Posted on March 30 2021
We are excited to introduce Sarah Sukumaran, Founder of Lilith NYC. Sarah is launching her brand this month and as a footwear brand ourselves we of course wanted to support Sarah and what she is doing in the footwear space. Find out more about the women's sneaker brand she is building.
Ally Shoes: How and why did you start Lilith?
Lilith NYC: I’d say I always paid attention to sneakers growing up. It’s just something I naturally gravitated to and had to rock. I always say that sneaker culture is Queens culture. But I was definitely envious of what options the boys had. I certainly wasn’t athletic but I was drawn to the men’s basketball styles, especially the Uptempos and Foamposites because I loved Pippen and Hardaway. But my absolute go-to’s were always the Air Max 95s and Air Max Pluses.
As I got older, my style went from tomboy to a bit more fluid. I would dress hyper femme some days and on other days would be find myself more dressed down. And that’s when it dawned on me that the industry had always pigeon-holed womxn consumers to fit a tomboy archetype. I think some of this was perpetuated because men did quite a bit of gatekeeping in sneaker culture. Womxn were expected to show up as “one of the guys.” Once you “passed that test” you had an in but unfortunately you see those womxn perpetuate this cycle with other womxn. And I found this view to be rather myopic. And working at Nike, validated so many of my assumptions of how the industry treated and overlooked womxn consumers.
My goal with Lilith NYC is to be open to womxn to exploring and expressing their style, gender and sexuality across a spectrum. We want to celebrate the complexity in each of us, the multiple truths in style and self, and allow womxn to move in confidence. So I quit my job in February 2020 and set out to build my own footwear company. Hired a footwear design consultancy and brand agency and got to work!
Ally Shoes: What did you do before starting Lilith?
Lilith NYC: Most recently I was Director of Product at Nike and spent the last 13 years working in both startups and corp settings building data platforms and managing engineering teams. Most folks assume I worked on the footwear side at Nike but I worked on analytics - Nike had acquired a predicted analytics company 3 years ago and needed a Head of Product to own the roadmap for the platform. To be honest, I’d never thought to pursue a 9-5 career in the footwear industry despite being a sneakerhead. But I knew I always wanted to build my own company in the women’s footwear space at some point in my life.
ALLY Shoes: What has been the most difficult thing about building a consumer brand from scratch.
Lilith NYC: So many things to pick from, but I quit my job in February without realizing the pandemic was around the corner so there was a lot of pivoting from the start, including the decision on where to manufacture our first production run. With that came long delays on iterating our samples because we weren’t able to travel to the factory and spend time providing feedback in real-time, so that definitely affected our overall launch timeline.
ALLY Shoes: How do you define success?
Lilith NYC: To be honest, as of late, success to me is getting a workout in and prioritizing my mental health. This past year has been absolute hell to say the least and I’m trying to refocus my energy. So being able to jump on my Peloton and work out is my own form of therapy and is how I have been measuring success as of late.
ALLY Shoes: Who is your Ally?
Lilith NYC: I’m lucky to have a great network of womxn, from groups like Chief, Shatter, and Project Entrepreneur, some of whom are also building their own companies. So we definitely have a support system in place to share resources, vent, and talk shop. This network has been especially key for me being that I’m a solo founder.