Proving Compassion & Business Can Coexist | Meet Founder of Strita DTLA, Cathleen Cher

Author: Kristen McCloud

It seems as though Cathleen Cher was born to be a Jane of all trades. Growing up, Cathleen was always busy juggling multiple passions and today, not much has changed. Cathleen dabbles in fashion design, music production, PR management, event curation, talent acquisition - the list goes on. Not to mention her monthly "Women On Top" panel discussions at the SoHo House in West Hollywood, where she gives fellow hardworking females a platform to share their voice. But what makes her even more inspiring, is the love and compassion that is at the heart of everything she does. Cathleen is determined to use her creativity and drive to change the world, whether it’s making music that connects people, designing apparel that we can feel confident in, or helping other women share their ideas, Cathleen’s work isn’t done until she has helped someone for the better. 

Can you tell us more about your educational and career background? How did you become the multi-hyphenate creative that you are today?
I really have to blame/thank my "tiger mom" for encouraging me to become a well-rounded candidate to get into a good college. When I was in school, I took piano lessons, was part of a Chinese folk dance troupe, sang in chorus, played flute in band, attempted Chinese calligraphy and painting, gymnastics, cheerleading, basketball, and was in the full IB diploma program. When I got to college, I was in the Pre-Med program, majored in Psychology and minored in Creative Writing and Asian Studies, studied abroad in China, founded the Chinese Student Association, and played women's flag football. So, I guess you could say I'm used to being busy.

When I got to LA, I came to pursue acting and screenwriting, and ended up getting an amazing opportunity to work with Kanye West for Coachella in 2011. Since then, so many opportunities have opened up to me in music, and I've been so fortunate to keep myself busy. I've dabbled in everything that I've wanted to explore in music - music supervision, event production, talent booking, music PR/management, DJing, producing music, founding a music video production company, music journalism... My mission statement has been to, "Get as much good music to as many people as possible."

I think music is such a powerful, healing and unifying tool, and everything that I've done is an extension of that.

Sitting in on your panel discussion was incredibly inspiring. What sparked your decision to start Women on Top?
I was originally approached by SoHo House to consult on music bookings, and because those were successful, I was asked to curate a couple of monthly events. I came up with the concept "Women On Top" because I wanted to provide a platform for women who were kicking ass in male-dominated industries. It was a way for me to honor women that I respect and was already acquainted with, and it gave me the opportunity to reach out to women I respected and wanted to be acquainted with - all while providing an intimate, safe space for people to get together, talk candidly, and network. I've found that it's been a cathartic experience for a lot of the panelists and attendees - myself included. It's just necessary sometimes, on a human level, to be able to relate to others. Finding out that you're not the only one who has certain experiences, thoughts, or struggles is incredibly healing.

During the discussion, you and the other speakers shared personal stories about being treated unfairly as women in your respective industries. Can you describe a time when this happened to you? How did you overcome it?
It happens all the time to women in so many industries, but I think in the music industry it's particularly rampant because of the blurred lines between work and play. Concerts, music festivals, drugs, alcohol, bars, clubs; they all become part of "the job." There was a time a few years ago when I had a horrible experience that really shaped my perspective on all of this. When I thwarted advances from a man in a managerial position on a project I was working on, I woke up to a barrage of messages from him threatening my job and taking credit for my job - verbatim: "The only reason why you're here is because of me," which was entirely untrue, because I got the gig before he was even hired. I was so scared and embarrassed that I didn't tell anyone at the time.

I thought I'd brought it onto myself, I questioned all of my interactions with him, and felt guilty about everything - down to putting a smiley face in an email that I had sent. I was pretty young at the time and didn't have many friends in LA, especially other female friends who were in the industry and could understand what I was going through. I felt so alone and even worse about myself, because I'd brought a couple of other women onto the project and realized I put them in a work environment with huge potential for harassment.

It was a really dark time in my life for a few other reasons, and I spiraled into a lot of self-loathing thoughts for a week. I even considered leaving the music industry altogether. The only way I overcame it, was I finally told myself that by quitting the music industry, I would only make this problem worse. I knew I had to become part of the solution, especially because I was in a position where I could be part of the solution. The only way that all of this can be eradicated is by speaking out about it, hiring and working with people that are in the industry for the right reasons, and guiding other young women. That's what I'm trying to do every day now.

What was the process behind starting Strita? How does it feel to land in a major retailer like PACSUN?
It all started one night when I was eating pizza after one of my DJ gigs with Virgil Abloh, and I told him about a few ideas I had - one of them being a lingerie line with a streetwear vibe to it. I lived close to Fairfax, where all of the streetwear brands have shops, and I was tired of not seeing anything made strictly for females, by females. I'd never done anything in fashion before and I was really just tipsy and spitballing ideas to make conversation, but he was really excited about it and encouraged me to actually pursue it. I respected his opinion a lot, and his vote of confidence made me decide that night to make it happen.

