From a vision she pursued as a college student, Juliana Richards built a women’s wear company from the ground up, and she has emerged as a global player in her industry. Not only is Richards a real-life success story, but she is a role model for Black business people striving for excellence.
This Nigerian-born woman — a mother, wife and entrepreneur — is founder and CEO of Slim Girl Shapewear, one of the world’s most lucrative lines of women’s wear. Richards’ brand name, which spans three continents, consists of a wide array of fitness apparel, lingerie, retail stores and an online boutique. Through hard work, dedication and by following her mother’s example, Richards is at the top of her game.
Shapewear are undergarments that slim the waist and smooth and control one’s figure. For years, women wore girdles, corsets and other underclothes to help shape their bodies. Now, the U.S. shapewear business is a booming and dynamic industry at $684.9 million, according to NPD Group, a New York market-research firm. However, the intimate apparel market as a whole is a massive, global $32 billion industry, according to the Lingerie Journal.
And Slim Girl Shapewear is a major worldwide player, with a retail store and corporate headquarters in Atlanta; two stores that Richards recently opened in Lagos, Nigeria; a call service center in London for the European market; and a store in Doha, Qatar. In addition to physical stores, she has an online retail presence (1800cinchers.com or slimgirlshapewear.com, and slimgirl.ng for Nigerian customers), and a social media presence (Instagram and Facebook, @slimgirlshapewear or @1800cinchers).
Richards said her business was born out of necessity.
“I have always been an e-commerce nerd. We launched Slim Girl Shapewear naturally. I wanted something firm to shape me up, couldn’t find the right toughness or texture, so I started my own research,” she recently told Atlanta Blackstar.
“Now Slim Girl Shapewear has branched into providing quality lingerie, bras and panties for women of all sizes. We speak to the everyday woman,” Richards said. “We do a lot of research and work with a lot of data to help us provide relevant service to our customers. Customer service is huge for me. We have dedicated live chat, phones, email, social media support, all to be of assistance to our customers. We are always listening to what people are saying.”
Richards turned Slim Girl Shapewear into a global business in a relatively short period of time.
“We have more than 50 staff members all over the world. We have men and women of all ages and backgrounds working with us, with multiple languages,” Richards said. “One of our factories is in Colombia. It took us about one year or two to get to this point,” she added.
Richards began the company as a college student at Georgia State University. After college, while working at JPMorgan Chase Mortgage, she gave up her comfortable job to pursue her dream full time.
“It was extremely normal because we had been into other ventures before, so we just did what we were doing before, but this time it was turbo charged,” she said of the process of transforming the business into a global company.
Although Richards makes it sound easier than it certainly is, what she has accomplished is nothing short of impressive.
In her native Nigeria, this fashion mogul saw new mothers wrap their bellies with cloth to help get them back in shape.
“Waist training is the process of using a body shaper as a form of shaping your waist and reducing belly fat. This is a technique used in other cultures with very long, hot cloths for new moms,” Richards said. “In our modern day, no one will help you wrap your belly so your waist trainer is your new best friend.”
Richards said that her life and upbringing in Nigeria —and her mother — influenced her business sense.
“My mother is who I call a serial entrepreneur. I learned how to start and do research from watching her commitment in her business. She always said she wanted us all to do better than she did. I can honestly say she is proud of where I am,” she said. “As a Nigerian, we are very ambitious. I have never met a Nigerian — home or abroad — who can be stopped by any obstacle. A Nigerian always sees a way out of anything. If that is good or bad, I’m not sure. LOL.”
Richards said she has faced a few challenges, primarily as a thirty-something businesswoman.
“I have faced more challenges being a young woman in business than anything else. People tend to underestimate what you do, which is understandable,” she said.
Richards offered some valuable lessons for others who are trying to make it out there.
“I have had to learn how to be assertive and stand firm in a man’s world and be sure of what I want in order to get what we see today. These, I believe, are normal lessons along the way for any young entrepreneur. Me being a Nigerian woman has been a blessing because I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth; I learned how to work hard as a result,” she added.
This dynamic entrepreneur has shown how success can come through diligence and hard work, struggle and sacrifice.
“I have learned that I am very hard-working, which is a code word for workaholic,” Richards admitted. “I can be such a square sometimes and so nerdy when it comes to getting things done right.”
But her hard work has reaped benefits, as word has spread about Slim Girl Shapewear throughout the Black community.
“We have actually gotten a lot of support from the native African and African-American communities that I am humbled and appreciative of. There are times we have people who call our stores asking if it is a Black-owned business,” Richards noted. “I can honestly say I am flattered because I must be making enough noise or impact for people to take time out to inquire.”
“Either way, it’s all been love from everyone. As a Black entrepreneur, it is important to not expect people to discriminate against you. Keep an open mind and you will find that there are other Black businesses like yours who have paved the way and are respected today. It all comes down to your reputation as it is with any ethnic group doing business,” she said.
In a shapewear market that has been propelled in recent years by celebrities and TV product placements, Richards elevated her brand by attracting high-profile celebrity endorsements. Among those who have endorsed her line are Carmen Electra, Khloe Kardashian, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Lira Galore and Erica Dixon of Love & Hip Hop Atlanta. And Richards’ brand has been featured on popular daytime talk shows The Real and The Wendy Williams Show, and in numerous magazines, such as OK! Magazine, Health Magazine, New York Magazine, Vegan Life and Body Magazine.
“It’s interesting to me because I never stopped after getting ‘No,’ or ‘Try again later.’ There were some [celebrities] who we pursued for over a year after they declined. They eventually started paying attention … It’s been a blessing.”
While her worldwide clothing empire is her claim to fame, it is not her only job: Richards is also a mother and a wife.
“Balance is my challenge,” she admitted. “As a recovering workaholic, I am learning to turn off work at 5 so that I can spend time with my 2-year-old. Because of our other stores that are in different time zones, my day starts at 2 a.m. EST. So I’m still trying to find my balance.”