As part of my series on influential founders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Sutton. Elizabeth Sutton (b. 1989, New York, NY) is a millennial “mom-preneur” and visual artist and designer who has taken the nouveau arts scene by storm. In 2016, Elizabeth was selected to participate in the NYDesigns incubator program, exhibited at both the Affordable Art Fair & Hamptons Designer Showhouse, and was featured by Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing.” Her work has been featured in Entrepreneur, Architectural Digest, Architectural Digest Spain, The New York Post, Time Out Magazine, Haute Living, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and more. Elizabeth’s philanthropic endeavors range from the nationally recognized 92nd Street Y to United Hatzalah, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, and Lenox Health Greenwich Village, for which she’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 2017, Elizabeth participated in the Architectural Digest Design Show and New York Design Center’s “What’s New What’s Next,” as well as hosted a fundraising event for ArtStart, which the Executive Co-Director described as “by far the most successful event” in her time with the organization. In 2018 Sutton launched a capsule collection with Bari Lynn Accessories for Bergdorf Goodman, which was subsequently picked up by Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Harrod’s. In Fall 2018, Sutton partnered with Joe & The Juice in locations across New York City, in support of The Art of Elysium. In Summer 2019, Elizabeth was commissioned to paint the 180ft square deck of the Manhattan Park Pool. Elizabeth’s tile collection for Tilebar is a two-time award collection, from Architectural Digest and HD Expo. In Fall 2019, Elizabeth also launched her first leather collection along with her lifestyle blog. Most recently, Elizabeth launched a collaboration with Janovic, the largest paint supplier in New York, curating five exclusive color palettes, with her artwork wrapping five large buildings in New York City and featured on 18 bus shelters. In 2020, Elizabeth will be launching a huge collaboration with the luxury Eden Rock hotel in St. Barths and will be featured there in a solo exhibition. www.elizabethsuttoncollection.com
Thank you so much for joining us Elizabeth! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
“Ibecame an artist four years ago. I am completely self-taught. The journey began after experiencing many detrimental losses in a short amount of time, including severe financial loss, which forced me to start working. I was a stay at home mom at the time. It all happened through Instagram as a beautiful accident. Now, I define myself as artist, designer, and entrepreneur.”
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
“ I’m not sure the word for me is ‘interesting,’ though others find this experience interesting. I’d sooner use the word impactful, with an unfortunate pun. On December 10 2017, (after all the loss I had already experienced in the two years prior including financial loss, miscarriage, death of my father in law, death of a close friend, and divorce with a 3-week-old and 2-year-old), only six months post-divorce and still completely unstable, my dear friends and art assistants/right hand men, were in a fatal car accident in my car leaving my 27th birthday party. Juan Salas Salazar, was killed at age 29, leaving behind a wife and 3-year-old daughter. Pedro Valerino was left with bleeding in his brain but ultimately, thank G-d, made a full recovery and is back with my team. The accident was tragic. It left me numb, traumatized, confused, feeling helpless, and on top of losing someone close to me — it turned my business and financial situation upside down, and in serious trouble. I’m not in the mood to go into it further because it is very difficult for me to speak about it without getting too emotional but if you’re curious about the impacts, I went into it further in an interview with Entrepreneur.com.”
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
“Funny? I don’t recall any being too hilarious. I’m sure there were many. I’ve confused people many times and I’d call it embarrassing, not funny. But I’ve made, and continue to make, tons of mistakes. The most important thing as an entrepreneur is to learn from your mistakes, acknowledge they are occurring, evaluate the problem, and pivot towards a new strategy so that it doesn’t happen again because mistakes can be expensive.”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
“I think two things make Elizabeth Sutton Collection (ESC) stand out. First and foremost, I hope and believe that I am talented. My artworks are beautiful and inspiring, and my designs are strong. I focus time, attention, love, and passion into everything I do, ESPECIALLY in the quality of my work, down to the last detail. I spend a lot of money on components such as my packaging, the custom lining in my bags, my custom hardware and 24k gold plating, my customer service, and the overall ESC customer experience that I believe is a lost art. Most brands don’t care about design integrity and brand experience because they try to save money. That’s definitely a major point of distinction, and an expensive one for me at that. The other standout quality (from what I’m told), is that I KEEP IT REAL. Most of my business stems from social media, where I am very honest, open, and vocal. I do not pretend that I, or my life, are picture perfect, like many ‘influencers’ out there. I address problems I experience, as well as problems I see in the community, and I am very outspoken about my many difficult experiences that society deems taboo to speak about. I think people find me relatable.”
