For the past two years, I have had the pleasure of growing and studying and (hallelujah), graduating, with Sharisse Scott-Rawlins as we navigated our MBA program at Howard University.
Ever since she was a little girl, she says, “I have been interested in Fashion.”
It’s amazing how your paths cross with people. Nothing in life, it seems, is an accident. I had just started clothespetals prior to my first year of the program, and I knew I wanted to spotlight the incredible Black talent behind beauty and fashion. So, it seems, meeting Sharisse was serendipitous.
It had been meant to be.
And as she has grown to be one of my favorite people ever, I realize that your paths cross with people and miracles seem to happen when you’re in spaces that you’re supposed to be in. I’ve said it before how special Howard is, and I don’t say that because the school has been in the news lately. I say this because I’ve said it since I graduated from university in 2016. I have the pleasure of saying it again. Seriously, the talent and creativity and intellect that goes through the HBCU experience is like nothing else. It’s indescribable.
To put it simply, it’s the people that really give the school its life—its magic.
Sharisse is one of those people.
She graduated from Lasell University with a B.A. in Fashion Design & Production in 2016 and, of course, from Howard University with an M.B.A. in Management this May of 2020, and it was when we met that I first thought that it was incredible—truly—to have created your own business and continue to run it while in the process of earning your MBA.
Established in 2010, bySharisse, much like its founder, encourages confidence, individuality and equality. At only twenty-six years old, Sharisse herself has created over 600 pieces for the brand to date and, has almost single-handedly marketed, designed, and executed for over seventy-five events. So, it was a lot of fun for me to go back and forth with Sharisse about her journey; about embracing her passion and stepping confidently into her life path.
Q. When did you know you wanted to work in fashion?
A. At an early age, I found myself being the fashionista of the family—dictating what I would and would not wear at the early age of three and helping others better their questionable fashion choices as early as five. Although I was always interested in fashion, I didn’t know exactly which aspect of it I would decide to enter. My original thought was Fashion Design, but due to the high level of concern and risk expressed to me by family and friends, I was too nervous to enter the fashion design field until my sophomore year of college. During my freshman year, my major was Fashion Merchandising, but as someone who is a hands-on learner and more of a creative type, I switched my major to Fashion Design and Production.
Most students switched out of fashion design into fashion merchandising, because they found Design to be too hard, but it was unheard of for a student to switch into Design. Professors, fellow students etc. doubted that I would be able to catch up and graduate on time but I was not only able to do so, I was also to study abroad at the London College of Fashion, land myself at the top of my class, and be voted as the #1 student of my class by the faculty’s prestigious book award.
Okay, book award!
Q. It sounds like that was meant to be. Had college been your first bit of exposure to sewing and drawing and the other technical parts of fashion design?
A: Yes, undergrad was my first time having exposure to sewing and sketching and the technicalities of fashion design. I started my business in my sophomore year of high school. However, what I was doing was more-so customizing garments and attire—I was hand-painting and customizing clothing I would go out and buy, so I didn’t need a sewing machine for it. So, that’s how I started my business and I didn’t know anything about sewing until my sophomore year in undergrad, which is why it was super crazy I was able to graduate on time.
So, I would say meant to be is a perfect phrase, because as much as I tried to fight it and as much as people were telling me I couldn’t make a career out of fashion design, I did.
It was honestly meant to be. All of the stars aligned and I was able to learn super quickly everything I needed, and I was even able to do a semester abroad and you aren’t able to study abroad unless you’re all caught up.
So, y’know, honestly, I don’t even know how I managed to do it, but I look back on it and yeah, I didn’t know a damn thing about fashion design (laughs) and was able to achieve so much when I was in school.
Q. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps and literally create their own fashion line?
A. To be honest, fashion school is really expensive, so to be real with you, the biggest tool I would suggest for anyone who wants to follow in my footsteps would be YouTube. Like, YouTube University. Real talk. It has so many step-by-step tutorials that teach you how to make different garments and different techniques. Even to this day, after going to school for fashion design I can literally go on YouTube and search out “how to do a men’s fly-front zipper” and can literally and successfully follow a tutorial to achieve what I want to achieve.
There are so many great YouTubers out there who put so much time and energy into teaching people how to sew, it’s actually really amazing.
Q. How does BySharisse differ from other fashion brands?
A. bySharisse differs from other brands by having a clear and concise vision and goal of encouraging confidence, individuality, and equality. Through this mission, the brand works one-on-one with clients of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and ethnicities. Another stand out of the brand is the importance of bringing the community together through my work; to not only buy and sell beautiful clothes but to also make a difference in the world we live in today. Social justice is a big aspect of my brand, along with unique prints and patterns, handpainted components, and providing a platform for creatives to express themselves.
Now that I have completed my MBA, bySharisse differs from other brands on a whole other level. A lot of designers know how to make pretty clothes, but I realized don’t often know how to properly run their business. Therefore, my [degree] gives me an edge; it has [given me] a better chance of keeping my business from failing.
Q. Do you suggest an MBA to all budding designers?
A. I would say that all entrepreneurs should consider getting their MBA or at least taking online classes to help them increase their business knowledge. I believe it is crucial for business owners to know the ins and outs of running their own business for a better chance at maximum success. Although learning accounting, finance, and similar related topics were difficult for me coming from a fashion design background, I believe that it was essential because a lot of people know how to make pretty clothes, but not many know how to successfully run a business and that is why so many small fashion design businesses fail. I wanted to do everything necessary to achieve the maximum amount of knowledge which hopefully will translate into maximum success.
