Nashville-native Suzanne Sevier Rowland is a name many know thanks to her namesake clothing line, Sevier Skirts. Suzanne took her first sewing class at age 13, and seemingly, she never stopped sewing. In college, she could be found making pants from bananas and skirts from shower curtains and wearing a handmade polyester plaid jumpsuit to football games. Sewing remained a creative outlet for Suzanne until she enrolled in fashion school in Atlanta. These classes prompted her to apply to Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, and there, she began her career in fashion. She began making skirts in her small NYC apartment and found success. She returned to her hometown of Nashville in 2004 and began making a name for herself — and her skirts. Suzanne tells us about her journey in skirt making and how she became a name we all know. Welcome Suzanne Sevier Rowland as today’s FACE of Nashville!
What motivated you to start Sevier Skirts?
While living in NYC in my late 20s, I started working at Mood Fabrics. I loved working there. I loved being surrounded by gorgeous designer fabrics because up until that point the only fabric I knew existed was what I found at Hancocks and Joanne Fabrics. I practically spent my entire paychecks on fabrics, and I would sew clothes for myself and friends in my teensy apartment on the weekends. Summers are so hot in New York, with the stuffy subways and long walks to the train. So, I started making skirts to wear to work, because they were cooler than pants. The original Sevier Skirts were fuller (like a swing skirt), and they were made in these loud funky textured fabrics. When I wore them, I felt feminine and sassy and just plain good, which drove me to keep making more.
For the first time ever, my friends actually liked and wanted to buy what I was making for them. We were all new in our careers and needed these skirts to wear to work because they were cooler — like shorts, yet business appropriate. They were easy to style with t-shirts, but we could put on a button-down or sweater and we looked great for the office.
Through the years, Sevier Skirts has evolved to be a little less “funky” and now more as polished professional (yet fun) workwear. But through the years, it has remained the same — skirts that are versatile and can be worn so many different ways.
Your designs celebrate women of all shapes and sizes. Tell us about the customization available through Sevier Skirts.
We women are named after every fruit or geometric shape out there, aren’t we?! So you can imagine how challenging it would be for women to find something that flatters their unique shape and size in a general retail setting. I would be in a room of women and several would tell me they wear a size 12, yet they all looked completely different, and their measurements were not even close to the other.
At Sevier Skirts, I found the way we would trim a skirt for someone who was curvy and how we would trim it for someone who was more straight was so necessary for the skirt to look good on them. Your shape, height, hip size in correlation to your waist and your personal preference all come into play when selecting a length. Most of us have hangups on a certain body part (mine is my legs), but I am able to use the skirts to flatter what we like and shadow or camouflage what we don’t.
Sevier Skirts believes “to fit” is to flatter. And no matter your size or shape, if you are wearing something that is baggy, chances are it doesn’t look good or feel good. I love when I fit someone in the FitSkirt and they look like they dropped 20 pounds, and they light up when they see their reflection.
EVERYBODY looks great in a skirt.
What current patterns/style are you most excited about right now?
We have a fabric named Chuck, which I can only get in off-white. It is literally the best off-white skirt out there. It is year-round and machine washable. If you spill coffee or wine or spaghetti sauce, you can literally sponge it off in a sink, and it is dry in 10 minutes. It has texture, but it doesn’t add bulk. It is my casual vacation skirt and also my sharpest party skirt. Women are always asking if it comes in other colors, and finally, after years, I decided to dye it in my most favorite and versatile skirt shades. Now women are buying one in every color!
Sevier Skirts offers exclusively skirts. Do you have plans to expand your collection?
When I sold fabrics in New York, I would always ask designers for advice, and one of the repeated answers was not to try to be the best at everything. They would always say to find what you are really good at and be the best at that. So SS will always strive to be the best at skirts. However, I do feel that there are times when a woman just needs a good fitting, gorgeous, woven dress.
We offered dresses and gowns from 2014 to 2017, and we definitely have plans to re-launch them in the future. We had to pull the dresses temporarily because I had to draft a pattern from scratch for each customer which takes hours, hours that I didn’t have.
