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Volume 26, Number 6 — June 2019

A Passion for Fashion: Running A Business

Occasionally shoppers may see the
Occasionally shoppers may see the "Sarah Jane" label in Serendipity, a trendy boutique in Bristol, Va. that is owned by Sarah Jane Walls.
Additional photos below »

Sarah Jane Walls: 'Follow Your Dreams with Passion and Persistence ...'

By Angela Wampler | February 23, 2009

What advice do you have for someone who wants to be a fashion designer?

STEWART: Learn to be observant. Learn about fabrics and learn to sew.

Go for it. As with anything, fashion design takes a lot of work, drive, determination, tenacity, creativity and, at some point, there will probably be some bumps and even some failures. I have learned more from my failures than from my successes. It's not how hard you fall but how quickly you bounce back that counts. So follow your dreams with passion and persistence — it will pay off.

What is the hardest part of running your own business?

STEWART: Many say the hardest part of being an independent designer is the financial pressure. Without a doubt, it is very difficult to make money in the niche I am in. I am lucky that I do not have to work and that my husband and family are supportive. To really make money sewing and designing custom clothing, something would have to take a back seat and I would not want that to be my family. Having name recognition outside the area on a national basis would change that, though. Just one special gown for a celebrity such as an actress going to a media event or a gown for Mrs. Obama to wear to a state dinner could make a career.

WALLS: There are financial pressures in running any business. I have often said, "The only limits that exist are the ones that we place on ourselves," so sometimes my biggest hurdle is getting over my own shortfalls and rising above the limits that only exist because I have placed them there.

When you wear so many hats — owner, bookkeeper, salesperson, artist — does design become an afterthought?

STEWART: If design becomes an afterthought, then there goes my business.

WALLS: It is easy to get bogged down by the many roles that I have to slip into on a daily basis. However, design is so much a part of me that, even when I am not physically drawing out a design, I am still designing. For me, designing is a retreat from reality, and I do it as often as possible.

What is most challenging about your work?

STEWART: Finding fabric!!!! You can't really understand that until you've actually shopped in a place like New York City, Houston, Los Angeles, or Washington, D.C. My business would be dramatically different if I had ways to source fabric more easily. I have used French lace costing $500 a yard and the finest Italian silks, then embellished them with real pearls and Swarovski crystals. Those things are not available locally.

WALLS: The most challenging thing I face about my work is balancing all aspects of my business. I wear many different hats, and all of those are integral to making this business function successfully.

How or where do you sell your pieces?

STEWART: Most of my clients are local, although I've had quite a few from the northern Virginia area.

WALLS: The majority of my design business is custom, one-of-a-kind pieces for clients I have worked with, and they have passed my name on by word-of-mouth. Occasionally, you may also see the "Sarah Jane" label in Serendipity.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

STEWART: Unless I'm "discovered," I'll keep doing what I do now. That is not a bad thing, though — I love what I do.

WALLS: I have lots of things set in motion now, and many short- and long-term goals that I am working hard to achieve. One thing I have learned is that I can plan and hope for the future but, in reality, I never know what is going to happen tomorrow. It's good to have goals and dreams, but it is even more important to be flexible and to be open to things that may come my way. I expect great and big things for the future, so all I can say is "stay tuned."

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Linda Stewart: "Just one special gown for a celebrity such as an actress going to a media event or a gown for Mrs. Obama to wear to a state dinner can make a career."