By Dawn Watson
Necessity is often the mother of invention.
That was certainly the case with Shelley Suh when she set out to return to work after giving birth to her daughter, Cybelle, six years ago. Having been employed in the fashion industry for well over a decade, Ms. Suh knew there weren’t many good sartorial options for nursing mothers.
Adding additional challenges to what can already be a difficult time for a woman to feel fashionable, Ms. Suh was determined to breastfeed. That posed a mountain of problems, not only relating to issues of privacy and decorum but also when it came to the functionality of feminine work attire. Even discreetly pumping while at the office and away from her daughter proved burdensome.
“Who wants to take off their dress or their shirt in a public bathroom stall?” she asked during a chat at her home in Sagaponack last Friday.
Ms. Suh assumed that there had to be something out there that would make things easier for new moms who wanted stylish clothes that were functional. But, after searching and finding post-partum fashion lacking, she sat down at her drawing board and came up with her own answer—garments designed specifically for pregnant and nursing mothers. Her creations featured the most basic and simple of solutions: discreetly built-in zippers in the appropriate areas.
The busy mom wore her own designs then and again during and after her pregnancy with son, Mason, now 3. After sufficiently testing them out, she launched Loyal Hana—a capsule collection of chic, stylish maternity and nursing wear—in 2014. The clothes, which are both fashionable and functional, are designed to “fit and flatter the bump and the boob,” according to Ms. Suh.
“There are so many things to worry about when you give birth. New moms are so focused on their babies that they don’t have much time for themselves,” she says. “I wanted to make things that are easy to wear and flattering, especially for a time when women might need a boost.”
Learning from her own personal experience, Ms. Suh knew that the clothes needed to be easy to care for. Loyal Hana pieces are made from machine-friendly fabrics, such as rayon, cotton and poly-blend materials, that can be quickly washed and dried without a fuss and that can stand up to spit-up and milk stains.
“My son. He knew whenever I was wearing silk,” she laughs, adding that some of the poly blends she uses have the same drape and flow as silk, but without the potential for disaster.
Females all over the world have flocked to the brand, whose name is loosely defined as “the loyal ones,” in droves. Famous New Yorkers such as Hilaria Baldwin (mom to 2½-year-old Carmen and nearly 8-month-old Rafael) and Coco Rocha (daughter, Ioni, turns 1 in March) have both been photographed in Loyal Hana pieces.
After less than two years in business, the company is already profitable, reports Ms. Suh, thanks to the legions of women who are
drawn to the fashion, functionality and affordable price points that range from $55 to $105. The on-trend casual wear for expecting and post-partum women is so popular that even non-pregnant ladies are drawn to the curve-flattering designs.
“After pregnancy, it all goes right here,” Ms. Suh laughs and points to her abdominal area. “My clothes tend to minimize that area.”
Currently offered on the Loyal Hana website, as well as at Nordstrom and Diapers.com, the designer’s next goal is to bring the brand to even more fans. She’s working on expanding production, as well as the options within the line—including sweaters, scarves and jackets—in order to make the clothes even more affordable and accessible.
“This business isn’t about the money. I don’t want it to be just the wealthy wearing my shirts,” she says, adding that her main focus for Loyal Hana it to give back and help other women. “I really want it to solve a problem. I feel like I was meant to do this.”
Charitable outreach is also important to Ms. Suh. Loyal Hana has already teamed up with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and Baby2Baby, a non-profit organization that distributes new and gently used items to homeless and domestic violence shelters, Head Start programs and hospitals. Currently, Ms. Suh has set her sites on working with the charity Post Partum Progress next.
The designer and philanthropist is vocal about her personal experience with post-partum, which she started suffering from approximately six months after the birth of her son. At the time, her father was dying of cancer and she was in a dark place.
“It’s an issue that a lot of women face but not a lot of people are comfortable talking about it,” she says. “It’s important. That’s why I’m really transparent about it.”
In addition to the love and support of her family—which includes husband, artist Quentin Curry, the couple’s children, and the family dog, Dozer, now 7—it was work that helped pull Ms. Suh out of her depression.
“It was really a lifesaver, this creative outlet that allowed me to help others in some small way,” she explains. “That was something really light and bright that I could focus on.”
Today, she’s in a wonderful place, Ms. Suh reports.
“I love what I do. I’m able to parent my two children, live in Sagaponack and run a business that’s been successful so far,” she says. “I have so much gratitude for what I have and the life that I have. I want to be able to do whatever I can so others can have their own versions of success.”