Q. What was your career path prior to starting your own business?
A. I actually started bySharisse [during] my sophomore year of high school in 2010. This all started due to my environmental science professor giving us a project about environmental safety, in which she wanted us to think outside of the box and create a non-traditional presentation. I made my first hand-painted shirt, wore it to school, and to my surprise got a surplus of orders from students and faculty requesting their own custom-made shirts bySharisse.
Before starting my business ten years ago I was very interested in Psychology, Crime Scene Investigation, and interior design. All over the map, I know!
Q. What advice do you have for young men and women interested in starting their own brand?
A. My advice to the young aspiring entrepreneurs is there is no time like the present, just got for it. We all know that fashion repeats itself and more importantly, the fashion industry is over-saturated with real and fake designers. It can definitely be intimidating but I say just take the first step towards your vision. Create a brand that specializes in your creative specialty and start writing your business plans.
Q. You mention a business plan. Do you think it’s important for designers and creatives to create their plans before they get started?
A. So I would say that all creatives should definitely create a business plan when they are interested in starting a business. The business plan is something that can not only give creatives a foundation to start, but it is something that is ever-changing and a work-in-progress. I love revisiting my business plan every six months and making adjustments and seeing how I can make it clearer and more concise. The fashion industry specifically is always changing, and it is important for designers to stay flexible, relevant, and continuously looking for opportunities for growth.
Q. What was the best piece of advice you have received regarding your career?
A. The best piece of advice I have received is that I need to know my worth and then add tax. As someone who often gives people the benefit of the doubt and sees the good in people, I can often try too hard to cater to individuals and their circumstances. However, knowing my worth, what I bring to the table, and not accepting a penny less has been a piece of advice that I hold dear to my heart.
Q. So, of course, I have to ask, how has your work been (positively or negatively) impacted by COVID-19?
COVID-19 has both positively and negatively affected my business. Of course, when folks don’t have anywhere to go, they have no need for a custom outfit and during these times it is definitely out of price range for a lot of customers. Also, with proms, graduations, vacations, and birthday plans being canceled, that resulted in a major loss of clientele. However, the pandemic has positively affected me because it has given me time to really fine-tune my business plans, complete projects, prepare for the future, and of course, push my brand to the next level.
Q. So, you know this week I’ve been obsessed with legacy apparel, and you had a collection of hand-painted Howard MBA sweatshirts. What was your inspiration for that collection?
A. I was just inspired by the casual elegance I would see on campus every day. As I would walk through the yard, seeing all of the black excellence was just so inspiring. Like who knows what we will all become in the future? We could be walking by the next president, future big actress/actor, next TV host... the possibilities are endless. That’s why I used gold on top of the HU colors. Because black excellence is gold, magical.
Q. Now that the school year is starting up again, do you have any plans for more HBCU or Howard-themed apparel?
A. Yes, I do have some new ideas and sketches that I’m playing around with, so yes that will be coming soon!
Okay, coming soon!
Q. What is your morning routine? How do you prepare for work?
A. My morning routine consists of reciting my personal mantra and meditating to make sure my mental, emotional and spiritual health is in check. And then I’m turning on the noise of emails, DM’s, calls, texts, etc. I always start my day by making a daily to-do list of achieve-able tasks for the day, so I can set small goals for myself to better assess my progress and feel a better sense of accomplishment.
Q. As an entrepreneur, your mental health is so important. How do you suggest other entrepreneurs (especially in such a fast-paced industry) keep their heads and health amidst the stress of running your own business?
A. Mental health is definitely a huge factor and it’s very very important and I feel as though not enough people take it seriously enough.
So, as an entrepreneur I would say it’s important still that we are setting aside time to unplug; setting aside a designated time to just unplug and like, be by yourself—whether it be watching your favorite movie or maybe you’re going for a walk, just finding a set time to unplug and just really focus on yourself is so important, because sometimes with, actually, a lot of times with the fashion industry, simply because it’s so fast-paced, you end up putting your personal needs on the back burner, which I have personally suffered from a whole lot. And so, definitely finding times to unplug just every couple of days to just relax—and not think about all the shit I have to do—definitely helps me to work on my mental aspect.
And I would also say like, looking into therapy or finding some therapeutic way to express yourself is also a great idea.
I think a lot of people put a negative stigma upon going to a therapist, but I feel like as an entrepreneur, being able to talk to an unbiased person about everything you have going on would be very helpful.
But, I know not everyone is into the idea of therapy, so at least having a support group or unwinding with friends who have similar obligations and stressors—just being able to find some sort of support group that you can rely on that you can go to, it’s important for you to receive that love that you need.
I love when purpose and passion align.
I mean, Sharisse was supposed to be a designer. She was supposed to start her own business because she felt within her that this was something she loved; and she acted on that love. She was in high school when she first started designing, growing that skillset until she became the designer and owner of her own company. And, Sharisse and I were supposed to cross paths, right? A designer and business owner enters a program and befriends a classmate who wants to showcase and spotlight the designers and business owners behind growing brands?
That’s the beauty of life, right? Like, going through our day and suddenly, out of nowhere, we’ve run into these people, or we’ve uncovered a new passion—they’re the sparks, aren’t they? They’re the sparks that make life…magical.
So, I say again, support small businesses! Support your friends! Support your friends just getting started!
We need each other, especially now. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that there are people we meet and relationships we have and there are fires within us that must be loved and cultivated and stoked because nothing in life is guaranteed, and we should take advantage of every single moment.
Please check the clothespetals Instagram and check out its story for more updates on Sharisse’s new, upcoming collections, and to see more of her incredible work, visit her page here, and see below for a gallery of more designs bySharisse.