Updated: Aug 5, 2020
By Ayana Bryant-Weekes
Singer, songwriter, fashion designer, evangelist, mentor, daughter, sister and friend; the many endeavors of #KierraSheard are both ground-breaking and time consuming but this God-led mogul in the making is on a mission to not only continue a legacy that has made its mark on the gospel world, but also integrate that legacy into a greater arena and purpose
" Feeling and knowing that I’m in Gods will. That’s when I’m free. "
Describe the process of your transition into the fashion industry. What was the overall public reaction to that transition?
At first, it was kind of irritating because I had some people label Eleven60 as a “gospel clothing line”. Don’t box me in; the whole purpose of this vision is to go outside of the box and into the marketplace. Me being a woman of faith and a woman of color, sometimes, we have to put in a little more to meet or exceed that level of excellence. In the beginning, it was a little discouraging to have people box me in when I have a mindset to create a legacy. But, I’m used to those beginning stages; I’ve been doing this for so long.
What are some of the ups and downs about being an independent designer?
I was learning and bumping my head along the way. I jumped in wanting to cater to women like me and it was ALL favor. I got a hook up through a guy that went to jail right after I was able to get his contact—I literally met him before he was going to prison. I know it was God because I had been trying this for so long and it just was not happening and it happened when it was supposed to happen. My first contact was a lady named Ms. Chung, and she hooked me up and gave me a blessing. She didn’t know me as a gospel artist or the [Sheard] name or anything. She told me she believed in what I was doing and said let’s try it!
During a Workshop At Macy’s seminar, The founder of Carol’s Daughter, Lisa Price, talked about how you put out a product in a test market and it sells out but then your restock it, thinking it will do just as well, and it’s crickets! Then, you have to sit on the product. I’ve experienced that and we’ve spent so much money, so it’s literally a gamble. That’s the only thing I don’t like because you go from a Macy’s price point to an outlet price point and you have to just charge it to the game.
I made some other mistakes; I spent a lot of money on air freight charges. I had to make the sacrifice— which any entrepreneur would have to do in the beginning stages—but I was spending money and not making it back and it was all a learning experience. We stopped shipping product by air, then we started doing it by EMS (Korean FedEx) and now we’re shipping it by sea but that takes longer so it challenges me with the fashion forecasting timeline and I just have to be on time! You almost have to be six months to a year ahead! experience. We stopped shipping product by air, then we started doing it by EMS (Korean FedEx) and now we’re shipping it by sea but that takes longer so it challenges me with the fashion forecasting timeline and I just have to be on time! You almost have to be six months to a year ahead!
How has trend forecasting affected your business model?
I’m a student at heart and this reminded me of researching in my college days. I love learning, asking questions and picking people’s brains so being able to see how people are thinking ahead is amazing to me and it’s challenged me to step my game up. However, the curvy community is still catching up, though we are the average American woman, we’re still delayed and late when it comes to fashion. Forecasting challenges me as an artist, not just as a designer but getting more into art and pulling more creativity out of me.
What was your experience like working with Korean manufacturing companies?
It was so much that I learned. I have more respect for designers that started from the ground up and kept it going. A lot of people ask me “When are you going to get new product?”, and I’m just like if you only knew—the first time I did this, it cost me $100k for me to start. It comes with the territory but I just wish people would be more educated before they say things.
AM EXCLUSIVE! I learned that Korean manufacturing is more expensive, but they produced our quantities. China produces larger quantities, which we’ll be getting into as well.
Describe your first time at the Workshop At Macy’s. What were some of the takeaways from your experience?
It was literally a dream. The CEO of Macy’s and The New York Times all came over asking for interviews, not knowing “Kierra Sheard” but just wanting to know, “Who this big girl is getting all this attention over here?” I got to see what it means when they say you ‘are to be as lit as a city one a hill’—I saw how powerful it is. Before, I really had moments where they told me no, this isn’t going to work, but Eleven60 did 50% of all the sales on the floor that day and it was my first time. Again, that’s the chunky, black girl from Detroit who doesn’t know much but said she would remain a student, who is also stressed out about a budget and questioning if this is even what I’m supposed to do.
AM EXCLUSIVE! At first we got a call back and they said, “You’re not ready for it.” but the very next day, we got another call directly from the Plus Sized department and they said we want your clothes in our stores! We aren’t doing the physical stores but we will be available online so to God be the Glory! It was a great opportunity and I’ll keep working at it!
Who or what makes up your design inspiration?
I’m inspired by Chanel’s runway style and how they’re always keeping themselves relevant. I loved the Spring/Summer 2018 show he did that nodded to the environmental issues facing our world with high-class rain gear like plastic knee-high boots with the signature capped toe look, wide-brimmed bucket hats, gloves and cropped shawls, rain bonnets, translucent totes and plenty of their trademark tweed fabric. They always have elaborate sets with classic pieces and embellishments. Of course, I don’t see myself designing pieces out of the plastic for my curvy girls because we sweat but I loved it.
What can we expect from Eleven60’s Fall line?
Definitely urban Street Style; in the past we’ve had to offer more conservative looks but a lot of us are more on-the-go so this time around I hope to provide more staple pieces with jewels, embellishments but things that makes sense according to trends. I want to provide the curvy woman with staple pieces that her straight sized friends have so that she isn’t left out. And of course providing comfort and quality that compliments the curvy woman.
When it’s time to switch gears, how do you shift from a business mindset to a personal/ vulnerable one?
By being a graceful woman. I was just doing a bible study and the lord was dealing with me on not saying the enemy stole everything or not saying that the reason I’m in this space is because of everybody that has broken me or caused my brokenness. He had me to write, “Figure out where you left your grace. Go back there, deal with that space and pick it back up and carry it.” Because no man wants a woman who shows him that she can do everything—because it’s no need for him.
I remember my Bishop ( J. Drew Sheard ) gave the lesson of the rib being taken from the male; the rib protects the heart, so who’s more in need of whom? The man needs me to protect him. So I had to remember that truth and say okay, I have to be cool. I started watching mama (Karen Clark-Sheard) and started monitoring what I was saying like ‘Kierra, you don’t have to say everything, you don’t have to do everything. Relax, pick up your grace, gracefully walk in the room and let people do things for you.’
I talk to my brother all the time about how long it seems to take for me to get to a certain level but there are some things I won't sell my soul for ( figuratively speaking). Radio is entertainment and we know how male-dominated the entertainment industry is, but don't settle even if it takes longer because of your morals.