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
“Any? So many. It’s a running joke with my friends that if I’m not freaking out over being overwhelmed by my workload, I’m freaking out that I’m not busy enough… My most exciting — I’m about to launch a big collaboration this month with the luxury hotel, Eden Rock — St. Barths. I am designing custom, limited edition clutches for their gift shop, artwork in 16 villas, they are hosting my 30th birthday celebration, and a solo exhibition in March 2020. Art Basel is coming up next month which is always a very difficult time for me (since the accident) but this year I have a big solo exhibition at the JCC Miami Beach, in memory of Juan. Trying to bring the good vibes back to Art Basel and back to my birthday this year. And last but not least, as I think it will appeal to Thrive’s audience, I recently launched a blog on my website (elizabethsuttoncollection.com) that discusses anything from lifestyle and recipes to business and resilience. Be patient, as it is in its infancy, but I’m going to offer some serious pearls of wisdom. To further grow my audience, in conjunction with my blog, I am in the midst of developing a podcast, ‘Success by Design with Elizabeth Sutton’, produced by Vinnie Potestivo, MTV’s former head of talent, which will launch by year end. The purpose of this podcast is to motivate and inspire positivity through creativity, resilience, and hustle. I will be sharing tons of impactful experiences in my life, and will feature my core team of advisors, as well as interview many other successful entrepreneurs who I find knowledgeable and wise.”
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
“Don’t compete with other women. We need to help one another. There is room for all of us. I hate to sound too feminist, but we really need to stick together because for the most part, the men still run the show. That’s how women would succeed more. How can we do that? By instilling confidence and kindness through our brands, how we raise our kids, and personal example by how we treat one another. Collaboration instead of competition. As leaders, women MUST be tough, or we won’t be taken seriously. But we also have a nurturing side that many men don’t, so if we can home in on that trait and bring it to the ‘team’, we really have the winning ticket (in my opinion…). Everyone wants to feel appreciated.”
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
“Delegate. Let go of some control to people who you trust. Time management is also key — I am extremely scheduled.”
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
“So many. If you can learn ANYTHING from my journey, it is don’t be afraid to ask for help. My first mentor ever, Christina Dolan, told me I was going to succeed because I wasn’t afraid to ask people for help. I literally ask people for help all the time, every day. Who do special shoutouts go to? All my best friends and family who support me. But on a business level, Bari Erber (founder of Bari Lynn Accessories) who helped me in a time of serious need and continues to help me. My friend, mentor, and fellow entrepreneur, Andrew Fox, who always encourages my hustle. Another anonymous friend/mentor who prefers to remain private but who is EXTREMELY successful and both wise in business and in life. He helps keep me calm and reminds me to breathe. My team, of course, who sticks by my side day and night busting a$$ because they believe in me and dedicate their everything to me. And last but not least, my ‘Instafam’, who supports my career, buys my artwork and products, spreads the ESC love and encourages my passions and hustle all day every day.”
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
“I try and bring goodness to the world through everything that I do. From the messages within my artworks themselves that I truly believe bring good vibes to the universe through color; to philanthropic donations and endeavors within my company. I am involved with a number of charities, I volunteer my time and my artworks, ESC having raised over $150,000 in the past two years for life changing and lifesaving causes. But mostly, I try to inspire people through my life, work, and story. I try to help people see the positive even in the worst situations, because sometimes things are out of our control and the only thing that will make any difference is having the right perspective. You can go through tons of bad things and still come out on top if you want it badly enough. But it takes HARD WORK, both emotionally and in regard to business. For someone who is only 29, I believe I’ve learned a lot of perspective and I try and share that with the world.”
