Story by Marianne Salza
Excitable fashion designer, Sara Campbell, Founder and CEO of the Sara Campbell, Limited, clothing line, will be speaking during the November 8 Beacon Hill Women’s Forum, 6-8pm, at the Hampshire House. Her presentation, “Five Years Later: Story of Pivoting a Small Business,” will discuss the evolution of her brand in hopes of inspiring listeners and building relationships.
“My favorite quotation at work is ‘expanding beyond what you think you can do,’”Campbell said pointedly. “Every day is a learning day. You always can do better.”
For 35 years, Sara Campbell, Ltd., has been dedicated to manufacturing women’s apparel in the United States. Campbell’s 23 boutiques east of the Mississippi River feature sleek and sophisticated dresses, pants, blouses, and accessories created with fine fabrics.
“I don’t make hundreds of things,” Campbell explained. “I make 50-110, and that’s divided by 23 stores and e-commerce. We’re not a commodity, which I love.”
Campbell compared the beginnings of Sara Campbell, Ltd, to a lemonade stand, having founded the label in 1985 in Cambridge at the age of 25 with no business plan.
“I don’t wish I had known anything because I wouldn’t have done it if I had known how hard it was going to be. It grew organically, which is how I like it,” realized Campbell. “I kept going. If I knew all the obstacles, I would have said, ‘I can’t do this.’”
Campbell would sublet her apartment to parents visiting college students to help pay for her rent while she slept at friends’ houses. She had also sold art and women’s clothing through her mail order catalog, Sisters: A Gallery Without Walls, with her sister, Meg.
“My goal was to support myself by being creative,” said Campbell. “I was a working artist. I would make one-of-a-kind clothing and had to stitch it in Vermont. It smelled like a wood-burning stove; and I didn’t have the money to dry clean it, so I hung it on the porch.”
Campbell’s first account was with a boutique on Newbury Street. A year later, she began producing for Talbots for 30 years until 2008. Campbell also begrudgingly sold lower-priced clothing that was made in China on the QVC (Quality Value Convenience) network.
“I got into retail after years of wholesale. I don’t sell through stores anymore. We are called direct to consumer,” revealed Campbell. “We’ve had rough patches, but we got through them. I’ve had a lot of twists and turns.”
Her Naples, Florida, store has been temporarily closed because of the devastation of Hurricane Ian, with the goal of re-opening in November. Campbell’s team is in the process of installing new flooring and walls, and checking for mold.
Sara Campbell, Ltd., has been located at 84 Chestnut Street in Beacon Hill for four years, and she loves the quaintness of the neighborhood. The fiery California native believes in the importance of caring for one’s community and employees. A mother of two daughters, Campbell is also a passionate advocator for women’s rights, health, and equality.
“Beacon Hill was my first stop when I came to Boston,” remembered Campbell, a Brookline resident. “I love the charm of New England. There is no more charming of a place than Beacon Hill. All my stores are charming. I want them to be like going into someone’s house.”