I approached my best friend Esther, who is a stylist and designer; and another friend, Huyen, who also works in fashion and has a technical design background, and they were all on board with the idea. We all wanted to establish a brand that was focused on female empowerment and embracing your sexuality - something I've struggled with my entire life. Strita was a name I came up with, St. Rita is the patron saint of the impossible, and someone who a lot of women prayed to for help out of seemingly impossible situations. It's been such a journey and a learning process! The fashion world, business-wise, is so different from music. PACSUN has been such a blessing, they found our website and contacted us because they really loved our branding and style, which was so reaffirming to hear, coming from a company as huge and influential as them. We're so excited to be included in their store, among so many other amazing brands, and we're also very excited for what's to come - it's only the beginning!

“Always help other people whenever you can, especially other women. Every amazing opportunity I've been given has either been a direct or indirect result of me helping someone else out."

When it comes to DJing, how would you describe your musical style?
Hip House - I grew up listening to Hip Hop and really fell in love with House later on in life and when I get to marry those two genres together, I'm at my happiest state. I'm also super into anything with any worldbeat influences, but basically anything that gets people moving on the dance floor!

Even though you work in multiple creative industries, do you eventually want to focus all of your energy on one?
Music has been and will always be my #1. Everything else I've done has always been an extension of music for me. Ultimately, I will always be involved with any industry that allows me to utilize my skills and network to bring about a positive change in the world. Whether it's affecting people with beautiful music, producing content that's raising awareness on issues that are important to me, helping people realize their dreams, or creating environments where people can gather and feel love. I've tried to limit myself so many times in the past few years, but I just don't think that's how I was built; as long as I have energy to do everything I love, I will continue to do so!

What advice do you have for young girls looking to take a nontraditional career route (music, art, fashion, etc.)?
There are so many ways to live a life. I think sometimes growing up, you don't realize that, depending on where you grow up or what your parents do. If you really love something and want to make it your career, and you're willing to work really, really hard at it, do it. Not everyone is going to be passionate about their career. I personally think that kind of passion is a gift. How lucky and fortunate are we who have the freedom and ability to do something we truly love and make a living off of it? My parents came to this country so I could have the opportunity to live out my dreams and I can't think of any better way to honor their sacrifices than by doing what I love, and helping other people do what they love.

Being that you’ve launched more than one business on your own, what’s your golden rule for being a Boss Bish?
Always help other people whenever you can, especially other women. Every amazing opportunity I've been given has either been a direct or indirect result of me helping someone else out. I feel like women - and minorities in general - are often pitted against each other because we are made to feel like, "There can only be room for one." The truth is, there can be room at the table for everyone who really wants to be there. The more seats that are filled by people we respect, the more our voices will be heard. So don't be afraid be lend a helping hand, we're all in this together.

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects that you’re working on?
Currently, we're in the process of creating the Third Collection for Strita DTLA which I'm very excited about. I'm also the creative director for NoMBe, an amazing new artist managed by Jake Udell, and a self-proclaimed feminist. His entire forthcoming album was inspired by the women in his life, who he's honoring by promoting female empowerment and gender equality as a male ally. I'm also working with an artist, George Maple, who is a super Boss Bish in so many ways. Other than that, I'm looking forward to a lot of fun DJ gigs and making some more of my own music in the upcoming year. I also just had a wonderful dinner last night with friends and we talked about developing a female collective pop up hub in LA for panels, co-working, yoga, workshops, shops, music, etc. Stay tuned for that! Lots of girl power/MISSBISH initiatives on my plate!

What are three hidden gems in LA?
1. La Cevicheria - a serious hole in the wall mom + pop establishment, the wife cooks and the husband is the only server - that I've seen. It's SO GOOD. Things to get: Aguachile, bloody clams, and any of the Mariscadas. Bring cash.

2. Tonic Bar at Erewhon - Erewhon is basically a bougier version of Whole Foods, but the reason to go is because they have a Tonic Bar inside with these AMAZING cure-all tonics made with coconut oil and herbs. My favorite is the Energy Tonic, gives you more energy than coffee ever will and it doesn't make you crash or feel jittery.

3. Villain's Tavern (Hootenanny) - Villain's Tavern is this lovely bar/restaurant in the Arts district that's an old church. I just did some research and found out that my favorite bands there, the Hootenanny, has now moved to other venues. Sad! Still worth checking out because it's rad, but follow @lahootenanny to see where they're at now. It's this amazing live band experience that plays "raunchabilly, outlaw country, rap-grass" - perfect for when you want to put on some boots and experience one of the only places in LA where people aren't too cool to dance.

What does MISSBISH mean to you?
MISSBISH means being a boss in a way that only a woman can. It's multi-tasking AF. It's running shit and making shit happen, while being compassionate, maintaining relationships, and keeping everything looking nice.

Who’s your MISSBISH? Tell us who she is and why she’s an inspiration to you.
My grandma was a badass multihyphenate and will always be a never-ending inspiration for me; she was an opera singer, hotel/restaurant owner, mother, psychic, among many other amazing things. But in terms of a contemporary, my best friend and business partner, Esther, is my MISSBISH. We've been friends since the 7th grade and have been through a LOT together. She has helped me grow as a person in so many ways by never being afraid to be honest and call me out on all of my shit. I think it's so important to have friends like that; it's sometimes hard to see your own reflection when there's no one holding up that mirror for you. Her parents both passed away when she was pretty young and it amazes me every day how much she's managed to grow into such an accomplished and compassionate woman, and continually learn on her own without the guidance or support that so many of us take for granted.

Photos by: Belle The Queen