Every Experience You've Had in Your Life [has] Taught You Something
Sofia Haq | Marketing Consultant - Retail and Tech
Sofia Haq was born and raised in Southern California to a Pakistani and Iraqi father and a Mexican and Spanish mother. She graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2015 majoring in Gender Studies and participated in an International Business study abroad program at the London School of Economics. After learning more about the business side of luxury goods while in London, as well as exploring British designers like Victoria Beckham and Alexander McQueen, she made the transition from healthcare to luxury goods.
Since late 2015, Sofia has been working with various e-commerce and luxury brands in areas including: marketing, strategy, and operations. Currently, she is a freelance marketing consultant in the retail and tech industries, Founder of Muslim Women Professionals, Riordan Alumni Member, and 2018 MBALauncher at the Forté Foundation. She is an advocate for minorities in the business, tech, and fashion industries. Her hobbies include: horseback riding, traveling, attending sporting events, and going to concerts. She is based in Southern California.
You've taken a non-traditional career path very early on. Tell us a little about your journey and how you've gotten to where you are today.
I started out in healthcare prior to UCLA. I wanted to work in healthcare administration because when I would visit my father in the hospital over the years as a result of his health issues, I witnessed ethnic disparities in certain hospitals. My goal was to redefine patient experience in a hospital setting. I worked in the UCLA Health System for a few years as an intern and won awards for my work. Unfortunately, in September 2014, I lost my dad to leukemia. I was devastated. At that point, I decided not to work in that environment because it just reminded me of a really devastating time in my life.
That year, I had to write a senior thesis on something I was passionate about. Aside from healthcare, I loved fashion since I was a young girl. I knew every brand, the history behind the brand, the trends for that season and the following seasons, and I could talk about it in detail for hours. My advisor saw that and was very encouraging. I wrote my thesis on Bonnie Cashin, an American designer and one of the pioneers of sportswear. My advisor loved it and I knew at that moment there was more. When I studied in London that summer, I got to visit the flagships of Victoria Beckham and Alexander McQueen. After five minutes in Victoria Beckham’s store, I told myself, “If you don’t try this out you will regret it for the rest of your life.” When I got back to LA, I slowly transitioned into fashion. The rest is history!
Why have you chosen to focus on luxury goods?
Luxury goods is something I am extremely passionate about. I’ve understood the creative aspect of the industry since I was a child, so the ability to learn the business side intrigued me and allowed me to bring in my years of experience working in the health system. After working in the industry for the past two years and doing extensive research, I have learned that there is a huge absence of women of color in executive positions. This is confusing as fashion promotes itself as being a forward thinking industry. I’ve also observed that the industry lacks resources to help people work their way up as well as support employees’ mental health. This is troublesome, especially in a very demanding industry. I am passionate about fashion, passionate about business, but also passionate about being a woman at the table and helping other women get there too. Fashion is big on paying dues and working your way up. I respect that, but if you do not acknowledge the talent on your teams or provide them with resources to help them excel, they will go to other industries. I want to be someone who runs a company where people truly feel they can be passionate about the brand, its history, the product, and the people they work with. Who says you can’t have it all? It starts with changing this mindset.
Has your upbringing influenced your career choices? If so, in what way(s)?
When I decided to go into fashion, I was influenced by my mother and Abuelita (grandmother). My mother lost my Abuelita when she was really young, but growing up my mother would talk about her often. My mother would tell me about how my Abuelita was an artist who would also design clothes for her and her eight siblings in Mexico. When I was young, I fell in love with my mother's taste in fashion. She always looked so sophisticated, elegant, and classy everywhere she went. We would watch red carpets together and analyze every detail of someone’s outfit from the designer, to the silhouette, to the hairstyle, and makeup. What I loved was that my mother taught me how fashion could impact one’s confidence and how people viewed you, and she was right. When you are confident in what you wear, people notice that confidence. I learned so much about designers and trends as a young girl that when I grew up I assumed everyone else knew too, but they didn’t. The fashion bug was always in me, but I never thought I could do it as a career. To be able to work in the industry has been an incredible experience. When you love what you do for a living sometimes it does not feel like work.
In terms of your professional goals, how have you kept yourself accountable over the years?
