Fashion Designer Sheridan French
Let us introduce you to Sheridan French—fashion designer extraordinaire and queen of bright colors, bold prints, and embellished designs. This Southern designer—and mom to three little ones—has a luxurious, resort-inspired clothing and home collection that will make even those dedicated to all-black ensembles jump with joy. After spending her college years abroad, Sheridan landed a coveted position in Prada's London Press Office and launched her career in fashion. She eventually returned to Texas to start her family, but didn't let her dreams of one day gracing the cover of Vogue as a famous designer disappear. When the stay-at-home mom was given the chance to make her fashion line come to fruition, Sheridan jumped at the opportunity—and just four short months and a lot of hard work later, she had her first batch of samples in hand.
Anchored by classic wardrobe essentials such as shift dresses, tunics, and flowing skirts, her collection is adorned with vibrant prints and pops of exuberant colors—bringing flair to everyday life. While her collection definitely has an exotic, beachy personality—all pieces are firmly planted in versatile reality, and are designed to keep you stylish from morning errands to late night drinks with the girls.
We caught up with this entrepreneurial Texan to find out more about her career, her designs, and how she manages her growing fashion empire while keeping up with her three adorable kids (nicknamed Squirt, Snooze, and Squish).
Full Name: Sheridan French
Current Title/ Company: President and CEO of Sheridan French
Educational Background: MA University of St. Andrews, Scotland
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land it?
I worked in a quaint little home interiors store in St. Andrews—I was not ready to leave the town! It was a wonderful, carefree year and I enjoyed every moment. I am still in touch with some of the other shop girls still living in Scotland that I met while there.
What were you doing before you launched your business? What inspired you to take the leap and begin your own company?
Being a mom. Our oldest, now three, was 9 months old at the time. I knew at some point down the road I wanted to get into design, but felt it would be best to wait until I had more time—perhaps once our youngest was in kindergarten. I was put in touch with another gal that went to uni at St. Andrews by a mutual friend who wanted to get into production. Long story short, in two weeks she had resigned from her PR job in London and was on the ground sourcing for me in Bali! I found out I was pregnant with #2 that week as well. Needless to say, I realized my life was about to become a whirlwind! I knew I would not have this opportunity again and leapt while it was in front of me. Four months later, I had my first samples in hand—the rest is history.
Tell us about the process of launching your very first collection. How did you find textiles, have samples made, find a manufacturer, and ultimately promote your collection?
Without someone on the ground in Bali, I would not have been able to do it. I knew the importance of that, and could not pass it up. She was scouring the street markets and vendors, seeking out factories, and we did a lot of communicating via Skype (with terrible Indonesian internet connections). There was a tremendous learning curve, but it was also very eye opening with regards with what to do, what not to do, who to trust, and who not to. Every day is still a learning experience—there's always a new challenge! As far as promotion, I called roughly 400 boutiques across the United States (during nap times, as that was my only real time to work) and asked for the name and email of the buyer. I narrowed that list down to 250 and sent them each a look book. I heard back from 10, and seven placed orders. I had such a small collection that it was enough to make a tiny profit, of which I reinvested every cent, and moved onto the second spring collection.
During the time you were launching your brand, what was the greatest obstacle you faced? How did you manage to overcome it?
Being unknown, having no connections within the industry, not being in NYC, focusing on motherhood and family always as my first priority and my line second—those are still obstacles and challenges I face to this day. Not having attended a design school like Parsons or FIT also puts me at a disadvantage for sure, as I simply do not have those industry contacts that come from being immersed in the fashion world. It has been a long process of taking small baby steps, but every one of those steps teaches me something valuable. I am looking forward to the day when Neiman’s decides to call (or do I call them? See, I don't even know how it works)!
At first, your brand solely focused on luxurious women’s wear with a resort feel. Since then, you have expanded your collection and added exquisite home good items as well. What need did you see in the home decor industry that you fill with your collection?
Well let's be honest—the home decor industry is never one of need, but rather about beautifying the space around you. I love brightly colored home accents, but when I came across any they were either inexpensive yet poorly made or incredible, but outrageously priced. My children are three years old, two years old, and nearly one year old, and I can't invest huge amounts of money in my home decor (crayons are our weapon of choice around here). I also wanted items that invited friends, family, or whichever guests we had to get comfy on the couch, or lean back in their dining room chair and relax. Casual and cozy is the name of the game here, and my home pieces reflect that.
What need did you see in the fashion industry at the time you began Sheridan French that your line fulfills?
