Eva SooHoo, Founder and CEO of Eileen & Eva®, talks with Jane O. Smith of Stage Your Comeback about her designs, her inspiration and her vision.
What inspired you to create Eileen & Eva®?
In a word, “Eileen.” My beautiful, strong and graceful mother, formed my character and gave me purpose. “Be a girl with a mind, a woman with attitude and a lady with class,” was her mantra and the basis of our relationship. We connected on many levels.
Eileen & Eva® celebrates her spirit and love of style. I witnessed much of her 7-year struggle with ovarian cancer, and when she passed, it left an indelible void in my life. Her drive to retain her identity during treatments combined with her will to move forward in spite of complex side effects, was remarkable, and my collection honors her strength and her savvy.
Your mom’s journey with cancer, and your decision to opt for elective surgeries due to your BRCA2 gene mutation discovery inform your approach to design. Can you describe it?
Yes. We both dealt with the frustration of finding functional clothing that was stylish after our surgeries and throughout our treatment regimens. Mom struggled with weight gain, hair loss, energy depletion, PICC lines, ports and scarring. After my preventative double mastectomy and hysterectomy with oophorectomy, my drains and limited range of motion were obstacles for me. In spite of our resourcefulness and determination, what we wore to accommodate our recovery needs wasn’t very flattering or easy to put together.
This dilemma can be multiplied by thousands and more. Women find themselves in this fog of needing to manage their changed bodies and special needs while wanting to appear as they were, before everything changed.
Living this, seeing this in my mom, and sharing this with other previvors and survivors sparked my desire to create this brand. My mission is to help women feel in control of their recovery journey, help them retain their dignity and rediscover their feminine essence. Eileen & Eva® strives to use fashion as a force for healing.
Mom and I often talked about wanting to start a business and although time was not on our side, she is with me through this new beginning!
Who is the Eileen & Eva® woman?
She has a quiet confidence about her and does not want her situation to define her. She is someone who wants to look comfortable, expressive and in control with style. She might need pockets to hide her drains, PICC lines, or ports, or she might need a bit of room to accommodate swelling from lymphedema. She might be a breast cancer survivor or a previvor. She might be dealing with the aftermath of heart surgery. On a lighter note, she might be a new mother who is breastfeeding, looking for a capsule of pieces that drape her beautifully, when she needs it most. Even if she’s not a fashionista, she knows that there are ways to liven up her appearance for herself and for those who love and care for her.
How do you want women to feel when they wear your clothes?
I want them to embrace their new body and to feel beautiful. I want to give them small delights along their way. My collection is simple and elegant, which allows them to add jewelry, scarves, hats and shawls as they wish. Eileen & Eva® gives them the option of wearing the interchangeable pieces as a medley, or enhancing them with accessories and interesting twists.
What makes your approach unique?
I honor the whole woman. Her mind, body and soul are elevated and embraced when she is going through a really rough time. I want to be the go-to designer for effortless and graceful mix and match pieces so she can dress as she wishes, without compromise.
My simple lines, flattering silhouettes, and neutral color palettes look fabulous on most body types, during recovery and beyond. Audrey Hepburn and the Duchess of Sussex opted for these elements of style in their most famous public roles. The Eileen & Eva® woman should have the same opportunity even when she is vulnerable and exhausted.
I’m passionate about eco-friendly Tencel™, as my fabric of choice. It is a biodegradable fiber that is regenerated from eucalyptus wood. It moderates the effects of hot flashes and it is tender with sensitive skin. It is more absorbent than cotton, softer than silk and cooler than linen. Its moisture management properties make it breathable, anti-bacterial, odor-free and easy to care for.
What is your creative process?
I live in a gorgeous area, near the Pacific Ocean. The air, the colors, the breezes and the landscape calm and inspire me. And then, when I think about my mom’s journey, when it was most heartbreaking, she rallied. She looked for and found miracles in the little things. She knew quality when she saw it and she owned that way of being. Luxurious living wasn’t about money – it was about attitude. The environment and my mom’s joy of life inform my work and my life.
