As Black women use the steadiness in our breaths, sturdiness in our stances, and security in our steps to hold barriers in our hands like skillets and eat our wildest dreams for lunch, we remind ourselves each time that we are anything but weak. Yet, while we knock down the four walls constructed of the world around us, remembering that our strength and softness are not mutually exclusive allows us the grace we often deserve.
Diondra Julian, founder of Suzy Black NYC and founder of the #SleepPretty Movement, allows the visualization of softness for Black women daily through lace, luxury, and love. Created in 2014 with a mission to “defy the stereotypical bombshell,” Suzy Black puts a spotlight on all builds of Black women who wish to be seen as delicate while making them the dream girls of their reality. With Julian constructing a table where many can feel seen, she has contributed to the blueprint of those who wish to build the same space for others through inclusivity, creativity, and fashion.
Currently, Suzy Black continues to flourish as her desire for women to #sleeppretty in order to tap into their feminine energy and use it for their own empowerment and self-fulfillment is felt worldwide. Since its launch, Julian’s brand has been featured in Cosmopolitan, XO Necole, Coveteur and is most recently a recipient of the BeyGood Impact fund. With years of finding the silver lining of life as go-getter women through lace, Suzy Black has been able to expand to lounge and resort wear.
Now, Diondra Julian chats with BAUCE to tell how she maintains her brand, image, and legacy while also allowing a window for luxury whenever she needs it the most.
Your introduction to the intimate wear industry was by your mother, as you were gifted a box of lingerie your last semester of college. Above feeling beautiful within them, what was missing that made you want to create an avenue for your own?
Diondra: I initially created the brand back in 2010; but when I originally dived in, what was missing from the industry at large was a representation of myself. A representation of me as a young black girl on the come up who I felt like was fly, and I felt like all my home girls were fly. However, everyone I saw represented in the industry as a bombshell or a dream girl didn’t look anything like me. You know, it was incredibly aspirational and incredibly intense. I asserted that I too and my girlfriends too were sexy dream girls. We too liked the incredible push up wonderbra — or a sexy lacy harem pant because it was a tease. So that is where I started to create things that I liked personally that I knew that my girlfriends like personally because I felt like we were the prototype.
It’s amazing that you wanted to create representation for what we did not see. In those times, there was little to no exclusivity like there is now. As more women of color are breaking through the industry, the urgency of bringing different women to the forefront has become important.How does that make you reflect on your beginning with Suzy Black’s mission to defy the stereotypical bombshell?
Diondra: I feel like it was incredibly validating and also it feels good now to be able to look over and see other designers with the same sort of desire because it was very lonely in the beginning. It could feel very like outside of things because I wasn’t doing the “traditional” pictures. My girls afros like back in 2014, my girls had full on natural hair. Sometimes we would do weave and big, big braids — we did all of that; yet I was standing in a very white industry. Their embrace of me felt very token at the time, but I’m so glad now to see the breakthrough because it’s like, “hey, we’re here.“
What was the defining moment in your life that led to your dive into fashion, and what has kept you coming back to it each day?
Diondra: I keep going back to her presence because it’s huge. My mom is one of 16, so she has like 11 sisters. So I talk about my mother as a glamor girl, but they all were glamor girls. And so we would watch old movies and we would look at the fashion in the old movies. There’s a scene in Gone with the Wind where Scarlett O’Hara rips the skirt down and makes a dress out of it.
My aunts and grandmother all could sew — so I would watch them all. They could make something out of nothing. We were our only competition. So I have fashion sketches probably from kindergarten that my mom still has. I knew just from being around all them and all of that extra feminine energy, that I wanted to create fashion. I mean, that was probably the story of every person ever. Once that is imprinted upon you, you have the gift of beautiful things happening all the time, that’s fashion. It’s art. So that was an impressive on me very early. At one point I thought I was going to be a gynecologist, but shortly knew that I was going to go to Arts School.
Even to this day when I try to shake it and say to myself, “I’m going to be very square,” or “I’m going to get a real job,” I still want to do fashion.I think you have to be like that, you have to be called crazy and you have to be who you are or else it won’t last. Either you’re built a certain way or you’re not.
Creating your own seat at the table can be a nerve wracking task; things such as doubt or even fear may creep in to throw you off track. Did you have any reservations, doubts, or fears in first creating Suzy Black?
Diondra: Not initially, because I think when you’re young, nobody can tell you anything. Like, you know, you’re right. I have a five year old son and he’s so sure all the time about everything. And I’m like, yeah, that’s your mom. I think the doubt came in maybe years into it where I felt like “wow, I feel like I have a beautiful product,” and I feel the feedback that I’m getting is that it’s a beautiful product, but maybe not necessarily feeling like it was taking off like it should have. So measuring what part of that is just being an entrepreneur is asking yourself if what you’re doing is valuable. That had moments where it created doubt. In those moments, I had to just close my eyes and keep going. You battle with “am I off track” or “am I that that weirdo in the corner doing the weird thing, or is this the real thing?” I think that just comes with the territory.
