The road to recovery from trauma does not happen overnight, it takes time. One step leads to another and the next step may lead to a breakthrough. Sophia Ukor, founder and editor-in-chief of Violet Simon, used her pathway to self-discovery, acceptance and creativity to create her media brand, which is now impacting over 12K people worldwide.
Violet Simon is a raw reflection of a multitude of women not afraid to show their true selves through the good and bad. Through its articles, photos and exploration of topics of interest, it is breaking down barriers and proving to the world that women do have the keys to be free from society’s standards.
Ukor took some time to have a sister chat with 21Ninety, discussing the details of Violet Simon, how it came to be, what it means to her and where it's headed.
21NINETY: What sparked the need for Violet Simon, and what’s the story behind the name?
SOPHIA UKOR: When I started Violet Simon, I wasn't thinking about a "need," all I was interested in at the time was making money, being famous and designing outfits. The journey to Violet Simon started about nine years ago, and the name then was Violet Couture.
After a few failed businesses and mistakes, I decided I wanted to focus on getting to know myself better and understand what I really wanted to achieve. I was studying for my master’s at the time and I took a two-year break from the business. It helped me to be relaxed as I was such a chronic workaholic, and I still am, but I am learning balance a little better now, haha. I was also going through a phase of discovering who I was, and I was dealing with a lot of suppressed traumas and abuse. At that moment I didn’t know that’s what it was until much later.
I had an abusive and traumatic upbringing and adulthood that affected me in so many ways, but I wasn’t ready to admit it at the time. As I began the journey to be my own woman, healing, forgiving and growing from all the pain, it changed my life. Like, it was not an Oprah "A-HA!" moment, it was baby steps.
At the point when I began to embrace all of me, my vision for Violet Simon changed. It’s like the veil was lifted and I could understand clearly what I was created to do. I traced things back to when I was a kid, the things I loved, the things I was drawn to, and I began to learn more about myself. The more I did this the more Violet Simon became a much-needed thing for me, and I believe for other women.
From my struggles as a woman, a black person, a rape survivor, a "rebel," a mental and emotional abuse survivor diagnosed with mental illness and an all-around amazingly flawed and kind woman, I began to see life through the eyes of others and myself. I learned about compassion and self-love, which helped me to be more compassionate with others. The things I discovered during my journey, the struggles and wins I had seen during my conversations with various women and identifying my purpose all made me understand that Violet Simon is a needed life partner for everyone.
Fashion, art, beauty, feminism, wellness, entertainment and lifestyle are major ways I use to pass along this message. As much as I do provide fashion and beauty insights, which are of great value to our audience, I am also passionate about going behind the scenes, unraveling the hurdles and struggles that affect women, be it in fashion, beauty, wellness, lifestyle, relationships, career etc.
I am also interested in and passionate about women being able to love who they are as well as their femininity. Whether this is expressed through nudity (which I am a big fan of!), modesty, being risqué, whatever. It’s basically come as you are. I am interested in getting to know the journey of women who have paved ways for others and succeeded. Exploring the hurdles, stories, journeys, wins and also the current hurdles and insights that these people encounter, and how these areas can empower other women.
As for the name Violet Simon, Violet is my grandmother’s name. She influenced me hugely in fashion, and I am so in love with fashion. Violet Simon still holds the vision of designing and creating amazing fashion items for women, but all in due time. One step at a time. Simon is my dad’s name, and although we might have had our differences and dealt with so much, he influenced me hugely in my passion for media, publishing, talking, writing etc. He played a huge role, and I won’t deny that. So I decided when I was rebranding and changing my company’s name that I would use the names of two people who inspired me in spite of whatever issues, abuse and hurt occurred. I am so grateful for them and to them. I am glad I went through the trauma, pain and healing (which is still ongoing) because it all contributed to my purpose.
21N: You started Violet Simon off as a fashion brand but soon transformed it into a media and lifestyle brand and forum for women. Why did you want to make that switch?
SU: It’s still a fashion brand. It just isn’t solely about making clothes, shoes or bags. It’s more than that now. Designing is now an aspect of our brand. Everything from design to lifestyle, Violet Simon is centered on empowering women and telling a story through every piece and every project. Our goal to be a friend and companion to our audience with as much authenticity as possible.
21N: Just scrolling through the Violet Simon Instagram page and without reading the captions, you can gather that the site caters to women’s freedom; whether it’s freedom of creative expression or a freed body. Is that the message you are trying to portray?