In the future, we plan to launch dress styles catering to the pear (a woman who is a smaller size on top than she is on the bottom half) and to the apple (a woman who is a smaller size on the bottom than she is on the top) and to the woman who can typically wear off the rack but struggles to find the time shopping for the right color/shape/length/cut. Each will be offered in a petite bodice or standard bodice. We have a feeling that these dresses will be an answered prayer and a great addition to our skirt-lovers’ closets.
How many skirts have you made?
Close to 50k! That’s with the help of sales reps and over 14 years of business.
What makes Nashville the ideal place for a small business to thrive?
Nashville is unique in the fact we all really want to help each other be successful, and Nashville has the resources to do it. There are so many networking groups, professional groups, entrepreneurial programs, classes, mentorship programs — so many opportunities to learn to grow from each other. Nashville is the city of two degrees of separation — so someone always knows someone who can help you if they personally cannot.
What excites you about the growth Nashville is experiencing?
I was at a lunch meeting about a year ago, and we met at Merchants downtown. It was in mid-March and the windows of the restaurant were raised and you could hear the live music all around you and you could feel the energy of the tourists and business professionals moving throughout the streets. It was a vibe that just made you want to come alive and be happy.
I love that people I meet have an idea of Nashville that makes them want to come and see for themselves what it is all about. And fortunately, they are not disappointed when they come!
Locally, who is inspiring you?
I share a building with a company called Weighting Comforts. They employ refugees as their seamstresses. The owner Donna has hired an English teacher on staff who divides their 40+ sewing and shipping staff into classes according to levels. Each class combines the Spanish, Arabic and Burmese women, and they learn how to speak conversational English. Their classroom is right across the hall from my work table, and I can hear these women laughing so hard for that full hour of class.
It is such a gift Weighting Comforts gives to the refugees, who had to leave their homes and come to a place where they felt so alone. I have seen their laughter transform their days and unify them. These classes and this company have given their staff a sense of belonging and safety. They have built a culture within their staff that I have never witnessed before. I get to see Christ’s love working through his people daily in sharing a building with WC. Plus, I have gotten to score a blanket or two which I love and can’t sleep without it.
On a fashion level, I love what Elizabeth Suzann is doing. She has built a business (and a large one at that) with no paid advertising and through growing her community and following through providing detailed and fascinating content on slow fashion and why she does what they do there. It is funny because I’m saying, “Me too!!!, me too!!!” to almost everything she says. She is a beautiful writer and fluent speaker.
If you could dress one person in Sevier Skirts, who would you choose?
News anchors — from our local stations all the way up to anchors on the “Today” show. Katie Sturino of the 12ish Style is an Instagram influencer who has mastered the truth that beauty comes in all sizes. Dressing women politicians or politician’s wives would be exciting since they always have to look “put together” even in a casual setting.
When you aren’t working, where can we find you?
The grocery store. I feel like I should have my own personal parking spot.
What is the best piece of advice you have received and from whom?
“Sometimes you have to move back before you can move forward.” This is from one of my mentors, Kendra Cooke, who owns Cooke Realty Partners in Rutherford County. At lunch one day, I was explaining to her how I wanted to dissolve the sales rep program for Sevier Skirts because I didn’t feel it was the right direction for my company, and the future was very uncertain for Sevier Skirts. She explained scaling back and going smaller is sometimes the only way to pivot and move forward in the right direction.
“Utilize mentors that have done it before, then make your own decisions,” from my brother-in-law, Jason Moore.
What are three things you cannot live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
Bread dipped in oil, red wine and my tan cream
Thank you to Suzanne for sharing your story and make us all look so stylish! And special thanks to Ashley Hylbert for the beautiful photos of Suzanne!
It was a radiation oncology class during his junior year of college that pointed Dyra Harris toward his life’s work. Today, this director of the oncology service line with Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at TriStar Skyline is fulfilling that passion — and inspiring both patients and employees alike. Click HERE to meet our newest FACE of TriStar!