What is the biggest misconception you had not only about starting your own business, but designing pieces?
Diondra: I think a misconception that I had was that everybody’s going to love it and that everybody’s just going to embrace it. Another misconception is that you can be everything to everybody, and that’s just not true. I think as time goes on, you really settle in to know what you offer and what makes you authentic. You realize this is my voice in this space, because you will go crazy trying to answer the demands of everyone. I think the more that I think that I begin to settle into that people begin to respect that more. So outside of that, I think the design part was fairly easy because it was my profession to begin. What I didn’t know about the design process was just how hard it is to break onto the business portion of the same by gaining the respect and the trust of the factory. You know, it’s a two way street. You think you can just pay people enough to do what you need, but it’s a it’s a relationship building experience.
Reflecting back on the misconceptions you had to learn from, you spoke about coming to terms with your work not resonating with everyone. As creatives go into the world, many try to tailor their products to audiences and lose their authenticity in the process of attempting to be well-received. What advice do you have regarding that?
Diondra: I think that you cannot dive into creative entrepreneurship without really knowing who you are and knowing what you offer, because that will help you to create healthy boundaries and healthy expectations for yourself. Yet, you have to know what it is that you are offering, like down to the to the nail. I know I do, softness, luxury, and lounge and that I don’t I don’t cater to a certain audience I’m putting on these jammies and I want to be cute and I want you to think I am. So, you have to know your product.
I mean, my biggest critic is my mom. You have to know what you often like and be ok with what you offer being amazing for who it’s for. You feel like, “oh, that person doesn’t like me” and it can devastate you to the bone as a creative, but it may just not be for that person. Make the things that you make lovely for the people who think that they’re lovely.
You’ve stated in previous interviews that your introduction to the values of what Suzy Black was founded upon was your mother — “who is your biggest critic”. How do you think having a leading figure to draw creativity from contributes to an entrepreneur’s journey, especially your own?
Diondra: I think every creative should have a muse, and I think my mother was my muse and it’s funny because my perspective of her through the years has changed and evolved so much. So even my perspective of her from where I began to who she is now, has evolved so much more, I think even as evolve as a woman. It’s super important to be able to locate your inspiration, because sometimes your inspiration is all that will keep you going. It’s all that you’ll have to keep going, you know, because it does get harder. So many creatives want the creative part and that’s it, but the business part is what really is the toll.
So either you’re smart enough to find people who know the business and surround yourself with them and then they carry you along. Or like most of us, you have to learn the business as you go. That can be hard and sometimes soul crushing; and so to still have an inspiration that you can locate and still speaks to you and inspires you to continue to create is important, because it will feed you and carry you along. I think it’s important for us to you find our passion. I think that’s essentially what that is. You need to find that muse or that creative light that’s going to keep you going when the business part, can be hard on you.
The cool thing about my mom is that she is my muse. I think even in her criticism, it’s like exactly who Suzy Black is. I think I like her critique because she’s such a nurturer. She’s the reason I added plus honestly; she set the lightbulb off for that inclusivity. She’s very own point, and a visionary in her own old-school way.
It’s interesting that you were thinking of going into gynecology before fashion, then took that final step to pursue your passion. Many people stay in jobs they do not love out of the fear of losing security. What do you say for those who may be afraid to take that final step?
Diondra: If you have a gift, at some point you have to take a gamble on yourself. As a woman of faith, I do believe that when you apply that work with faith that the universe has no choice but to answer.We all we all want a storybook, but I think patience is also a part of it. I know there’s constant conversation about how in society everything has to be instant, but it is a process. Yet, at some point you have to take a chance on yourself.
In the moments where I said “no I’m not going to do this anymore,” I felt so voiceless. I knew my creativity, and that it needed it needed a space and to live. I’m glad that I’ve chosen to take a chance on myself every single time and also surrounding myself with people, who also believes in what I’m doing and my gift, particularly my husband. In moments where I have not wanted to take the chance of ourselves, he’s like, no, we’re taking a gamble. You can’t miss out like the wet comes with the water. If you are operating in your gift and you’re operating it exceptionally, all those other things that you’re looking for will come to be. You just need to create your own normal.
As a society we have become more sex positive and vocal about sensuality and all that comes along with it. We’ve seen teddies worn alongside blazers, body positive photoshoots, and even timeline teases. Has this game-changing dynamic benefited Suzy Black?
Diondra: You know what? It has. It’s always sort of been my thing because I have been the girl who would trump around town in a slip and throw down. I still think there’s still work to be done there because a lot of people still feel like lingerie is is only for the married woman, which is very strange to me because that’s like underwear and panties. It is the great equalizer.
So I think getting people to realize that, this doesn’t have to be a special occasion, like why are you saving your pretty dress? Get yourself more than one so you can be cute all the time. That was the whole point of Victoria’s Secret.
