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Our Founder

Melissa Dawn Simkins


For nearly two decades, Melissa Dawn Simkins has blended human insight with brand-building innovation, to be coined, “The First Lady of Personal Branding.” She is more than a trusted advisor to Fortune 100’s, C-Suite executives and influencers, but she is the personal brand leadership pioneer, redefining and reinventing the leadership development category to harvest the potential of people to lead the future.

Determined to unleash leadership at all levels, Simkins founded Velvet Suite® ( Since its inception in 2006, Velvet Suite has delivered breakthrough business results for an array of leading companies, celebrities, industries and brands by rethinking leadership from the inside out. The results are innovative strategies and proven solutions that deeply connect with people and create competitive advantage.

Today, her understanding of human potential and personal branding make her a highly-sought after keynote speaker on leadership innovation, a contributor to and a frequent guest on news and business media, including CNN, HLN, MSNBC, Essence, Black Enterprise and more. Melissa is the best-selling author of Brand Me. Make Your Mark: The Ultimate Playbook for Personal Branding.

As founder of The Brand Leadership Institute ® (BLI), a successful online platform merging coaching, content and community, she has focused on advancing women in work and well-being. In the process, she has disrupted the leadership development industry without apology.  BLI offers clients a proven platform and pipeline to advance and develop the next generation of leading diverse women by proving again how self-confidence and enhanced performance are borne out of self-discovery with extraordinary results.

She also has created The She-Suite Summit, an annual leadership experience designed to spotlight executive women and empower next- generation leaders. The She-Suite community exists to support the advancement of a new prototype of leading women living equally successful and significant lives.

Melissa’s career is replete with notable firsts. The first African American female advisory board member for the World Brand Congress in Mumbai. In partnership with the NFL, Velvet Suite created the NFL Player Brand University, the first personal brand development academy in professional sports. Velvet Suite clients include Boston Scientific, Lincoln Financial, Home Depot, Southern Company, the National Basketball Association, celebrities, pro-athletes and more. She gets it!

The National Association of Market Developers designated Melissa as Entrepreneur of the Year and she was named Atlantan’s Women of Power & Influence. Velvet Suite was a finalist for the Greater Washington Innovation Award. She has served on the Board of Trustees at Otterbein University and the Board of Directors for the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce and currently serves on the Board of Directors for The SHRM Foundation (Society for Human Resource Management), proving that giving back has always been her DNA.

With a Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations and Business from Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio and a MS in Integrated Marketing Communications from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Melissa is the mother of four sons and resides in Northern Virginia with her husband and purpose-partner, Will Simkins.