Wearable and chic comfort for women, but particularly mothers. I wanted something bright that could carry me through 8:45 AM preschool drop off, to grocery shopping, a quick coffee meeting, school pick up, playing with the kids and dogs outside, email checking and fabric approvals at my desk, errand running, dinner cooking, and date night. Sometimes we just don't have the luxury of time to change! I also felt that lines often get boxed in with one age group, and that is not what I wanted to happen. Every time I sit down and start designing I think, what can my 15 year old niece wear, and what can my 70 year old mother-in-law wear? Can they each select something from these pieces? If the answer is yes, (and if I would wear every single piece) then I am satisfied.
You’re a Texas-native, but attended university in Europe while studying for your master’s degree. While there, you worked both behind the scenes and as a model at several different fashion shows. What did you learn from these fashion experiences? How did these experiences help mold the career you have today?
I learned how absolutely chaotic fashion is, in the most amazing way. Tremendous amounts of work go into the production, months and months ahead of time. Sponsorship, lighting, music and sound, clothes, model selection, coordinating the venue, table and chair placement, and about a million other things. It is HARD work, but taught me much about teamwork, as well as how much can be accomplished if you just put your mind to it and make it happen. The modeling side of it was very fun. Lots of rehearsing went into it for us—we were only students, after all—but the night of the show was amazing and more fast paced than anything I have ever witnessed to date. That is how I thrive though!
You also scored a coveted job at the Prada Press Office in London—how did you manage to land such a coveted position? What skills did you take from working at Prada that you use in your current business?
It was very similar to when I started my line and sent out 250 look books, actually. I had several hundred contacts from working in the fashion shows, and emailed them my resume a few months before summer break. Out of several hundred, I heard back from three: Prada, Anya Hindmarch, and Mulberry. I arranged interviews and flew down to London to meet with a woman from each of the companies. I. Was. Terrified. Though it turned out that everyone was AMAZING. Their offices were incredible, and I knew every experience would have been truly unique. I was offered the position with all three, but selected Prada because, well, it was Prada! The Prada and Miu Miu press offices were linked together and my desk was literally right next to the head press officer for each, so I was truly in the thick of the day to day involvement. I learned more than I could have imagined, primarily about the hard work that goes into the day to day runnings of an operation like that. Everyone chipped in wherever help was needed—another intern and I would be checking in samples from Tatler, and the Prada press officer would get down on her knees with us and unpack if she had time. I would have a stack of samples to send out by a certain deadline, and the Miu Miu press officer would grab some and start typing an invoice for me. Even the accountants would come over and try to teach me some Italian if they had a chance. It was incredible! I definitely learned to be more courageous with my dressing as well. Boy, did they take amazing fashion risks and pull them off beautifully. It was an amazing influence on me. When I started St. Andrews, I was wearing Seven jeans and RL Polos. By the time I graduated, I was in tight black skinny jeans, flat thigh-high suede boots, vintage velvet jackets, fingerless cashmere gloves, extra long scarves, and too much jewelry piled on for anyone's own good. Upon graduation I was offered the job of Prada Press Officer for London—I DIED! But I really, really missed Texas and my family, and knew it was time for me to head home. Good thing I did as I met my husband seven months later, and we were married seven months after that!
Your incredible zest for life clearly shines through in your brightly colored designs. Where do you find creative inspiration for your bold collection?
My mother is an interior designer and I grew up going to the design district in Dallas with her to select fabrics for clients, so I have always adored textiles, pattern, fabric composition, and anything that goes along with that. It's in my blood! I am obsessed with ikat and believe it is a classic neutral, much like leopard, and I envision always having something ikat in every collection. Travels and real life are my primary inspiration points these days, plus making sure it works for family life.
Can you tell us about the design process you go through when launching a new collection or coming up with new inventory?
Often I close my eyes and just start thinking—what would I need? For this event, for that date, for this lunch, or that day at the playground. What would be fun to have in my closet? I write down ideas nearly every day whether it be a new body shape, fabric pattern, or color combo, or a specific idea for embellishment on a tunic. It is a constant and ongoing process, but my brain just works that way. Always thinking of colors, always creating.
When did you first discover your love of fashion? Who or what inspired you to pursue your fashion dreams?
I began sewing with my mother and great grandmother when I was a little girl, and the first dress I ever designed that came to life was for a friend's bar mitzvah when I was 12. I would still wear it to this day! I have the great fortune of coming from an enormous, loving family all of whom live in and around Fort Worth. I have always had support from them. My parents and my husband in particular have been instrumental in my decision—my parents raised me to be able to do anything I set my mind to, and my husband gives me day to day encouragement and constant strength. I certainly could not have done this on my own.