SU: Yes, absolutely. It’s part of the message I am trying to portray.
21N: Why is it so important to you to display this raw viewpoint for women?
SU: It’s beautiful, don’t you think? I am overwhelmed with passion and emotion talking about this right now. Growing up, I was made to feel very insecure. I am a very expressive and free person, but we had a lot of restrictions on dressing, body image, sex etc. due to the religious background I came from. I was always insecure about myself and the whole thing affected me in a very negative way. I was made to think that wearing certain things or exposing certain parts will send me to hell or kill me.
Being a black woman I was terribly insecure about my identity and the very features, attributes and uniqueness that made me, me. I was busy trying to be like everyone else. I still struggle from time to time, but I have come a very long way. God is good.
I see this struggle with a lot of other women also. Women are made to feel ashamed of themselves. A man could walk down the street naked and there would not be as much talk, but if it were a woman… the problems begin. I love the idea of nudity, and people – not just women — in their raw form. It’s not about trying to be sexy, however, if anyone does it to feel sexy, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I love being and feeling sexy!
I am all about women loving their bodies, loving themselves and being happy with who they are. Whether you love modesty, being risqué, nudity whatever — be you, and do you, but don’t be something because you want to be like someone else. There is only one you, baby! It took me a long time to find my voice and love all of me. While I am still on my journey I love what I do. I see the human body and women as a beautiful work of art created by God, and for me, it’s just a beautiful thing to behold. A lot of healing, stories and lessons come from just freeing yourself and being. That’s it really.
21N: Your brand is broken up into five major groups: fashion, beauty, lifestyle/wellness, fearless and art/entertainment. Explain to us why these subjects are focal topics for you.
SU: These are all areas that make up who we are as humans. Be it work, career, mental and physical health, music, writing etc. They are all major aspects that connect us and that the everyday woman revolves around.
Take a look at how we break down each aspect:
Fashion: We tackle issues on body confidence and positivity, slut-shaming and personal style, and explore the journeys of both fashion producers as well as consumers. We cover fashion topics that arise in social and formal contexts as well as style tips, resources and guides.
Beauty: We also cover topics that help women be, and love themselves.
Lifestyle and Wellness: From wellness, to leisure, relationship, career, culture and more, we share stories and insights on these topics to foster better living for women.
Fearless: This is a project that promotes stories about women – from their journeys, hurdles, and the lessons and successes achieved through certain obstacles. It covers both past and present experiences. We aim to extend this series of articles to include events where women can come together and celebrate these stories and support each other.
Art and entertainment: We publish information about books, and other creative media as well as a weekly podcast. We use art, including photography, illustrations, artwork and graphics as a way of creating stories, expressing our messages and empowering creatives and all women.
You will notice how most of these are all areas that are pivotal to our day-to-day life. I found it intriguing when I realized that. The intention is to use all of these areas as conduits for our mission. Everything we want to do and are doing at the moment is entrenched under these areas.
21N: You express your love for media, which plays into the expansion of your brand. What about media draws you in?
SU: Everything! From writing, to culture and the way we are all controlled, if I must say, by media. From movies, books, to news etc., I started writing when I was nine years old, I think. I always wanted to be someone who uses her voice to touch people. I wanted to interview people, talk with people, get to know their story and use my gifts to make an impact. I remember when I was a kid, I would sit my poor sisters down and talk to them like I was interviewing them. It was one of the things my dad picked up about me, and he and my mom encouraged me in that aspect.
21N: What changes do you hope to see in the media landscape and how are you using Violet Simon to be the change you hope to see?
SU: I am also passionate about changing the negative effect media is beginning to have on people and the way it is often used as a terrible and harmful weapon. There is a lot of shaming and bad media out there – it’s like we feed off of negative news, and it’s sad. I am guilty myself, but I am learning to make a deliberate effort to stay away from negative news, as it also affects our mental health, physical health and outlook on life.
There is also the issue of diversity. When I started nine years ago, there were not many black women in media or fashion. I was told I would not be able to reach the level of white people, and I was discouraged, but I kept pushing. I am very happy at the change so far, but there is room for more of course. My take is that rather than talk about how black people are not included, let us get up and do stuff. It might be hard initially, but we need to keep moving.
