This Best of the LPJ for 2022 story was originally published on January 19, 2022.
By Judith Roberts
One woman’s journey to help her sister grew into a desire to help women around the globe.
Helya Mohammadian, a Ruston High and Louisiana State University graduate, saw a need with her sister Rana and expanded it to the New York-based company Slick Chicks.
“The journey started several years ago after my sister gave birth to my adorable nephew,” Mohammadian said. “Like many women often do, she had complications during labor and had to undergo an emergency C-section. The post-surgery recovery left her feeling debilitated for several weeks. Something as personal as putting on her underwear, she couldn’t do alone. Not wanting to see my sister have such difficulty with her daily routine, I decided it was time to find a solution. Little did I realize that there was a bigger issue here.”
Mohammadian launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the first production, and then she began to receive messages from women with disabilities and chronic illnesses who were preordering the products.
“They shared how adaptive clothing was hard to find, especially products that didn’t look medical, and they were so happy to find functional, yet fashionable underwear,” Mohammadian said. “A product that I would later develop for someone like my sister has served a bigger purpose and impacted the lives of so many people around the world. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that creating this product would change my perspective on something most of us take for granted every day, and that’s getting dressed.”
Mohammadian and her family moved to Ruston from Iran when she was 3 years old, and Mohammadian said she had a passion to be a fashion designer.
“I knew at a very early age that I wanted to be a fashion designer in New York City. I was also exposed to ‘entrepreneurship’ — though I didn’t realize it at the time — because both my parents ran their own businesses,” she said. “Though it wasn’t easy, I made that dream come true when I moved to New York almost 20 years ago. Before Slick Chicks even existed, I had a string of jobs in fashion just trying to find where I fit in. I was a personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman, working with famous celebrities, well-known socialites and the ‘who’s who’ of New York’s Upper East Side. I worked really hard and did everything I could to get ahead, but there was always an empty feeling inside. I felt extremely unfilled, but in the end it was a blessing in disguise because it led me to create my company.”
Currently, the Slick Chicks team consists of fewer than 10 individuals, the majority of them women.
“We are small, but mighty,” Mohammadian said. “Part of the challenge early on was fundraising and proving that this was a new, but viable market. The other challenge was being a female founder and woman of color looking for funding. I faced many obstacles until I met another female founder and CEO, Michele Gay, whose story resonated with mine as her sister was diagnosed with MS. She saw the great potential and impact this product would have for so many people. So, she created a women’s empowerment fund and made Slick Chicks the first investment.”
Mohammadian said Slick Chicks’ products are made by the people who use them.
“Not only do our products help those with disabilities, but they are also made by people with disabilities thanks to our partnership with MAS, an equal opportunity manufacturer who employs over 380 people with various disabilities,” she said. “We share the same values and mission and we are both working towards inclusivity and equality.”
Starting her own business was a bit intimidating at first, Mohammadian said.
“We were bootstrapped for so many years, with no marketing budget to get the product out there,” she said. “Our biggest challenge was just getting eyes on it. And female founders have a hell of a lot more trouble getting funding than men do. But with passion, focus and a lot of hustle we persevered.”
She said for business, knowing the product better than anyone, knowing the customer and continually learning the market were all key factors to success.
“Starting your own business is like riding a very scary roller coaster,” Mohammadian said. “The lows can be very low, but the highs can be really high. And there is no shortage of either. But you must be strong and get ready to take certain risks.”