The embrace — I think it’s great and it’s amazing, and I want it to resonate down even something like those small places in little small towns so that women don’t ever have to feel ashamed of their God given beauty. I grew up in a very conservative place. I can tell you, I was called into my uncle’s pastor’s office multiple times regarding things that I had on. It wasn’t even about so much being shown, it was just that people couldn’t handle the difference of me. So while I was being called into the office, my uncle on the sly was also like, keep killing it. I want places like that to be safer to embrace young creatives who are strange and doing their own thing. I want it to be ok to stick out and not have to run away to New York so that you could finally find your people. I want it to be acceptable in those small places.
Suzy Black encourages on the concept of romanticizing even the simplest moments of your life. How do you feel like this can contribute to our journey through femininity as women today?
Diondra: I think it goes back to the concept that black women in particular don’t have the luxury of being tender or being vulnerable. I think that is part of the journey of black women being able to be tender, vulnerable, being willing and ready to go to therapy and things like that. Self care — that’s extensive. It’s beyond, drinking your water and managing your edges. I think we should start looking at it as a right, you know, to take care of ourselves.
The other day I looked at my daughter and said to myself, “I’m not ready to lose my own mom right now at my age. I need to live like 40 or 50 more years, just so I can leave you in the right place. Yet, If I want to live until I’m 90, I have to take care of myself. So I think that is what that’s about. It’s loving yourself to wellness and believing that you deserve the beautiful little things.
Loungewear and comfortability has become quite the replacement for business casual during the current pandemic. What is one item from Suzy Black that a BAUCE woman can wear while conquering emails and still feel luxurious?
Diondra: I have these really Tosh sleep pants, they’re lace and they’re super soft and comfy. It’s just a cute little throw on alternative to a pair of sweats. Every now and again, as I work from home, there are days where I’m like, “I need to be cute today, even if it’s comfortable.” I think that and my Ashlie bodysuit are super comfortable, but it’s like a party under a T-shirt. I think even Bralette as well, because I love a peekaboo moment.
While we often hear of the wins that come with being a self-made woman, we rarely hear of the losses. What is the toughest battle you’ve gone through in your journey to being your own boss?
Diondra: I mean, it’s probably an age old one for anyone who is bucking the norm, but I would say toughest charity with the most fulfilling win has been learning how to do this after becoming a mother and after becoming a wife, because I think for women in particular, these like milestones create identity shift.
I’m super high strung, but very laid back. So I see myself a particular way, and then when something new happens, it takes a minute for me to adjust to that. So you can go through spaces where you don’t know who you are anymore or you don’t know how this thing sits there anymore and you feel like, “oh, gosh, am I being irresponsible?” But I would say learning how to balance that and learning how to, you know, pull off my tribe and find, you know, extra help to fill in where I can’t be there pushing away those doubts that I’m not a good mommy because I’m not there for every single taekwondo, because mommy’s out working and trying to build really a legacy that I can pass on to my kids. I love my daughter, and she will look at me, but “are you going to work in your office?” I think her see me like this — seeing me activated, creating, and building is the same impression that my mother implanted of me and the same impression we see Serena implanting on her daughter. We have to lead by example.
That has been the biggest sort of hurdle for me. Those identity shifts, relearning my life after I have become became other things to other people, and learning how to meld those things together so that I could still be me and still create.
What are you most excited for Suzy Black in the future?
Diondra: I’m excited for more people getting to know it as a brand and as a black owned brand that operates in excellence and refinement. I’m excited because there is space for that. It’s still pretty unconquered, but it deserves to be there and deserves to be noted andI know that it is happening. The idea of being able to flesh out our company and add amazing talent to help bring that to pass is exciting for me as well.
What is the long lasting legacy that you wish for your brand to leave for women of color , specifically black women, wanting to step out on a limb and create something extraordinarily diverse and urgent?
Diondra: For black women, it’s the idea and concept that not only are we the prototype, but we also are worthy of luxury, rest, and the image of ourselves as the pampered princess because we deserve it. Because we’ve earned it and it also belongs to us as well as other ethnicities. You know, I always have envisioned myself as the rich auntie who writes checks.
It’s not because I had a rich auntie, but I feel like that’s who we are too — someone who can give back. I think that’s another legacy that I want to be — a hand to the next generation. So I’m even looking for ways to where we can bring on interns and young designers to incubate and help them to bring their vision to pass. I recently just was a teacher for a group called Custom Colab through Slow Factory and the FDA, where I worked with women in marginalized communities and taught them the skills of production, design, and fashion. They already had sewing skills, but it was about showing them how to monetize those skills and what corporate looks for. That, to me, resonated with who I am as an individual being, which is a teacher and a nurturer as well.
I think that is the legacy and I think honestly, that’s the legacy of black women, period, because we will hook a sister up, we will reach back.
Even when you look at politics, this whole situation that just happened, this was a black woman hooking up like that’s who we are, who we’ve been even to our own detriment sometimes. That’s Suzy Black, that is what I want to be long standing for us.