Millennial females ensure a bright future for Northern Nevada business |

Millennial females ensure a bright future for Northern Nevada business

By Karel C. Ancona | Special to the NNBV
Ali Conway, middle, started her company, Strange Bikinis, in 2015; here, she shares a laugh with some models during a Tahoe photo shoot.
Courtesy photo
Editor’s note This story is adapted from the 2018 edition of Sierra Nevada Powerful Woman, a magazine produced by the Northern Nevada Business View and Sierra Nevada Media Group. Click here to read a digital copy of the magazine.

RENO, Nev. — Never underestimate the ability of millennial young women to take the world by storm.

If Kerry Sutherland and Ali Conway are any indication — the Northern Nevadans are just two examples of a growing group of women who possess an indomitable spirit and take innovative approaches to life and work with a willingness to invent and embrace new ways of expressing the entrepreneurial spirit — everything is going to be just fine.

“Speaking to media isn’t really something I or my friends, who also own businesses, normally do; I’ve just always felt my business brand and work would speak for itself,” said Sutherland, principal of K. Sutherland Public Relations and partner in Speak Wines, both based in Reno. “I didn’t realize that because of this, while our companies are globally known, local awareness is limited; I guess it’s time to change that.”

Conway, meanwhile, is growing a company that specializes in creating “cheeky” bikinis by following her gut and leading with her heart, qualities shared by both women.

“This began because I had made my own bikini, and everyone loved it,” said the owner of Strange Bikinis, which started in 2011 in her in-laws garage. “I was attending University of Nevada, Reno, didn’t feel it and finally left to attend fashion school, and went to work in the industry afterward.”

Being in the industry was not particularly enjoyable, and despite the glamour associated with it, Conway describes it as a “nasty business.”

“Reno does not scream ‘fashion mecca,’ but my husband and I came back, and I was searching for something to do when my mom reminded me of the bikini I had made,” she said. “I do it all — 2016 was the first year I stepped out of hand making each one — since Strange is a retail space, and web and on-line presence, there are a lot of moving parts that has made finding the right employees challenging because there is so much to know.

“When it’s time the right people will be there … I have not grown the company by following the rules.”

The best example of this, she said, was how adamant her older female mentors were about writing a 60-year business plan, which Conway admits she did, though grudgingly.

“I wrote it, it took up a lot of time, and you know what? I haven’t looked at it since, it is outdated and no longer relevant,” she said. “I approach business organically, let things unfold, put in the hours.”

Sutherland made a decision to start K. Sutherland P.R. on a whim and had it up and running within two weeks.

That has grown into a global marketing firm and was soon followed by her second endeavor, Speak Wines, an idea that grew from “the girls” getting together and chatting over wine.

Speak Wines features the talents of internet-famous moms and artists in its labels and names: “Oh So Grateful,” ‘She Believed She Could. So She Did,” “Let’s Make Out,” “Pump and Dump,” and other giggle-inducing sayings, while supporting a number of rotating causes.

She, too, puts in the hours and leads from her heart and gut.

Conway began to take her business seriously when she was awarded the 2015 Biggest Little Start-up Competition and the resulting $25,000 in goods and services to help with the legal structure and marketing of Strange Bikinis.

“It was helpful in that I had no business experience,” she said. “Making and designing is what I love, so I have had to learn the other side; people are surprised I have no debt, which gives me a lot of space to be flexible.”

Sutherland said the millennial approach to entrepreneurship and growing successful businesses is different in ways that seem foreign to earlier generations.

“We’re less linear, and for me, anything that feels corporate or structured does not fit any part of my brand or my life — I don’t see a need to dress in business attire, know your audience, be open minded, let people dress how they want,” she said. “I’m a woman and I believe we can do these things and be successful.

‘Flexibility and feeling I have opportunity are what I want, and it is what I have created.”

Sutherland has clients the globe over, so her job often requires last minute trips far afield, and yet she rules out nothing for her future.

“It would not surprise me if I were to start another company, simply because I don’t view things as limited, or about needing to put all of my self into a couple of things,” she said. “My mom always taught me to dream big, and I believe when we do, anything is possible.”

The idea that there has to be exclusion or trading of one aspect of life for another is also not in their DNA. They have spouses and children and lives beyond work, and have put in place tools and support systems necessary to create success, and have done so without the guilt so often experienced by older women.

Having a housekeeper or allowing others to share child rearing so travel schedules are not disruptive are non-issues. Conway is expecting her first child, and will streamline motherhood into her day-to-day work life, something Sutherland has already experienced and implemented twice.

She has an on-site nursery at her Reno office, and a desk space set aside so her older child can do school work.

“Honestly, for as little as I used the nursery, I put way too much time into its design and function,” she said. “But now it’s there if any of my staff ever needs it, which matters because I do have an all woman business, and this is just one way I can support them in creating a personal-professional life that works.”

Both women are doing business on terms that work for their individual needs and desires, and know what works for them.

“I see my role as telling the girls what’s cute and right and on trend,” Conway said. “I do what I know, be myself, be real, know my goals and plans change all the time, and I like it that way.

“People define success a lot of ways, and I don’t have to be wealthy to be successful … having a happy place to work and being giving and free is what is important.”

Sutherland echoes some of the same sentiment.

“I think we’re not so defined by or attached to what we’re doing as women used to be,” Sutherland said. “The most important thing I try to impart to women I mentor is to be flexible, to dream and do the work, and while I don’t usually speak up like this, if it is my time to do so to help others succeed, then I will.”

Karel C. Ancona is a freelance writer who served as a contributing editor to the inaugural Sierra Nevada Powerful Woman magazine. Click here to read a digital copy of the magazine.


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