Lisa Sun, founder and CEO of Gravitas, an inclusive retail brand, is helping women of all sizes, especially plus-sized women, feel confident and own their worth through her designs. The clothes are intelligent function that meets size-inclusive versatile fashion with sizes 0-24W. Not only did she create an alluring fashion line but created a safe place that uses fashion to empower women to be their best selves. Throughout the year, the company features extraordinary women who embody gravitas; a sisterhood that supports each other, creates opportunities and gives back.
“I started the company almost as an homage to this idea of catalyzing confidence every day,” Sun states. “I think women carry around a ton of self-loathing. I talk a lot about the dressing room. In every dressing room, no matter who you are, as a woman, you come in with all the things you hate about yourself. You almost set yourself up to fail in the dressing room. So, the inspiration for the company was ‘how do we create products that trigger a reminder to believe in yourself?'”
The first product was the company’s patented built-in shapewear sewn into the design. Six weeks after launching the brand, Oprah magazine did a feature on Gravitas. Since then, the company remains true to the mission of being inclusive of all-sizes and push the boundaries.
Sun’s career began at McKinsey & Company as a business analyst. During her first year-end review, the head of the department, now an angel investor in Gravitas, wrote, “Lisa comes across as young and overly enthusiastic at times. She should seek to have more gravitas.” At the time, Sun became stumped. “I’m 22 years old,” she comments, “and never heard this word before. I looked it up later on and found out it means dignity, importance and depth of substance. I was like, ‘yeah, I’m 22 by the way. I was a size 18-20, making $43,000 a year. This person just told me I don’t have any depth of substance.'”
In response to how to gain gravitas, she was told to buy a new dress, wear big jewelry and great shoes. In a follow-up meeting, the supervisor explained, “When you wake up in the morning, you’re the first person you have to look at in the mirror. You’re the first person you have to like. When I put on a dress and big shoes and great jewelry, I pay myself a compliment in the mirror. I can take on the day. I will teach you how to be great at this job. I cannot teach you how to like yourself.”
Over the course of 12 years at McKinsey, she became a leader of the apparel, fashion, luxury and beauty practice. Speaking fluent Chinese, she took several luxury brands into the Chinese market from 2006-2008. Her position demanded that she travel close to 200 days a year. One morning she decided that this wasn’t the lifestyle she wanted. For almost one year, she traveled the world experiencing new adventures. Upon arrival back to the U.S. she began working at a startup led by one of her former clients. After being fired from the startup, Sun decided it was time to start her company.
“What I did at the beginning,” she explains her process for starting the company, “is every two weeks, I set a milestone, not a 30-page business plan. In two weeks, I’ll open the bank account. In two weeks, I’ll get the godaddy.com registration and set up the webpage. I set those two-week milestones, and I just checked them off. What you realize eight weeks later is that I have a company, right? I broke it up into little pieces rather than trying to tackle the whole thing.”
Sun continues to explain, “There’s three dimensions to starting a company and first, you’re solving for knowledge. The second is network and community, and the third is cash and resources. I always say to people, ‘start a business when you solved at least two of the three.’ If you know the industry, if you have the right network, if you have access to cash and resources, you’re ready to go. If you can’t solve for at least two of those, don’t start your own business yet. When you have solved for those things, or you’re willing to compromise on one of those three dimensions, but you have the other two sorted, go do it.”
Now, still, amid the pandemic, Gravitas continues to focus its efforts on supporting and elevating essential workers. Sun and her team have designated certain items that when someone purchases the item, the money goes to the men and women on the frontline and the group New York Cares.
Throughout Sun’s pivots, she focuses on the following essential steps:
- Answer three questions: What are you good at? What are you best at? What are you passionate about? The first step is to answer these three questions and measure up your current opportunity and future opportunity.
- Line up your network. Align your resources with your connections. When you are clear with your intentions, it’s easier for others to buy into your vision.
- Be ok with iterations. Once you’ve chosen to pivot, you may need to pivot again very quickly. It’s all a part of the process of achieving your goal.
“My whole thesis is that we’re born fully self-confident,” Sun concludes. “As adults, we become self-conscious. We need to go back to being our younger selves, where we were fearless.”