Most fashion designers can trace their fashion obsession to their high school years—sewing a prom dress for a friend, organizing a school club fashion expo, or modeling at a mall back-to-school modeling show. For Carline Smothers, the CEO of clothing line Zoe Beautée, there was no fascination with clothing whatsoever during high school. When Smothers was attending the University of South Florida in the mid-2000s, being a fashion designer was still far from her plans. Inspired by her Haiti-born parents’ journey in America, the Florida-born college student wanted to become a teacher.
After graduating from USF with a Communications degree, Smothers launched a career in education. While working in the public school system, she noticed that the same insecurities that she had felt growing up about her culture, were manifesting in the kids she was teaching. During her lunch breaks, she ventured out to clothing stores and malls, but couldn’t find clothing that had a cultural perspective. “There was not one thing I could put on to represent who I am, and what I stand for,” she recalls. Smothers began scribbling notes in a journal and sought the feedback of her sister and a cousin. From there, the concept of Zoe Beautée was no longer a cherished idea, but an actual clothing line.
The Zoe Beautée brand mixes cultural pride with a level of sophistication, while also winking at street style.
Kreyolicious: What are some of the things you learned while in school that have helped you in starting and building your brand?
While attending the University of South Florida, I saw and met a diverse group of people. Different nationalities, religions, cultures, and beliefs. I also met other Haitians from all over and I instantly connected with them. I was able to appreciate everyone that I came in contact with while attending college.
Kreyolicious: What does it mean to be a Zoe Beautée?
Zo meaning “bone” in Haitian Creole signifying strength and life. Today, most Haitians refer to themselves as a Zoe. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes [and] since I would be making t-shirts, it was only right to combine the two words…Beautée. “Expressing Beauty Through Language” is the slogan I use to describe my t-shirt line.
Kreyolicious: It takes a lot of energy to be in the fashion industry, and even more to be a fashion entrepreneur. How do your days start and end?
I’m currently a stay-at-home mom, my days start with getting our three young children up, fed, and ready for school. In between feeding our one-year old daughter and naps, I network and advertise via social media. My life revolves around our children. Any ideas I my have for my business, I jot down throughout my day. I have to stay organized in order to keep things running smoothly. While I’m sleeping, I’m thinking about ways to improve and grow my business. I feel like I never sleep…However, I’m so passionate about what I’m doing it drives me and give me energy every day!
Kreyolicious: What would you say to others out there who want to start a clothing line?
If you’re passionate about it, go for it! Don’t let your inexperience or others discourage you from your goal. I was able to start my business in 2011 with nothing. No loans, no business degree and still learning along the way. There may be a few setbacks, but do not let that stop you. Keep pushing forward!
Kreyolicious: Would you say that networking is important?
Networking is extremely important. I have met some amazing individuals through networking! Anyone successful did not reach that point without networking.
Kreyolicious: What keeps you going when things get tough?
My family. My husband has been extremely supportive and my children mean everything to me. My parents, cousins, in-laws and close friends have been rooting for me to succeed…I also think of all the youth and people who struggles with self-love and being comfortable in their own skin. All of my supporters have been absolutely amazing! I can’t and won’t let myself—and those who believe in me—down!
Kreyolicious: From the feedback you’ve gotten from your customers, which pieces are the most popular?
From my Bèl Moun Collection—Beautiful People Collection—such as Bèl Fanm, which means beautiful woman or lady—has had such a positive response…as well as Zoe Proud (Proud to be Haitian). All of my shirts are made to be uplifting, inspiring, and bring up self-confidence.
Kreyolicious: What can we expect from the Zoe Beautée brand in the future?
I have been working on expanding my brand. I’ve added a children’s collection which is the Bèl Timoun collection—Beautiful Children Collection. “I remember when I was a little girl, I was almost ashamed to say I was Haitian. I don’t want my children and other children to feel the same way. We must embrace who we are and love ourselves. My shirts are for all races and cultures that would like to express beauty through language!
[Photo Credit: Fred Louis Photography and Roe Michel ]