Susan Gomez of Sugopetite: “Never give up”

Never give up. We all have different dreams, and the path to achieving them is never easy. Persevere in the face of your challenges. By working hard and working smart, you will get there. I had so many unanswered questions at the beginning, everything from how to build a website to international shipping. Each new challenge was […]

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Never give up.

We all have different dreams, and the path to achieving them is never easy. Persevere in the face of your challenges. By working hard and working smart, you will get there.

I had so many unanswered questions at the beginning, everything from how to build a website to international shipping. Each new challenge was an opportunity to learn, but also an opportunity to get discouraged. My biggest question was, “Will I make it?” I was so afraid to go for it, but with courage and perseverance, I did it.

Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.

As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Gomez.

Fashion design is in the blood of Susan Gomez, the founder and CEO of Sugopetite. Susan got her start in fashion at a very young age in Guatemala and, and at just 13 years old, she sewed her very first piece — a dress for herself. She earned a degree in fashion design in Guatemala City, before immigrating to the US in 2007. As a petite woman, buying clothes off the rack was almost impossible for her. She knew there were others out there with the same problem, and in 2019 she founded Sugopetite, one of the world’s first petite sustainable fashion lines. Her rural Guatemalan roots are also the cornerstone of Susan’s — and Sugopetite’s — focus on sustainability. Susan’s passion for the fashion industry was at odds with her more natural upbringing. Instead of contributing to the problem, Susan chose to lead by example, focusing on sustainable fabrics and ethical manufacturing processes.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in Guatemala City, but my family moved to a very small town called San Jose Buena vista, outside the city, when I was 6 years old. The town was beautiful, we lived surrounded by nature, animals, family, and close friends. My grandma and uncles worked the land, and my dad was a couturier and had to go out of town to find new contracts and materials for his work. I grew up seeing my dad make people happy with his work. There was nothing in town other than agriculture, and having something nice to wear was the amusement of our community. That is where my love for fashion started.

However, the community was so small we only had access to education up to 6th grade, so my mom sent me back to Guatemala City to continue with my education when I was 12 years old. She had to make the hard decision to leave me with my aunt (my dad’s only sister) to give me a better future with more opportunities. It was a hard time to face as a 12-year-old. Even though my aunt always made me feel at home, I missed my family tremendously. It took me 2 years to adapt to my new life in Guatemala City.

After I got comfortable being away from my family, I felt unstoppable. I started to see my own life as an independent adult, even though I was still a teenager.

My dad came from a family of 11 brothers and one sister. He taught three of my uncles how to be a couturier, as well as my brother and me. My brother and uncles still do it for a living in Guatemala. Unfortunately, my dad passed away when I was young, but he left the Gomez family a great legacy from his passion.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?

The American dream is huge in Guatemala. To this day, thousands of people dream to come to the US for better opportunities. In my case, I always dreamed of having my own fashion line, and I always saw myself achieving it in the US. There was no trigger point because everything was a trigger point.

I came to the US in 2007 after graduating as a fashion designer in Guatemala City in 2006. It was a radical and difficult change, but it was my dream-come-true.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

I always thought that it was going to be easier to make an impact in the fashion industry in the US, and I was so wrong. After coming to the US in 2007, I found myself starting from zero, in a worse position than when I moved to Guatemala City at the age of 12. I did not know anyone in the field of fashion in the US. I did not speak English fluently, and so did not make friends easily. And I was shy and afraid to reach out for help.

I realized that my first priority was to speak fluent English, so I focused on that for 6 months until I felt confident communicating. I found my first job developing saddlebags for a Texas brand. As my courage built up, I started to design custom dresses for individuals. That went on for a few years, but I wanted to make a bigger impact, so I started the Sugopetite fashion blog in 2015 that opened a world of opportunities for me. That was the turning point when I started to really think big for Sugopetite as a fashion brand and not just a blog.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

My friend Natalia Castillo played a big part in helping me feel a sense of community after moving to the US. She is the director for the Miss Houston and Miss Texas Latina organizations and 3X Miss Bikini Universe Pro, and she’s also the founder of the Fireyoup movement. Fireyoup provides a loving community, supporting sisterhood, and daily motivation, and I’m so proud and grateful to be an ambassador of the movement.

I’m so grateful for Natalia’s friendship and support because she has always been there for me and Sugopetite when I need professional and emotional support. Throughout her career, Natalia has built a big community of amazing and empowered women. She has opened many doors for Sugopetite by introducing me to new opportunities and sharing her network every time I need it. She and her beauty queens have even been our models! These amazing women bring so much joy to Sugopetite; you can see it reflected in every photo shoot we’ve had.

Pictured: Naomy Mataa (left), Miss Teen Texas Latina 2020, and Mayra Carmona, Miss Texas Latina 2020

So how are things going today?

Things are going great because I have all the pieces of the puzzle in place. I have a great, inspiring, and supportive team, and each new collection is inspirational, rather than a “how are we going to make it happen” kind of approach. We can focus on improving our offer and inspiring petite women, instead of just surviving as a business.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Everything I project from the moment I wake up every day is for good. I must set the bar high for my team, and I want them to feel inspired every day.

When I was on the quest of how to bring Sugopetite to life, I learned the fashion industry is a huge contributor to climate change, and I did not want to be part of it. I decided early on that Sugopetite would only utilize sustainable fabrics. Every garment and collection we create makes a positive impact on the planet, and on our customers too because they know they are purchasing responsibility.

