Sadia Sisay Launches Line Of Lingerie Just For Women Of Color, being U
It’s been a long journey for Sadia Sisay to start her own business — a journey filled with many bumps in the road — but Sisay persevered, and in the process created a line of lingerie women of color have long been looking for.
The Sierra Leonean-born British entrepreneur founded beingU, a lingerie line that not only offers nude-colored lingerie for women of all shades but also fits all shapes. The briefs are designed specifically to fit a fuller bottom and the line has five styles of bras ranging in size from a 28 to a 44 up to an H cup.
Being a lingerie brand owner was initially Sisay’s dream. She moved to the UK from Sierra Leone when she was 16 to attend school and later trained as a cancer nurse. She worked in the pharmaceutical industry until 2008 when she decided she wanted to work for herself. That’s when she came up with the concept of beingU. Sisay was in the beginning stages of developing her business when in 2011 a series of personal issues caused her to put her dreams aside. On top of this, her husband died unexpectedly in 2014, leaving her heartbroken, and six years ago Sisay also became the main caregiver for her mother who suffered a stroke.
Despite these trials, Sisay never abandoned her business idea, and with the encouragement of her 21-year-old daughter, she decided to push ahead with beingU, which will finally launch in February 2017. Sisay talked to us about what it’s like being a Black female entrepreneur in London, startup challenges, and making the transition from employee to employer.
MadameNoire (MN): How did your life change when you left Sierra Leone?
Sadia Sisay (SS): The biggest change was as a 16-year-old I was getting the best grades, which, boy, I liked, but this became unimportant, as for the first time in my life I was the Black one…Never underestimate what it feels like to grow up in an environment where your teachers, doctors, dentists, etc. are like you. Life was harder in the UK than I had ever known. What is portrayed here about Africa makes people think that Anyone who comes to the West from there is poor, needy and in awe. I hated it. I had left my family…my dad had died when I was 8 but my mother was still there in Sierra Leone. I had been sent to the UK for further education and I was lonely.
MN: You initially trained as a cancer nurse, then worked in the pharmaceutical industry until 2008. Why did you decide to start your own business?
SS: I left nursing about two years after having my daughter. I had eclampsia with her and ended up having a stroke and was blind seven days after her birth. My sight returned but it took me all that time to recover and get back to work as I had residual sight issues.
I resigned as a nurse three months after going back to work. I needed to make a change after my life-changing experience with my illness. I had seen an advert for nurses in the pharmaceutical industry and got the job in seven days. I had never even thought it through. As I went through every stage [of the interview process] I thought it would not happen so when I was offered the job I was stunned! I worked in sales and marketing in the pharmaceutical industry and my boss in my final job was promoted. Someone who had less marketing experience, in fact, nil marketing experience, was brought in to take his place. On our first meeting I said I wanted to discuss my future, he said we would when he came back from holiday. When he did, we sat down again and he asked me ‘What was this meeting about again?’ I looked at him and said ‘Nothing, just a catch up’. I resigned the next day as I had realized I was invisible in that environment and there was nowhere, as a Black woman, I would go that would make me feel visible but my own business. I am not saying that is all of our truths but it was mine then.
MN: How did you find the entrepreneurial process in comparison to the medical field?
SS: Scary. I knew stability and a salary in the medical field. I woke up calmer! If I stripped back all of the personal issues that have affected my entrepreneurial journey I could say to you I am happier than I was in the medical field…actually, let’s add them back in and I will say the same!
MN: You had to abandon your business dream due to personal challenges, but what made you want to keep going?
SS: I hope people will not get fed up of the mention of my daughter Yazmin…but she [keeps me going]. When my mum got ill, she had to see what I knew we did for our parents in Sierra Leone, care for them to complete the cycle of life. Then her dad went to work one day and never came home. He died playing basketball with his workmates suddenly, five weeks after she started university. What could I do? If I had folded and stopped she would have lost another parent because, believe me, every morning I woke up and wanted to just pull the cover over me and die. But I had work to do, to continue the journey of making that cute baby we had into the confident, Black young woman we had planned she would be, so that even when others made her feel invisible she did not care and just marched on.
MN: Tell me why you launched beingU.
SS: Yazmin again!! At 14 her lingerie drawer was becoming like mine…all black! That was not going to continue. I had to do something, right?
MN: What were some startup challenges and how did you overcome them?
SS: It is hard to say this to others as when you are broke and the bills are piling up and you dread hearing the post (mail), how can you say to someone, persevere? But persevering is the answer. No one is giving you money, when we first started it seemed a bit of a crazy idea to some. The scariest [thing I heard] is Black women will not buy the product as they do not have the money. So we now don’t wear bras? Having good people around you who believe in you matters. I would be lying if I said that there were days and are still days I question my choices. My choice to do this. You never overcome the problems of a start-up. It is about how you deal with issues, as they will always be there. I hope that I have a no blame culture but those who work with me might feel different, but blame wastes time. We have a problem, we fix it and we review how we don’t make that mistake again.
MN: How do you market the brand?
SS: With joy and pleasure! We have a great plan going forward. The greatest thing about marketing this brand is everyone who works on it, no matter what race or gender, love it and have absolute belief in it. I want it to be a brand that hears and sees those who buy it. We will listen hard to consumer feedback. I know we cannot cover all tones, all sizes but we will work on growing the offering. We want women from all walks of life to be involved in us, with us to make this grow. I want a beingU movement!
MN: When can consumers purchase the brand?
SS: Starting February 6th, 2017! From mid-January, we will take preorders on our site with a 20 percent discount.
MN: Are the products available in the U.S.
SS: They are, with free shipping too! By the way the same in the UK.
MN: What would you say are your goals for 2017?
SS: To give all who buy beingU lingerie the best we can give them in products and customer service. I’m excited to let people see what we have as in store for them in the second half of 2017! I know already and cannot contain my excitement!