I keep myself accountable by staying busy, meeting new people, exploring new areas, and constantly learning. I am always thinking ahead and I definitely create a timeline for the upcoming year in terms of milestones I want to achieve. I don’t really believe in waking up, going to work, going home, and that being the end of my day. Some people are content with that and that’s great, but I’m not. Growing up with immigrant parents, they provided the best they could. When my dad started experiencing health issues he could no longer work. As a result, we were not in the best place financially and I remember feeling so helpless at that time. My mother was taking care of all of us, going to the hospital to visit my father, then coming home to make sure we had a meal prepared. When I got into a four-year college, I couldn’t go because we couldn’t afford it. I decided to go to a community college and it ended up being the best decision I made. I think going through experiences like that really made me work harder and it also made me realize that sometimes things aren’t meant to work out for reasons beyond your control, but if you are passionate and put in the work you will be rewarded in a better way. The only thing you can do is control your mindset. I think that’s why my biggest fear in life is settling. My father would tell me, “ This is why your mother and I want you to get an education and be as successful as you can. We do not want you to struggle the way we’ve had to.” I remind myself of what my parents went through, instances when we struggled, and that is enough motivation to hold me accountable. I know I am fully capable of what I set my mind to. I always remind myself of my short and long-term goals and how I want to create an empire and a lasting legacy for my family.
What are some of your motivators that have propelled you and helped you push against being risk averse?
My family and friends motivate me a lot. My father believed that women should have access to the same opportunities as men. My mother and older sister taught me that you can be a wife, mother, and also have a successful career. Despite struggles in my life I was always surrounded by ambition. Even if we did not have a lot we found ways to keep ourselves motivated to reach goals. There were no limits to what we could achieve which is why I believe that as a family, we are always working on something. We never try to limit ourselves. We push each other to always do better. My friends are also so supportive and successful in their own right. We are all constantly sharing things we want to accomplish and helping each other in any way we can. Outside of my friends and family, I keep myself motivated by going to conferences, taking part in webinars, and attending events.
I recently started a network called Muslim Women Professionals (MWP) where we hope to provide resources tailored to women within the Muslim community. We strive to empower Muslim women by educating, uplifting, and implementing a global network. So many people like myself who are Muslim, Mexican, and a woman feel like so many parts of our identity are being targeted. With MWP, we strive to provide tools through mentorship, webinars, workshops, etc. In doing so we hope to build a community, but also remind women that they are not alone. If one or two of us excels that’s good, but when all of us do that’s when a movement begins and people cannot ignore us. We cannot and will not settle. My biggest fear in life is settling for a life less than what I know I am capable of having and that is also my biggest motivator.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The best piece of advice I’ve received was from my mother which is "Dime con quien andas, y te diré quien eres.” It translates to “Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.” She first said it to me when I was in middle school, but it remains one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received. It emphasizes the role the people around you play in your life. If you surround yourself with people who are negative, gossip often, and put others down then it will start to rub off on you. As I’ve gotten older, I am very selective in who I surround myself with. I surround myself with women who are ambitious, independent, trustworthy, and who do not see me as competition or a threat. My closest friends are so successful, intelligent, and independent in their own way. One is going to medical school, another is pursuing law, another wants to go into advertising, another is in production, and the list goes on. We may be in different fields, but we uplift each other and when one of us doubts our ability to achieve something, we get together or hop on a call and have a pep talk to remind that person of their potential. It’s amazing. I am beyond grateful that at this point in my life I can honestly say I have the most incredible women and if anything I am so protective of them. I would do anything for them and I know they would do the same for me.
What does leadership mean to you?
I used to think leadership meant solely being successful at leading a team; however, now I believe leadership means seeing the potential in others and giving them the resources to excel in those areas so they can flourish in their roles. When they flourish is when the entire team does too. I also believe leadership is taking one’s unique experiences and creating opportunities for those who lack representation. It is so important to tell our stories now more than ever.
What piece of advice do you have for others who may similarly be following a non-traditional career path?
Following a non-traditional path comes with a lot of uncertainty and sacrifices. Be open to new opportunities and always stay true to yourself. Your values will be put to the test, but remember who you are and give every position your all. Use your past experiences as leverage, not as weakness. Every experience you have had in your life [has] taught you something. If you can find a way to take what you learned and apply it to a new industry you will stand out and get your foot in the door. Like anyone else in a non-traditional career path, there will not be many people you can look up to or use as a resource. Focus on building relationships in the field. Find people who can become your mentor because not only will you learn more from them, but they will vouch for you when it is time for a promotion or if you need a letter of reference. Be kind, be genuine, and never put anyone down because it will reflect on your character. Finally, there will be times when you cry because you are frustrated. You will see others in fields like medicine, law, and engineering and think how great they have it because their fields have a clearer path of what they need to do to get where they need to be. Stop comparing yourself to them, focus on enhancing your skills, and be curious. See if there is a group in your local area of people in that field you can network with. Look up conferences where you can hear from experts in the field. Create your own path and remember that years from now when you are successful that you will look back and every sacrifice, tear, and moment of uncertainty will all have been worth it.