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Women in Business Q&A: Heather Pierce, Owner of Raya Hanon

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Raya Hanon LLC was born from the imagination of designer, Heather Pierce, who spent the majority of her life wandering from place to place. Eager to find adventure and an explorer at heart, she traveled across the world soaking up different languages, cultures, and the beautiful, traditional fashions of each place. It wasn't long before Heather needed to find some way to share her travels with the world and celebrate the journeys she had taken. And so, the Raya Hanon swimsuit was created.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

There are a few examples in my life that I can credit to making me a leader, the biggest one being my gypsy family. For whatever excuse they could come up with at the time, my family found just about any reason to pick up and move at the drop of a hat. I moved seven times before the time I was 12, and always being the new kid gave me a different kind of independence. Being in that situation forces a person to have experiences with different types of people, cultures and ways of life. It also gives them the strength and confidence to meet new people, make an impression, and be a constant center of attention. All of these acquired skills can be carried over into a leadership role. I feel comfortable working with and directing people that I have never met, and I have the confidence to deal with the pressure of decision making while having all eyes on me. I also have a more independent way of thinking that is often not influenced by peer pressure or trends. Though I always resented not having a place to truly call home as a kid, in retrospect I can see how it has made me a stronger person and leader today.

Why do you think businesswomen often receive negative publicity/bad rap?

I think businesswomen often receive a bad rap because, to some extent, the modern world is still getting used to the idea of a strong woman in business. Strength can be seen as threatening and women in the business world may still be viewed as an unknown threat and trigger the reaction to be to shut it down before gaining too much momentum. It is important for businesswomen to try not to see bad publicity as an obstacle and to keep moving forward. See it not as a roadblock but a new challenge. Now all eyes are on you and you get the opportunity to prove everyone wrong! There is no better feeling.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

Finding a work/life balance has been one of the greatest challenges for me, especially during the first year of my business. Working 16 to 20 hour days to get things done as a new business owner leaves little time for much needed "me-time". I was constantly stressed, gaining weight, and had stopped doing the things that I loved. There came a point where I realized that I needed to find a way to get some balance back in my life. What I've found is that if I don't do the "me-things", like working out or seeing a friend, in the very start of my day or specifically schedule it into my day, it will not get done. It's too easy for me to sacrifice the things that I would like to do for work. I needed to understand that, although my wellbeing often takes a back seat in my life as a business owner, the more relaxed and happy that I am and the more efficiently work will get done. That helped me justify "me-time" and move it higher up on the daily priority list.

What have the highlights and challenges been founding Raya Hanon?

The highlights of Raya Hanon included getting a swimsuit into Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit 2013 Issue. That really jumpstarted Raya Hanon as a swimwear brand and gave us major publicity. It was also an amazing achievement. I had worked all year long creating swimsuits for the issue knowing that the chances of a Raya Hanon suit being included was extremely slim. So, seeing that one of my suits made the cut was absolutely amazing. The biggest challenge came directly after: I found out that a Raya Hanon swimsuit made the issue one month before the issue hit newsstands and at the time did not have a business up. I had exactly one month to start up a business, find suppliers, manufacturers, put up a website, etc. It was a crazy time. Luckily, I found a team of amazing people that helped my put things together just in time!

What advice can you offer individuals who are seeking to establish their own business?

The advice that I would offer to aspiring business owners is to make sure
that you are doing something that you are passionate about. A new business will consume your life, so it is important that it is something that you love and can happily dedicate your life to. Another piece of advice is to expect things to be a bit dark in the beginning. You'll feel incredibly busy and many times the results of a decision are completely unknown. Know that with time and commitment, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Making decisions will become faster and easier, and you will be able to see that things are moving forward instead of feeling that you're perpetually laying the foundation for your dream. Do what you love and don't give
up! The first steps are the hardest!

What are the best practices to developing strong, professional relationships with other women?

Show other women respect! They understand the daily battles of being in the workplace and feel similar pressures. Respecting each other within the work place is the first step to effectively working together. Another practice is to take some time out of the workday to get to know each other.

Find out the likes and dislikes of a fellow female coworker. Sometimes building a friendship can help communication skills develop in the workplace as well.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

The biggest issue for women in the workplace, in my opinion, is earning the respect of their staff and co-workers as well as finding a balance between being feminine and authoritatively powerful. It is important to understand that it is still difficult for a woman to walk into a room and be immediately respected. On the contrary, many will attempt to overrule them. I have personally had difficulties having other businessmen even listen to what I have to say, and once even had an owner of a manufacturing company that we worked with change the colors in a design because he felt that it would look better. Some will take every opportunity to knock down a woman in the workplace, especially from a position of authority. My advice for businesswomen experiencing something similar? Take it as a compliment. People wouldn't bother to try and knock you down if they didn't see you as a threat, so you must be doing something right!

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?

I think Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg is a great read for all women actively pursuing their goals. I really enjoyed Lean In because she not only addressed the issues that businesswomen face in today's society and how they can hold them back, but also how women can sometimes hold themselves back. I think that's brilliant. Too often we can make excuses for not achieving our goals by pointing the finger around the room. What we really need to focus on is right in the mirror so we can stop preventing ourselves from reaching our potential.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Mentorship has made a difference in my professional and personal life by giving me confidence and helping me build a road map for success. As a new business owner, you often feel like you're underwater: overwhelmed is an understatement! Having a mentor can help you to prioritize the needs of your company and give you some guidelines to help you achieve your goals.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

That is a difficult question. I admire women who push forward through the hard stuff, stay strong, speak clearly and with respect to their staff and followers, and speak their mind. It takes a lot of courage to follow your dreams, especially when it can seem that the world is against you, so any woman that has taken that risk and continuously pushes through the negative press, insults, hurdles, and difficulties in balancing her life while doing what she loves is an inspiration to me.

What are your hopes for the future of Raya Hanon?

Raya Hanon is hoping to move forward as a high-end fashion brand for swimwear. We want to take swimwear to the next level by combining cultural inspirations from around the world as well as intricate hand sewing and beadwork into our designs. We will also soon be featuring a bit more variety in our collection adding dresses, shorts, beachwear, accessories, and men's wear. It's going to be a busy future for us and we are so excited!