So I carry that with me when I design new pieces. And then I share my prototypes with a group of previvors and survivors that serve as my Advisory Board of sorts. They give me feedback about what works well and what to tweak or to change out. Their genuine support, friendship and honesty fuel my instincts.
Tell me about your background and how it impacts your work.
I was groomed in a multicultural environment and I have lived in many different countries. “Pursue excellence” and “expect more of yourself” come to mind as my family’s mantras. They serve me well still today, as a professional and as a mother.
My mother was an airline executive and she embraced diversity as an asset. Her ability to connect with people continually amazed me. She expanded my horizons and encouraged me to stretch. These qualities are part of my make-up and my skill set.
When Mom passed away, many of her colleagues and friends from across the globe came to Australia, her home and final resting place, to honor her. Her love for life and her presence made a tremendous impact that continues now through their journeys!
As a seasoned luxury cosmetics executive for over 2 decades, I appreciate aesthetics and understand the effect of magic moments that captures one’s imagination. Creating exceptional consumer experience is what drives me. These qualities are part of the Eileen & Eva® culture, in everything we do.
Physical and mental fitness are a top priority in my life. Marathons are my thing. I have raced in different parts of the world, including at the Great Wall in Beijing. Discipline, goal setting, resilience and perseverance are in my blood and I enjoy the rewards when I put them into action.
Stepping out of my comfort zone isn’t always easy but it’s something I harness and that I’m very proud of. For instance, several years ago my family left Asia and moved to America, my husband’s native country. I quit my successful career in China and opted for more time with my children as part of this undertaking. Although I had to reinvent myself and faced many unknowns – and I still do to this day in small and big ways – I view it as an opportunity rather than as a sacrifice.
Embracing change takes courage and I believe that “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”
What is your motto?
Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful.
As a BRCA2 gene mutation carrier you made the difficult choice to undergo more than 6 life-changing surgeries in less than 18 months. How are you doing?
I am doing very well. I was lucky to have a wonderful health care team to guide and treat me, and I have resumed my exercise routine without a hitch. Integrating Eileen & Eva®, consulting projects, family demands and self-care practices is an interesting dance, but over time it is becoming second nature.
To decompress and recharge, I have a favorite oceanside place where I enjoy a nice glass of wine and indulge in a fabulous seared tuna salad. It helps me clear my head and brainstorm about designs and business strategies. The stillness and seascape give rise to new ideas and dreams.
What tips for recovery can you suggest, for women facing life-altering health challenges?
- Follow “The Fast Metabolism Diet” by Haylie Pomroy. I swear by this diet. It helped me reboot my metabolism and I attribute it to keeping my menopausal symptoms at bay.
- Practice “The London Method” which is a ballet barre workout based on the original Lotte Berk technique, to help your body recover. It strengthened my core, built lean muscles, slimmed my thighs and shaped my back side. I do it 3 times a week.
- Watch reruns of your favorite TV shows as a full-throttle escape. I enjoyed “The Good Wife” episodes when I needed a strong dose of entertainment.
- Spend time with someone who actively listens to you without judgment, and who gives you positive energy. My running partner grounds my thinking and lifts my spirit. She is also a terrific sounding board for business-related issues.
How is Eileen & Eva® doing?
My most supportive customers are embracing my brand. Their feedback on my Heal With Style Collection has been gracious and insightful. I learn something new every day about being an entrepreneur in fashion design and manufacturing. I am still finding my way as there is much to learn and the time commitment is all consuming – but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
At times I wish that my mother was here, to share this road with me. Eileen & Eva® is a living testament to all that we experienced and to all that she taught me. I carry her in my heart and in my designs. She would be so happy to see how fabulous they look on women like her and like me, when we dealt with complex treatment side effects. She is my bright and shining star who lights the Eileen & Eva® path and I am forever grateful for this gift.