How do you manage to balance being a mom to three young kids with being a designer? What is the greatest obstacle you’ve faced while doing both?
Balance is not a word that exists in my vocab. I used to do blog posts all the time on balance—how I could find it, figure it out, what it was...it was this elusive word to me that I just could not grasp. I thought, why does everyone else have it together?! Why do I have baby food on my face, eight layers of dog hair on every surface in my home, one kid that missed the toilet, another coloring with Chapstick on the kitchen walls, and dinner burning in the oven? Where the heck is this magical balance?
For me, I finally just said you know what? F balance. I'm doing this my way and totally winging it—and I may have finally found my balance once I let go of the pressure and just embraced life. My husband gave me some of the best advice I ever received, which he had learned in ranching school, and it goes like this: "Adjust as necessary." There will always be obstacles—big, small, numerous, or few—but you are guaranteed they'll be there. Keep breathing and realize there is always tomorrow. My greatest personal obstacle is keeping that in mind—it doesn't all have to get done today! The sun will come up and the emails will be there, so go play outside for crying out loud. Don't get too bogged down in the serious stuff. Be silly and enjoy life!
What advice do you have for Everygirl’s who want to begin a career in the fashion world? What aspect of the industry would surprise our readers the most?
The best advice I can give is be true to yourself. Don't bend. Follow your heart and your own dreams, not anyone else's. I have not encountered anything that surprised me, but rather reaffirmed my expectations going in—that it is hard, hard work, constant work, and you must keep pushing forward.
In what ways have your blog, The Southern Electric, and social media made an impact on your career and business?
I think it has been huge! I began my blog as a creative outlet before I started my line, and the love of connecting with women really sank in then. I had a great following before I even began designing, and that helped get the word out when loyal followers would post on their own blogs or Facebook. It has been very flattering and touching! I have never really gotten into Twitter, but I adore Instagram and post eleventy billion photos a day.
How would you like to see your career and business evolve over the next five years?
Obviously I will have gone through the difficult decision of where I should sell—Barneys, Neimans, or Saks—and I'll probably be on my second Vogue cover around 2017. HA! Totally kidding, but a girl can dream, right? Truthfully what I would like to see is quite simple: I hope that I have been able to continue growing steadily, and I would love to have successfully expanded into jewelry, children's and men's clothing as well. Making sure my customers are happy is always number one for me as far as business goes—so if they are happy in five years, I am happy.
Take us through a typical day in the life of Sheridan French!
How much space do I have to write?? Ok here we go, the abridged version: Baby monitor wakes me up around 6:30. I head upstairs to get him while my husband takes our three dogs outside and gets them fed. I start making breakfast for the baby while the other two are waking up. My husband goes and gets our daughter and brings her downstairs, and I get breakfast ready for her. Usually I keep a good stock of Paleo waffles in the freezer so I can just pop in the toaster. Number three heads down stairs while I am feeding the other two. As soon as the baby is finished heading, I plop him in his bouncer or playpen, and get clothes for everyone. We are dressed and out the door around 8:45 for school drop off before 9. I leave the baby at home to nap while I drop the older two off, and head to CrossFit—then briefly to the office. If it is a day when our daughter doesn't go to school, I usually try to do something special with just her. School pick up is 11:45, and we head right back home for lunch, playtime, and naps around 1. Blissful quiet time for mama from 1-3:30 or 4! I power through emails and get as much work done as I can. If my oldest doesn't nap, he usually wants to veg out for a bit and watch cartoons, so I'll get emails done on the sofa next to him. We have a relaxed afternoon, and I get dinner heated around 5:30. I light the candles on our dining room table or kitchen table and we have a family dinner as many nights as possible, but sometimes it doesn't work if the baby is cranky, or my husband has a business dinner. We always, always try though. So important to us! Baby is down around 7, our daughter by 7:30, and our oldest around 8. Then my husband and I spend time together on the sofa either watching a movie, drinking tequila, or simply working next to each other on our laptops. As long as we are next to each other all is well in the world.
If you could see any woman wearing one of your designs, who would it be and why?
Reese Witherspoon, hands down. She is a strong, courageous, beautiful woman and achieves it all while being a working mother—in addition to always carrying herself with grace, dignity, and poise. In other words, the perfect SF gal!
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Let's see—at 23 I was married, pregnant with our first child, and just starting my blog. I would tell myself to sleep in as many mornings as possible, because that won't happen for another two decades! I would have made more of an effort to enjoy time to myself and savor those moments—I don't get much "me" time these days. The bright side is that my time is full of three angels here on earth and colors galore, so honestly it's been a great trade.