I source only sustainable fabrics from independently certified suppliers. Our state-of-the-art Chitosante performance fabric, featured in our popular Tulip collection, is made from post-consumer recycled plastic. Every dress takes 30 plastic bottles out of landfills, the ocean, and incinerators.

We are about to introduce the Spring/Summer 2021 Daisy collection, our first line featuring New Denim, an environmentally friendly fabric that is manufactured in Guatemala from 100% upcycled cotton textiles. With this production run alone, we conserved more than one million liters of water, compared to virgin cotton — or one year of drinking water for almost 1,500 people.

I have also partnered with a small manufacturer in Guatemala, recommended to me by my close friends in the industry. I have personally visited the factory to make sure that every Sugopetite dress is being produced ethically, in a safe environment for the employees.

You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?

On my journey to becoming a US citizen, the immigration system worked seamlessly and I did not go through many headaches. I applied for residency at the US embassy in Guatemala City, and it was granted in three months. From there the process was exceptionally smooth. When I became a US citizen in 2013, the process was again very smooth. I realize how fortunate I was and wish that more immigrants had the same experience when trying to achieve their dream of a life in the US.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Take care of yourself first.

If you are healthy, mentally and physically, the rest is just a matter of how badly you want it. Sometimes the day-to-day responsibilities — especially as a business leader — make it easy to forget about our own health, growth, and wellbeing. Being exhausted and eating fast food hurts our business as much as our bodies. I know that I make the best decisions for my company when I am coming from a place of strength.

Every morning, I dedicate time to myself. I work out first thing because when I finish a workout, I feel empowered. Then, I have a nutritious breakfast, usually a green smoothie. This allows me to start each day full of optimism and feeling invincible.

Invest in yourself. Strive to grow in all areas that interest you. In my case, I love cooking, so I continue to learn about nutrition and how foods impact our wellbeing. I love learning how to lead to make my team happier and happier as Sugopetite grows. Lastly, I love learning how to make my customers happy, so I am exploring ways to make a positive impact on their lives with our products.

2. Have a crystal-clear vision.

Know exactly what you want to achieve. It took me 11 years to launch Sugopetite. I had the big picture in my mind, but I did not know the steps to take. I kept asking and learning until I had a clear path on how to do it. Keep the main goal in mind and as you discover what steps to take and continually clarify the path to it.

3. Surround yourself with those that support you and believe in you.

This one is crucial because the road to achieving the American dream is very bumpy.

Since the very beginning, I only shared my dream of Sugopetite with people I knew would support me, no matter the ups and downs. This allowed me to stay positive and on track despite all the challenges I faced in the process.

There are two people, in particular, I am very thankful to for making Sugopetite’s journey more manageable. Marta Irene Archila was my professor when I was studying fashion in Guatemala back in 2006 and, to this day, she is still a mentor. She is also a huge contributor to Sugopetite, as our Master Pattern Maker and Design Developer.

My best friend and business partner, Courtney Sturniolo, has lent her professional support as Sugopetite’s Public Relations & Strategic Marketing Consultant, as well as her emotional support on this roller coaster ride.

These areas are key for Sugopetite’s success and these two incredible women and friends have been up for the ride no matter what the outcome is. I’m very blessed with them by my side.

4. Never give up.

We all have different dreams, and the path to achieving them is never easy. Persevere in the face of your challenges. By working hard and working smart, you will get there.

I had so many unanswered questions at the beginning, everything from how to build a website to international shipping. Each new challenge was an opportunity to learn, but also an opportunity to get discouraged. My biggest question was, “Will I make it?” I was so afraid to go for it, but with courage and perseverance, I did it.

5. Create a community.

Customers are more than just revenue. Your customers are the people who care about the same things you and your business do. I always dreamed of founding a fashion brand, but I didn’t know it would be “petite and sustainable”. The true vision came from building a community of petite fashionistas, and that started with the Sugopetite blog.

In 2015, I decided to start a fashion blog for petite women. I discovered a whole new world of supporting and uplifting women! Like me, buying clothes off the rack was almost impossible for other petites. The clothes were too big, everywhere. Unlike me, they didn’t have decades of experience sewing and were not able to tailor each piece to their small frame. I wanted to solve that problem. That is when Sugopetite grew from a blog into the fashion brand I had dreamed of since I was a girl.

The blog has also helped me to share my vision with the community. Specifically, it allows me to educate these fashionistas about the impact of the fashion industry on our planet. Instead of telling them that buying clothes is bad, we teach them about sustainability and fashion, so that they can make informed decisions, whether they buy from us or the other fashion companies forging a new, environmentally friendly path in this industry.

We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?

The US is the country of possibility; this excites me every day. I think about all the ways to impact our society and the world positively that are made possible by being here.

Diversity is a strength and another thing that makes me optimistic about the US’s future. I love learning about other cultures, languages, religions, etc., and it all right here in the USA.

I’m also optimistic that the US has rejoined the Paris Agreement. Slowing climate change requires a global effort that was hurt when one of the largest players dropped out. I am much more optimistic about the US and the global environment now that we are again working with other nations to save our planet.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to share a meal with Shakira. For some reason, I feel a spiritual connection with her. I have so much admiration for Shakira and, at the same time, she feels so close to me, like my sister. I grew up listening to her music and watched her journey to the top since her 1995 album Pies Descalzos. Shakira is my business role model. She is a singer, but she is also a businesswoman. I absolutely love her talent and dedication to her career, and she is petite!

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

They can connect with me at and [email protected]

or Instagram and Facebook @sugopetite

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

It was a pleasure, thank you so much for having me!

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