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.
It gets uncomfortable because I’m used to, ‘If you don’t do it, I’m going to do it.’ But I’ve had experiences with women where you can tell there’s something going on in the relationships and I’ve always said I don’t want to be that woman.
What is your process to achieving your greatest self and how do you create/ protect your peace and good vibes?
I found Jesus in me. He uses a scripture in Matthew where he’s talking to Peter; He said, “Get thee behind me Satan, for you are a stumbling block to me.” And I said it in our last (Sky High University) session at church, Jesus didn’t identify Peter by his government name, he identified him by his vibe. And it wasn’t even like, ‘I’m trying to knock you off your course’; [it’s just] your vibe is off, and that’s a distraction to me.
The term ‘vibe’ comes from vibration –it has the ability to move something out of its position. People take that lightly but to me, that’s a big deal. What is your vibe like? Are we on the same page? No, we don’t have to be the same person in a different body, but if I’m picking up that you just aren’t rocking with me or if I have to question my conversation after I leave the room with you then that’s a part of me not protecting my peace.
Creatives are emotional and all over the place and we’ll try to do so many things because we're creative and we can draw parts of our purpose from all over the place. I’m always checking my friend zone. I’m checking my surroundings. I think the older I become, the more I am enjoying and totally having peace with being an introvert. I had a whole week at home and it has been so amazing. I was skipping around the house—if there were cameras, y’all would think I’m strange—but I turned on music and I was dancing like you see in the movies and I just enjoyed it. I was so tired and exhausted; I was knocked out on my couch. So after 2 days of rest, in addition to my 8 hours, I was just up working and creating until 6 am and I was like where is this energy coming from and I realized, it was coming from my sleep game and I was just creating and thinking!
What is freedom to you?
Being secure in who you are. Being in your right mind. Being clear of your purpose. Having some money in the bank. Having that emergency fund, the savings account and not living on credit cards. I just put my credit cards up and I am not using them. Credit should be talked about way more with entrepreneurs. My dad has great credit and I sat at the table with him to buy my first car and my first home and he looked at me and said “Girl, your credit score is 2 points higher than mine!” As we were sitting at the table, the salesman said to me, “This is the first time I’ve ever seen an African American, father-daughter duo go back and forth about who’s credit score was better, and yours is 2 points higher than your dad’s.” And when he said that I don’t know if I was disappointed or hurt but I saw the tone that it sets in a room so as women who are working and grinding, make sure your credit is where it needs to be so you can get the loans and investors you need. So that is something I’ve been working on and maintaining. Financial freedom is definitely a part of my free space.
Where/ when do you feel most free?
When I don’t feel like I need to figure out what’s next or when I’m not feeling like I rubbed someone the wrong way. Feeling and knowing that I’m in Gods will. That’s when I’m free. When I feel that security, I’m like forget everybody else, this is the space I’m supposed to be in. It feels like heaven.
When I got fired and lost everything, I blamed the Devil for destroying my life and I was at the point where I didn't care what happened and I didn't even want to do radio anymore. My pride wouldn't let me tell anyone what was going on but God knows everything and He revealed what He had allowed to happen and why. God pushed me, and because I wasn't a quitter, I made church a priority, and under my new covering at Hopewell Baptist Church, I have come to a place where it isn't about me anymore. I told God that whatever He did was fine with me. All these years I was making it about me and I was messing it up.
I had to understand that God does not need my help, advice, or instructions! Once I moved out of His way and my own way, He opened a door. When 105.1 launched on July 1, 2016, I began my campaign to become a personality and July 1, 2017, exactly one year later, I was hired!
Describe a time when you didn’t feel free.
When I was in a relationship and not sure that I was supposed to be there. I was very confused always questioning everything that I did and everybody. It was always questioned… I was a living question. I would say from about 20 to 28 years old I was in that space.
Is there something you think God is holding you to, to use as your “thorn” Or a hindrance that keeps you grounded?
The Lord has definitely dealt with me. For a season in my life I did use the whole “thorn in my flesh” thing but the Lord hit me at 29/30 with “How would you like it if I treated you that way?” It’s like the Lord used my natural experiences and allowed me to see reflections of what it's like spiritually. It was like He used that moment to show me “This is how I feel.” Then he directed me to Hosea 1:2; God told the prophet “Marry this whore and I’ll show you how the children of Israel are making me feel when it comes to unfaithfulness.” I don’t like saying that it’s a thorn because then I feel like I’m making an excuse for it. If I can keep my legs closed around everybody else but it’s just this one person, there’s something else I need to look at so I don’t like to call it a thorn but I am getting a lot of lessons from it.
In your opinion is total freedom a good thing or can freedom become dangerous?
I don’t mean to be churchy but I’m a woman of faith! This is just what I believe; as long as you’re with the Lord, you’re free! As long as you understand salvation and being bought back from sin…and not just that— it's like an invention being connected with it’s inventor—total freedom is being connected with God and that’s it for me. I don’t think it’s dangerous at all. Why do you want to be in prison? That’s why we pay our taxes and don’t commit crime. I think it’s very possible to enjoy total freedom.
What would be your advice to yourself?
Get out of the future before you get anxiety and have to take anxiety pills. Just let God be there, live in the moment. Have peace that He is with you. If you’re praying and seeking Him and doing the best that you can, then all will be well… ALL will be well! Rest in that simple message. Sometimes we’re looking for things that are super deep and its right at the top of the water. RELAX! Take your time. Stop spending so much; a lot of what you’re buying will be out next season. Invest your money into stocks, mutual funds and CDs.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to be with my family. I’m obsessed with them. I totally interrupt my parents dates all the time.
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