How Leah Sullivan pivoted from medicine to fashion at Daniels

How does a pre-med biology student launch a clothing brand a couple years after starting down the medical path? By spurning what she thought she liked and chasing her true passion.

Starting a business may seem like a natural endeavor for Sullivan, whose parents are both entrepreneurs. But the entrance into the business world wasn’t immediately evident to her.

She began her college career at Pepperdine University, intending to become an orthopedic doctor. A high school athlete, Sullivan was fascinated by sports medicine and began to follow a path she assumed would lead to a fruitful career.

When COVID-19 struck, Sullivan reassessed her situation, returning home to Denver, withdrawing from school and plotting her next move. She wasn’t thrilled with the medical track and scrapped those plans. Tapping into her entrepreneurial genes, she decided to start a business out of the guest room of her parents’ home.

Stoked LA

It began small, with Sullivan tie-dying shirts in the laundry room, adding homemade logos as she became proficient with a heat press. She created a makeshift photo studio in the guest room, using self-timed photos and a bed sheet background to capture her creations and share them on social media and her website. And she’d fulfill orders as they came in, running down to Wal-Mart to buy a white t-shirt that still needed to be dyed. It was hectic, but Sullivan truly loved and embraced it.

“It grew to a point where I was like, ‘Dang, I actually really want to do this,’” she said. “I’ve always wanted to be involved in fashion, but never thought it was a practical career choice.”

Sullivan’s fashion brand, Stoked LA, was born.

“I love this so much more, this is actually what I want to do,” she added.

With a passion for creating and a growing interest in her products, Sullivan realized she needed more traditional education to grow Stoked LA. That led her to the Daniels College of Business. Gone were her medical aspirations, and in their place, a major in marketing with a minor in management.

“I kind of figured it all out on my own before I could come to school here to actually learn,” she said.

Since landing at Daniels, Sullivan stopped doing tie-dye to appease a request from her parents to spare their sinks. Now, Stoked LA offers sweatpants, sweatshirts and matching sets with fun phrases, designs and colors. Sullivan still runs the small operation, pressing and preparing each article of clothing out of her parents’ house. She has increased the efficiency of her business as it has grown, no longer needing to run out to Wal-Mart when an order comes in.

Sullivan is exploring ways to supercharge her business. Last year, she met with manufacturing companies in Houston, Texas, and South America to outsource the work she’s currently doing solo. She ultimately passed on the opportunities, but continues to look for options to help Stoked LA grow. This summer, she’ll be one of seven businesses taking part in BASE Camp, Entrepreneurship@DU’s flagship summer accelerator. Sullivan will also host a fashion show highlighting 48 of Stoked LA’s looks on June 17 at Void Studios in Denver.

It took two schools and three majors to find a focus that energized her, but Sullivan advises her peers to chase their true passions.

“I feel refreshed and revived,” she said. “I now understand what I’m passionate about and have a career option that will keep me happy.”