Aliya Thomas ’97

By Ellie Geraghty

Going from model, to mom, to entrepreneur, Aliya Thomas ’97 knows the importance of a powerful wardrobe. Spending 20+ years in a “non-inclusive fashion industry,” she has first-hand experience enduring the challenges women face to build their personal brand and lead empowered lives. Read on to learn more about Aliya’s journey and passion for building community, and connecting diverse groups of professional women, one wardrobe at a time. 

What is your Fearless Idea?

So many women are "hiding," stuck in a box dressing how society tells them they should due to their age, size, race or industry. Elevated Style by Aliya helps female entrepreneurs and executives step outside of the box, to define and own their personal brand image by creating personalized, stylish wardrobes for their clients that represent the real them. Many are taught how to create a brand, product or service. However, many are not taught the impact of showing up confidently in our own self brand image to look like the leaders we already are, but may not be showing. This is what we do.

Describe your startup's mission and why you launched it in 100 words or less.

Our mission is to inspire, elevate and connect women to lead empowered lives. We inspire creativity, while elevating wardrobes and personal confidence. We also build community, connecting diverse groups of professional women through our in-person and virtual programming for companies and women's professional and social organizations.

How do you define success or determine the impact of your venture?

For me personally, success is determined by the positive direct impact you have on another's life experience through service. Inspiring someone to embrace their authentic self no matter age, race or size, has an impact. My success is the feeling of joy and empowerment a happy client feels seeing herself in a new light after experiencing an Elevated Style by Aliya service. This is exactly why I do what I do. At the end of the day, it's not simply about the clothes, it's a feeling of confidence and self assurance. There's no price tag for success on that.

What is the biggest problem or challenge you have had to overcome with your venture? 

My challenge has been a personal one. I've gone from model to mom, now Founder of Elevated Style by Aliya. My 20+ years in a non-inclusive fashion industry had its own challenges. It's an industry not known for lifting women up. After leaving the industry, I knew I needed to start my own venture. However, making that initial jump was not easy. Quite frankly it was scary starting a business, after pausing my career, making the choice to be a stay at home mom for six years first. Every working mom has conflicting feelings of mom guilt accompanied with a desire to thrive professionally. I wouldn't say I have overcome this personal conflict 100%. However, working with and seeing many other women navigate it, leaning on mentors who do it, helps me on my journey. Everyday I balance being a present mom that I want to be to my seven and nine year old boys, while defining my own path as a business owner, constantly adapting to client needs in a changing industry.

What is the best piece of advice you've received?

Tough to pick just one great piece of advice. But what stands out to me most is something I refer to everyday since day one of starting my company is simply ... "Ask for what you want." We don't get to where we want to be if we don't first know what we want, or know how to ask for it. Expect a yes. Yet if you get a no, keep it moving and keep asking. Ask through the fear.

What is one piece of advice you want to give to fellow Terps about launching a venture?

Launching a business can be thrilling, challenging and crazy scary all at once. Looking back, one thing helped me day to day, just as it still helps me. That is, find "your people" and lean on them. No one gets through life alone, personally or professionally. Having strong mentors, peers who are where you are and peers who represent where you want to be, family, and a professional resource/community that you can lean on. You will have tough days. You will question why you started things. It's all normal. I remember my mission, my "why" and lean on "my people."

What is one book you're reading or a podcast you're listening to right now?

The podcasts, “She Did It Her Way” and “So Money.”

What do you do in your free time?

Homeschooling two elementary kids and running a business during a pandemic doesn't allow for much free time these days. However, travel, experiencing excellent food and great company are on the top of my list.

What is your favorite alumni event or experience?

Since the late 90's, I've always loved the energy and experience around homecoming weekend. Alumni and current students along with their families experiencing UMD together has created some awesome memories I'll always cherish and carry with me.

As a student, what was one of your favorite memories or spots on campus?

Hands down all the fun I had in my former all girls dorm La Plata! Initially I wasn't happy about being in an all girls dorm. But little did I know, some of the best memories of my college experience, of my life, would be made there. I'm so grateful for all that I experienced and all those I met along the way at UMD.

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