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- “Put your numbers down on paper. What does that mean? Create sales goals from the beginning of your business. How much revenue do you want to generate by month six. Month 12. Year two… Literally, WRITE IT DOWN. Put it in front of your face, drill it into your head, outline exactly how you plan to generate said revenue, and check your benchmarks to see if you are achieving your goals. A mentor, Gina Paolini, told me to do this and I can’t believe I hadn’t done that before, in detail. But my career started as an accident, so I definitely wasn’t an organized businesswoman when this began.”
- “Which brings me to — GET ORGANIZED, legally and fiscally. Form an LLC, open a business bank account, make sure you have a good bookkeeper and accountant from the beginning of your business, so you don’t have to backtrack and do double work. Go through all the proper steps. It’s annoying but you need to do it.”
- “Slow to hire, quick to fire. I was having problems with a key employee for some time and didn’t fully trust him, but the quality of his work was good. My life was unstable in other regards, and I was scared to fire him because I didn’t want to rock the boat. A few months later, he quit through email, completely unprofessionally, and left me high and dry and in a bind. If you ever have the intuition that someone is not the right fit, get rid of them QUICK because they’re not giving you their all. I hate to say it, but almost everyone is replaceable so don’t be too afraid of change.”
- “Learn, learn, learn. Educate yourself as much as possible. Do market research. It’s boring but crucial. Really put time into researching vendors, manufacturers, distribution channels, etc. Find mentors who can give you advice through personal experience. That’s not an easy thing to do, so if the mentor is valuable enough to be a mentor, you need to think about how you’re going to help them as well.”
- “Take a deep breath. Don’t be afraid of change. Things are going to go wrong. Breathe through it all. Figure out the problem. Solve the problem. Simple as that. Don’t get overwhelmed. I experience this daily. The car accident was the worst of them, but the fact that I was even able to put one foot in front of the other after that happened, almost nothing can shake me as long as I remember to breathe through it, which is not always easy for me.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
“I actually have an entire tech idea behind this that maybe one day I’ll develop so I’ll keep the nuances of it quiet, but it’s a concept I call ‘Hustle Chic.’ You can Google the definition I wrote on Urban Dictionary. A take on paying it forward. Teaching people to help others while also helping themselves. Everyone needs to succeed, ourselves included. In short, JUST BE NICE. Smile. Be kind. Give and you shall receive. Easier said than done though. I think a lot of this is taught in our childhood and formative years, so really, I think the movement has to start with our education system and the lessons we teach in our homes. I really hope my podcast will help, honestly. I’m only ‘successful’ because I put in a TON of hard work, through therapy, on fixing some traumas from my past. If we don’t fix ourselves, we continue to perpetuate the cycle.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Figure out the ‘what, why, and the how?’ What do you want in your life and in your career? Why do you want those things (i.e. for financial gain, for self-esteem, for love, etc.) and how? How can we achieve the ‘what’ utilizing the skillsets and tools we CURRENTLY have at our fingertips, not the things that we might have in the future. Focus on the now and your motivation behind it all. And the cliché, remember that everything is a blessing in disguise, especially the difficult moments.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
“You might laugh, but Cardi B. I love her. I think she’s talented. I think she’s true to who she is. She speaks her truth, ignores the haters, focuses on what’s important to her (her music and her family) and she hustles like few others. She seems appreciative of life and the blessings that G-d granted her, but she earns her success every step of the way. I can relate, and would love to pick her brain, and hustle a way to work with her. I truly think she’d appreciate my work, and she’s the bossiest, so… Plus, I think I’d laugh the whole time because she’s freaking hilarious and G-d knows I can use a good laugh.”