Sara Campbell, the designer, founder, and CEO of Sara Campbell Ltd., started this year’s Women in Leadership Speaker Series on a high note. In addition to over 30 years of designing timeless fashion for women, she has been dedicated to philanthropy throughout her career. During her time speaking with students, faculty, and staff, Ms. Campbell was candid and genuine about how she got started in the design industry, the challenges she has had along the way, and what gets her excited to go to work every day.
Ms. Campbell’s journey to becoming a dress designer started during childhood. As one of six children raised by an oncologist father and stay-at-home mother, Ms. Campbell learned early on that she needed a creative outlet. She borrowed her older sister’s sewing machine and started making dresses. This passion led a summer job where she taught people sewing lessons and also babysat to earn money to buy fabric. She went on to college and then completed a graduate degree in Art Education at Lesley University. Ms. Campbell shared that to her, success meant being able “to support myself by being creative.” A pivotal moment was when Ms. Campbell met and befriended the artist Corita Kent. Ms. Kent went on to serve as a private tutor and mentor for Ms. Campbell, especially while she completed her Masters in Fine Art from Mass Art. Ms. Campbell designed her first line of clothing in 1985, making her first sale to Pappagallo on Newbury Street. A chance meeting during a plane trip led to Ms. Campbell selling a large order to Talbots and she has grown Sara Campbell Ltd. into a 20 million dollar business with 24 retail stores.
5 Keys to Success from Ms. Campbell:
1.) Believe in and support each other.
Her motto within her company is “it takes a village” and that she and her team need to believe in each other, customers, and community.
2.) Kindness is everything.
Having seen a bumper sticker said, “Make kindness cool again,” Ms. Campbell emphasized how much she believes in kindness. When interacting with others, she said, “we need to ask, “Is this my best self?” and if not, change it.” At The Academy, we strongly agree with Ms. Campbell and all work hard to create a culture of kindness.
3.) Be persistent and tenacious.
Ms. Campbell told the audience how she has weathered some tough times. She was very frank about the challenges she faced, including embezzlement by a family member working in the business, a lawsuit brought by an investor, and not taking a salary for two years in order to make payroll. Even in those dark moments, Ms. Campbell said that she drew strength from her family and faith. “We still had each other and we got through it,” she said, “I believe in the power of spirit, visualization, and prayer.”
4.) Give back.
Ms. Campbell encouraged students to see giving back as an important way to make a difference. “You each have a responsibility to yourselves and the world,” she said. Throughout her career, Ms. Campbell has held numerous fundraising events at her stores and has donated a substantial amount to local organizations including Rosie’s House.
5.) Be a sponge and never stop learning.
Looking around the room and the young women in front of her, Ms. Campbell issued a call to action. “You’re here to be empowered and you have an incredible opportunity to soak it up,” she said, “Education is important above anything else and don’t take it for granted.” She also added, “Every day is a learning day and I love that part of my life.”
In her closing remarks, Ms. Campbell invited the audience to picture their lives in a unique way. “You are building a sentence for your lifetime and every experience is more vocabulary.”
Students asked Ms. Campbell a number of insightful questions. Ellie Beriau ‘19, who has an interest in fashion design and hopes to launch her own company in the future, asked Ms. Campbell: “What advice do you have for students wanting to build a fashion empire?” Ms. Campbell’s answer focused on the importance of hard work and knowing it won’t be an easy road. Emily Osborn ‘19 asked if Ms. Campbell could go back and do anything differently, what would she choose? Ms. Campbell replied that she wished she had spent time working in a fashion design company before launching her line. Her candor and positivity were palpable and many students came up to speak with her after the event.
The Academy community is deeply grateful for the time Ms. Campbell spent with us and for her uplifting, impactful advice.