Heather Sanders began her journey of self-empowerment with a 26-hour drive in her Ford Fusion. The leap of faith came in 2012, when at age 19 she moved from her hometown of Dallas to Los Angeles.
It wasn’t really about self-empowerment at all in the beginning.
“I just wanted to be with my cool boyfriend,” she says of rapper King Trell, now her fiancé. “But God knew why I was coming out here.”
Now 29, Sanders says she enjoyed traveling with Trell on tour and following his lead, but it wasn’t long before she felt a strong need to create something of her own. She decided to launch an online boutique selling fashion by many different designers. Trell gave her $500 startup cash to begin buying items at a local swap meet and sell them online.
Enter Brittney Turner, who had been selling her original designs on Etsy. “We met through social media,” Sanders says. “Brittney reached out about her custom denim. Then she moved in with me and became my partner.”
Together the women founded Sorella (Italian for sister) in 2012, describing their combined fashion sense as “comfy, flash, sexy–a cool tomboy girl, but we can do a dress, too, or sweats with heels.”
Sanders was already an Instagram pro with 1 million followers, so social media became Sorella’s driving force for marketing. “I believe I was an influencer before there were influencers,” Sanders says. “I posted a picture a day for a month on Instagram. I’d dress up, wearing Sorella clothes, and take photos to build the brand.”
It didn’t take them long to grow their tiny online store into a million-dollar enterprise with an internationally known brand and a thriving brick-and-mortar boutique on posh Melrose Avenue.
It worked, big time. Within its first few years, Sorella branched out to occupy a warehouse, overcoming the challenge of shipping orders from Sanders’ home. Successful pop-up shopping events at the warehouse led to opening a brick-and-mortar location, which did so well that the partners were able to open a boutique on posh Melrose Avenue. Sorella has won influential fans such as Kylie Jenner and Khloe Kardashian.
Having turned her leap-of-faith road trip at age 19 into a million-dollar business, Sanders is now focusing on how she can encourage other young women to do the same.
Sanders and Turner started Sorella with no experience in the fashion business; they simply did whatever was necessary to grow their fledgling brand. Having succeeded on their own terms, they began to look for ways to spread their independent streak to others, and give birth to the #GirlsTour campaign, which they describe as “representing strong women, working women, and independent women of all ages, colors, and sizes.” #GirlsTour is about “[e]mpowering women all over the world to not only be confident and have a vision but to also be a dope girl with style and hustle.”
It began simply enough as a slogan on a T-shirt. Then, Sanders says, “a guy came in and said he wanted to paint something on our wall, and we said ‘paint GirlsTour.’ ” After the artist adorned one of the store’s exterior walls with a huge white-on-pink GirlsTour mural, women and girls from around the world started coming to take selfies in front of it.
“I’m always learning and growing. Even though I’m a success in most people’s eyes, I still have a lot of work to do.”
But the selfie site was just a beginning. This summer, Sanders held a competition to choose 10 fashion-forward girls in their late teens and early 20s as GirlsTour ambassadors for a mentoring program that blends apprenticeship with community engagement. The goal is to “connect girls from different cities and states and have them help hands-on with new ideas and clothes,” she says. “We’ll teach them how to be an entrepreneur and provide them with tools in their cities, like Shopify and ShipStation and ways to get designs made, and we’ll introduce them to our manufacturers.”
Following a two-day workshop in Los Angeles, these “ambassadors of fashion and philanthropy” return to their hometowns to start their own businesses and give back to their communities, partnering with local charities and nonprofits in monthly activities like back-to-school giveaways held in September and upcoming Thanksgiving turkey drives and holiday toy giveaways.
Consistency Is Key
While helping girls to attain their goals, Sanders keeps a keen eye on her own. “My current goal is to become one of the biggest women’s fashion brands in the world,” she says. “I’m always learning and growing. Even though I’m a success in most people’s eyes, I still have a lot of work to do.”
Sanders is a big believer in consistency. She advises would-be entrepreneurs, “Figure out what you want. If you want to be an influencer, put something out on Instagram every day. If you want to start a business, do something for your business every day. It might be research or a meeting.”
The important part is to keep going.
“Work hard,” Sanders says. “Every day.”
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photos by ©Dom Hill