Women like Oprah, Beyoncé, Aretha Franklin, Etta James etc., paved the way for women, especially black women. It wasn’t easy, but they didn’t back down in spite of their struggles and personal demons. You will hardly hear any of these women talk much about who didn’t include them in this or that. They created their path and pulled other women along. That is what I hope to do. For black women and all women as well. I want my daughter to look at me and believe that her skin color is not going to stop her from excelling.
The media is often used or seen as an aggressive method of expression. I hope to use my platform to create a safe home for all women, and even men. So when you think Violet Simon, you’re thinking about having a relaxing time at the spa, a nice warm bath or a date with your therapist, haha. You learn stuff, you grow, you connect, network and above all understand that you are human, and you cannot be perfect or get it right all the time. Get comfortable with your radical opinions, personality, creativity, and get comfortable with you and grow. I am not perfect at this either but I am learning, and as I learn and grow, I channel that to my brand. I also have amazing people such as my husband who help contribute to this journey.
21N: On the site and in the magazine, you feature some pretty amazing women and give them a platform to share their stories. How do you go about highlighting the women featured?
SU: I sent over 150 emails to different women — from public figures, celebrities to everyday women. It was hard. I got told "no" a lot, or my company wasn’t known, etc. I felt angry sometimes, but I had to keep reminding myself of why I started, and when I forgot, my husband and sisters were there to remind me. I also meet women in person. I try to go out and engage women, hear their stories, get to know them, share my story, exchange insights on everything from career, health, fashion etc, and that also contributes to how I do it.
21N: Speaking of the magazine, you officially launched the first issue of Violet Simon on July 31st as a digital copy, and the print copy came out September 4th! How exciting! What led you to want to not only have a digital library of your work but a print version as well?
SU: I love print. I don’t know. I am still old school in some things. There is just something about flipping through a book or a magazine and having it on your table or in your library. It’s wonderful. At first, I wanted to make it digital only, but I changed my mind because I believe that there is still a market and an audience for print.
21N: Right now the magazine is set to come out biannually, but do you see that increasing in the future?
SU: I hope so. It was supposed to be quarterly, but I couldn’t manage that. Right now I am literally the only person in my company running the show. I have the support of my hubby who is amazing, but still. I run Violet Simon, including the magazine, and with everything I have going on and that I need to do, I couldn’t manage to have a quarterly magazine. As our audience, sales and brand grow, we just might make it quarterly. Maybe, maybe not... who knows?
21N: What has been the response to the magazine so far?
SU: I know it’s often expected that people should give high numbers and all to make it look like all is well, but sales wise, it’s not been as great as we expected. The response in terms of the impact and the reviews have been 100 percent. I have people who send me messages from all over the world saying our company and our magazine will go far, and how much it has inspired and helped them. I have brands and people who I always admired reaching out to collaborate. It’s been surreal. I am happy and encouraged. In terms of sales, it’s been sort of a struggle, but we won’t give up! We can’t stop, won’t stop.
21N: Resilience is the theme of issue one. A strong theme to start on. What does resilience mean to you?
SU: Pushing through against all odds. Embracing vulnerability and moments when you feel low and beat, but rising above it and doing what you have set your mind to do. I believe we all express resilience in our daily lives, but we are just not conscious of it all the time. Resilience is about faith and positivity. We go through stuff, but waking up every day and choosing to live, choosing to get up and do what you have to do is resilience.
It’s also being okay with the days you don’t do anything, make mistakes and feel crappy. Resilience is an act of self-love. It’s empowering, and I am inspired by how strong we as women are. Being a woman in spite of the misogyny, the patriarchy and inequality we receive from our culture and society is resilience. I love women. Resilience is the same as being a woman/
21N: As much as we love living in the present, we often look towards the future as well, so what’s next for Violet Simon?
SU: A lot, but I will keep mum for now and let you guys see it as it unravels. All I can say is we are going places! Keep supporting us please!
21N: What’s next for Sophia?
SU: Sophia is just learning to live in the moment, love herself more, enjoy life, work hard for Violet Simon and step out of her comfort zone more.
21N: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
SU: Please get our magazine. We have a discount that ends on the day of our launch party, the 22nd of September. We will be starting a Kickstarter campaign soon, so please support us.
Above all, don't stop believing in what you can do. When you feel beat, pause and look back to see how far you’ve come. Don’t underestimate yourself. You are awesome and Violet Simon is here for you. I believe in you. Feel free to write us or follow us on Instagram!
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