Be Nimble: We can cause ourselves undue stress and anxiety by focusing on what should have happened when things do not go as planned. We must be able to acknowledge the challenge and come up with creative solutions to keep moving forward. Focus on what is in your control instead of what is not.
As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Moneifa Murray.
Moneifa is the Founder, and Designer of Chéri House, the Luxury Swimwear Boutique for Vacation Fashionistas.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Growing up immersed in my Caribbean heritage, I was drawn to the extravagant costumes worn during Carnival, especially those crafted from strappy bikinis and monokinis. I began designing these costumes while attending university and continued once I graduated. I had been using a popular seamstress to sew the base of my designs and one day, she completely botched my project. It was at that time I knew I needed to sew my designs on my own. I borrowed my mother’s sewing machine and taught myself how to sew bikini bottoms at first and eventually began sewing all types of swimwear silhouettes.
As a travel enthusiast, I began designing and sewing swimsuits drawing inspiration from my travel plans to cities around the world from Oranjestad to Moscow. But it was the trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where beach culture is so strong, that I was encouraged to solidify my vision and move forward with entering the swimwear market as a major competitor. Shortly after that trip, I enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Technology (NY) to learn technical swimwear design and manufacturing, all while still maintaining my day job in finance. Then in the summer of 2019, Chéri House, the luxury swimwear brand was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
COVID-19 has been the most interesting challenge to navigate since I started this business. Instead of learning how to position my business to adapt to the “coronaconomy”, I was learning how to launch an entirely new business in the middle of it.
It seemed like life was going as planned. I spent six months interviewing and vetting manufacturers to professionally produce my designs before finally choosing one in December. I visited West Africa for the holidays, started the production process soon after the New Year, and went to Trinidad for Carnival in February as usual. As soon as I returned to New York from Carnival everything turned upside down because of COVID-19 and I had to react quickly. My plans for visiting the production site in Brazil were canceled, deadlines were pushed, and my vision of a large, luxurious, poolside launch party was off the table. I did not let this deter me. I figured that If I can have a successful launch during a pandemic, I will be successful if and when the world returns to normal. And so I moved forward by monitoring production remotely, revising internal timelines, and reimagining what a launch event might look like in what is now considered the new norm.
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?
When I first started designing swimwear, it was for my personal vacations and it was quite normal for me to plan photoshoots around the world and model the pieces myself. I’m not sure why I thought that needed change for Chéri House but I spent time telling myself that I was not able to model anymore, that I outgrew it, that I only wanted to be the boss behind the camera, that my body was not in shape anymore, that I was too old, etc. In planning the editorial shoot in Mexico, it was extremely difficult to find a darker-skinned, black swimwear model locally. I think it was because that model needed to be me. I ended up modeling my swimwear and these photos were some of the best I’ve taken in a long time. The moral of the story is that there’s nothing wrong with being the face of your own brand!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Chéri House stands out because of our ability to combine elements of travel and luxury. Each of our looks was inspired by a place dear to us and exciting to many. Our signature style, The Sandra Monokini, includes a number of adjustable components for best fit and golden sea and chlorine- resistant hardware that decorates the suit in a way that is unique to us and our background in carnival costume crafting. Our signature style is also named after my mom, Sandra, the most hardworking, resilient, and loving woman I know. This launch is an ode to her greatness.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I would recommend a couple of things to help with burnout as it is a challenge I face as a fashion entrepreneur in addition to being a financial services professional. My first recommendation is to keep a tangible object close by that can serve as a source of inspiration for reference during trying times. My tangible object is a glossy, high-resolution Chéri House logo which is affixed to the wall right above my workspace. I fell in love with it the moment I got it because the luxurious look of it really personifies my brand. Looking at this logo fills me with joy and optimism which encourages me to move forward.
