anything. Because the things that are meant to happen will happen. And when I get impatient is either with people or situation or anything is when it falls out of kilter.”
Plant your garden, water your garden, give it some sun and good lovin’, entrepreneurs and be patient!
What's your favorite 'game-changer' tool that you can share with everyone? (ie. hellobonsai, airtable, later, etc.).
“Procreate to draw on the iPad. Before, I always liked to hand draw, but I find it quick and easy to put on my apple pen and go to town, getting notes on sketches and photographs. And it's just been a real game-changer for me!”
One of those things on my wishlist at the moment! I haven’t invested in an Ipad Pro yet, but I’ve gotta get one soon. I miss doodling and sketching via paper, and this seems like the best alternative!
Where can we find you if we'd like to learn more about you?
Okay, now go check her out!