Nearly 10 years ago, Sheridan French started production on her first clothing line. The same day, she found out she was pregnant with her second child. It was a memorable start to her career as a fashion designer. But a few years later, French walked away from her successful business to focus on her marriage and family.
“I was struggling,” she admits. “It was a really dark time. I was at the point with the business where it was kind of ‘go big or go home.’ I was not ready to be away from [my] little babies. I wanted to work on my marriage … and know that I did everything I possibly could.”
Today French is a thriving single mom, re-launching her brand and expanding to home textiles this summer. “My family is incredible, my friends are incredible, I’m so excited about the business, and my kids are doing amazing,” she smiles. “It’s been awesome. It’s really been an incredible journey. I’m so thankful. I feel like I’ve lived a lot in 35 years, and I love it.”
Did you always want to be a designer? All the women in my family are creative. My grandmother is an artist, and my great-grandmother is a seamstress. I made my first dress with her and my mom. I knew I’d do something in the creative space jobwise, but I wasn’t certain [what] at first.
How did you get started? I had samples in hand four months [after launching production through a contact from St. Andrew’s University]. I did not know what I was doing. All I knew is that I loved clothing, loved design and felt like I had a good eye. I was cold calling boutiques. … I broke even that first year with a teeny, minimal investment, but it was enough to get me to the second year.
What a leap of faith. I think many moms are afraid to take that first step because they are concerned about the impact of change on their family. That was really hard for me. I was running everything from my house all by myself. My kids were 3, 2 and 1, and I was pregnant. And my marriage was falling apart. I was losing my mind. I was kicking and screaming, making the decision of “hitting pause” [professionally]. I didn’t know when I would start again, but I knew it was “pause,” not “stop.”
You no doubt felt overwhelmed. Like I was about to jump out of a plane without a parachute. I also had a fear of, Everything I had worked so hard to build—would I be able to get it back? [But] as soon as I made the decision, it was like a weight lifted. I stopped for five years. I never really expected to come back this soon—but as the marriage continued to deteriorate, I needed to start having that foundation for financial reasons to support four babies. And I’m so thankful. It’s been amazing. God has been so present through all of it.
Staying home or returning to work is a hard decision for a lot of women, but it’s important to remember you can change your mind. It’s hard for me when I see someone that’s paralyzed in that position. I just want to be like, “You can do it! I will be your cheerleader. Just do it, just try. If you try and it’s a bust, at least you won’t wonder.” Too many people are afraid of failure, so they never have that chance for success.
Sometimes we have to ask ourselves who we want to be when our kids grow up. Yes, and the example I want to set for them. That’s one thing I thought of, especially with my daughters. How do I want them to see me navigate this part of my life, not only with career but with marriage ending and picking myself back up on my own two feet? It’s a huge responsibility but also such a privilege.
Tell us about re-launching your clothing line. I’ll do about 15 or 20 boutiques for this year, but then I will go to markets, Atlanta and Dallas, for the 2021 season. Then also by summer I’ll be doing wallpaper and fabric by the yard, which I’m so excited about. That’s always been like my underlying goal, to do more than fashion.
What inspires your collections? I’ll take a picture of a sunset, and [think,] That’s a good color palette, right there. Or when my daughters are painting, they put some things together that I love. I love looking at old patterns, from the ’50s and ’60s, or the embellishments that used to be on clothes. Those are just beautiful. A lot of [my inspiration] comes from interior design.
I want women to feel so confident when they put on a piece of my clothing, like they can take on the world. So anything that gives me that feeling internally, that kind of lights that fire, I’ll make a note, I’ll take a picture. It can come from everywhere.
“Balance is a four-letter word, and I wish people would just put it in the trash can and stop striving for it.”
Your Instagram is a mix of parenting and fashion. Was that a conscious choice? Well, yes, actually it was, because I love connecting with people. When I went to social accounts for different brands, it was only about the brand and very polished—but I didn’t feel connected with them as a person. I want people to see into my life. I have dinners to make and carpools to be done. I really do try to let people into the struggles, because we’re all there. We’re all walking through some hard stuff, but I think being able to have that community and that support group is what it turns into. I’ll get these amazing, sweet messages, like “I’ve been following you for 11 years, and I just want you to know that this helped me so much.” That’s so validating to me.
You’re a single mom of four and an entrepreneur. How do you find balance? Balance is a four-letter word, and I wish people would just put it in the trash can and stop striving for it, because you know what? No one’s balanced—just forget about that. It helps that all of my kids are in school. That is huge. I don’t think I would have been able to start back yet, at least not at the level I wanted to be, if I had any kids still at home.
It kind of goes back to giving yourself permission to fail, permission to struggle. One of the best things my kids’ dad ever told me was “Adjust as necessary.” I take that through pretty much every day. There’s always a curveball. You just do what needs to be done, keep pushing. And you learn a lot of lessons and come out stronger and better.
It seems like you have a really good mindset about giving yourself grace. How did you get there? It was really when our marriage got to rock bottom, 2014, when I was pregnant with my fourth, stopped the business and went to this amazing marriage ministry called Re-engage. I really heard the gospel … and felt so much love, so much peace. … I really just let go.
How has life changed since the divorce? It’s still pretty fresh. I feel I’m walking through that now. There are a lot of people, especially being such a strong Christian, that divorce is like a four-letter word, and that was very, very hard. I hold no ill will toward anyone because I know everything that has been said to me has been said with a heart of love. Even if it came across as very unloving or judgmental, that was not the spirit with which it was intended. That doesn’t necessarily make it easier to be on the receiving end, but it gives me understanding, and it’s helped me grow tremendously in compassion.
Logistically things were difficult, like moving out of our house. I was in the middle of redoing our 10,000-square-foot dream home in a beautiful neighborhood, walking away from that. Again, you’re faced with a lot of questions, like Why am I valuing this home over my sanity? People call [divorce] the living death, [but] I think that we walked through it as well as we could have. It was very short, and the kids were our priority, and they always will be. There’s the co-parenting challenge, which we’re learning still. I mean, it’s all a process, but I’m encouraged every day, and I know we’re headed in the right direction.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years? I would really love to be a fully developed lifestyle brand. I want to continue running my online business. I’d love to develop the wholesale side of it and be in several hundred stores. I’d like to be working with some majors like Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus.
I don’t know as far as personally. I was with one of my mentors yesterday, and she said something, it brought tears to my eyes instantly. She said, “Sheridan, at the end of this decade your children are going to be 16, 17, 19 and 20. … This is when you pour into them. You will have taught them everything they need to know, the basics, within these next 10 years.” That floored me. I was like, “Oh my gosh. What a wakeup call.” So, that would be my hope, that in the next 10 years I have really instilled so much wisdom and so much love and understanding in each of my children, and could really give them a rock solid foundation in the Lord, in their academics, in their emotions, to be able to go on into the world and be a blessing to others and then do whatever they want to do.
Hails from & lives in: Fort Worth
Offspring: Two boys and two girls
Alma mater: University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where she earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in management and business
Dream job as a kid: Being a mom
Where you can find her: sheridanfrench.com
Photo courtesy of Nick Prendergast.