I would also recommend fine-tuning leadership skills such as prioritization and delegation. I believe the main source of our burnout is the sheer number of competing demands with similar deadlines. At some point, we have to acknowledge that it is not humanly possible to accomplish everything, especially for those of us with one-person teams. We need to be able to prioritize the most critical tasks and call for help when needed. This is almost a daily exercise for me.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As a new brand, I have been very transparent about the journey to starting my own business highlighting a lot of the hard work that happens behind the scenes. In addition to openly sharing my story, I often find myself providing advice and resources to those that are just starting. My hope is that other aspiring black entrepreneurs will be able to leverage my experiences and nuggets of wisdom as they navigate each step of building their own brands.
Ultimately, I would like for Chéri House to sponsor travel opportunities for young, underprivileged, black girls. Travelling teaches many tangible and interpersonal skills that have greatly benefited me and helped to make me the well-rounded person I am today. I want more black girls to have the same exposure but at an even younger age than I was.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Crawl before you walk, walk before you run” ~ a Caribbean woman somewhere.
Slow and steady has helped me to achieve my goals in a controlled and organized fashion. Creating swimwear started as a hobby in 2017 when I taught myself the mechanics of sewing so that I can make unique pieces for myself. Shortly thereafter, I began selling custom, made to order pieces for family and friends. Now, in 2020, I am selling my design nationwide. I would not want to have skipped any of these steps as each step allowed me to practice for the next and taught me valuable lessons along the way.
Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?
While it did not take as big of a hit as, say, the travel industry, the fashion industry was disrupted in many ways by COVID-19 which I think opened the doors for much-needed change. We have seen how the pandemic left the fast and trendy producers and designers with a massive inventory. I am excited to see large companies with expansive supply chains stop over-producing garments. This is one of the reasons I chose to produce my swimwear line in small batches. I want to supply the demand not overproduce my garments then aggressively discount them or have a stockpile of unsold inventory that would make its way to a landfill. I also am excited to see a shift in the existing fashion/ retail calendar, something that many big-box retailers and designers have petitioned for, where retailers are not selling winter coats on a 80-degree day in September just to discounts these items when winter is finally here.
What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Be Nimble: We can cause ourselves undue stress and anxiety by focusing on what should have happened when things do not go as planned. We must be able to acknowledge the challenge and come up with creative solutions to keep moving forward. Focus on what is in your control instead of what is not.
2. Stay Educated: Aspire to become a subject matter expert in your market and stay abreast of industry updates. While I did not need school to teach me how to design my swimwear, I started a certificate course in swimwear design and manufacturing to learn more about the technical elements of the industry from fabric technology to machinery.
3. Be Persistent: Sometimes it can feel like things just aren’t working in your favor due to a string of unfortunate mishaps or plans gone sour. It is important to not give in to the feeling of failure. If at first you don’t succeed, try again, and again.
4. Stay true to your brand’s identity: It is always ok to try new things but it is more important to remember why your customer base chose to invest and support your brand over others. Stay true to this core identity and try not to get distracted by trends as they come and go.
5. Be Inspired: We have access to all sorts of media at our fingertips. Some of it can be draining and depressing which can impact our drive and creativity. It is important to maintain balance in our information feeds. Consume content that inspires you to create, elevate, and grow both personally and professionally.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
I think fashion needs to improve in many ways. The most obvious to me is probably on the issue of diversity. It is not enough to just have the token “insert race/orientation category” on a runway. Diversity initiatives (including recruitment, bias training, and equal opportunity for compensation, promotion, and executive leadership) must start from within these corporate offices, and only then will a diversified runway be genuine to me. I’d also like to see more respect and opportunity for independent designers. We take big risks and we deserve the same amount of coverage at a minimum.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 would inspire a self-care revolution. We are conditioned to think that the key to success is burning out and that working yourself to a pulp is a right of passage. Even I was guilty of these unhealthy practices until I started investing in things that allowed me to be my happiest, most relaxed self. I have become unapologetic about what I need to manage stress and for me, that means participating in self-care rituals such as pampering, cooking, and taking most Friday nights off because I deserve it. Practicing self-care and mindfulness would help us to achieve much more with greater efficiency while improving how we relate to one another. But in order to start this revolution, we must first acknowledge its importance.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow Chéri House on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @cherihouseswim
We are human beings and we love engaging and connecting with other human beings
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!