· Dec. 09, 2022

Sufia Hossain was working as a merchandiser at Gap’s New York office and felt stuck, until a 2016 trip to Union Square Greenmarket shifted her career in a surprising direction. Drawn to the vibrant colors of hot peppers at one of the farmers market stalls, Hossain impulsively scooped some up. “They just talked to me.”

The hot sauce comes in three flavors: Mango and Sweet Pepper, Serrano and Chipotle, and Habanero.

Experimentation with hot sauce recipes in her home kitchen produced mixed results. “I was horrible when I first started, but for some reason, I still enjoyed that process.” Hossain persisted, dumping multiple batches down the sink until she found the perfect formula. Encouraged by a Gap colleague’s request to buy a bottle, Hossain soon began selling her hot sauce at flea markets and farmers markets. “It was a lot of hustle,” she says. But she always kept her sense of humor. “I’m a very silly person; my coping mechanism is to joke and laugh.” Thus her brand, Silly Chilly Hot Sauce, was born.

In 2017, Hossain moved her production to a shared commercial kitchen, and Silly Chilly Hot Sauce achieved placement in NYC gourmet and specialty stores. By 2019, it had expanded to factory production and national distribution, offering a range of flavors from mild and sweet to assertively hot. One of her happiest moments was seeing the spark in a farmer’s eye as she placed an order for 400 pounds of peppers.

While many entrepreneurs launch their businesses with meticulous plans, Hossain’s took shape gradually and intuitively. “I had no vision of running a hot sauce brand, but slowly I realized how much I enjoyed that whole journey, the process of it. It’s like we love who we love, but we don’t know why.”

Although the move from the fashion merchandiser to hot sauce entrepreneur might seem a sharp pivot, Hossain considers it a smooth turn. “The fashion industry really shaped me. It trained me for everything that I’m doing right now—from visual, to marketing, to creating a brand from nothing on my own.” And Silly Chilly’s branding reflects her sensibility: Instead of the skulls, devils, and flames emblazoning many hot sauce bottles, Hossain’s labels show a stylish woman walking a dog.

In addition to hot sauce, Hossain sells hand-painted masks that are sewn by a co-op of Bangladeshi women in Queens.