Being a successful entrepreneur requires tough skin, endurance, and an acceptance that failing is a part of the learning process and entrepreneurial journey. Today, we embark upon a virtual trip with Sara Crawford-Jones — Veteran Fashion Designer. Creative. Albino- African-American. Plus Size Gal. Author & Limitless Womanpreneur.
POSE: It is said, “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.” However, we know our roots run deeply within persons, places, and things that mold us into who we become. What was life like for you growing up? What are two distinct experiences that set the stage for where you are today?
Sara: One such experience is Legacy. I never realized until a few years ago the legacy left for me and how that legacy has shaped my entire being. I am the daughter of entrepreneurs! My mom is a caterer and my dad owned a window cleaning business. My Grandfather Tim owned a store and restaurant and his brother, my Uncle Skip, was the first Black printer in Wilmington, Delaware. My Legacy is amazing! I grew up destined for greatness. I was outgoing and involved in everything from Girl Scouts and F.A.M.E. to serving meals to the less fortunate. My mom kept me very busy! My parents gave me everything I needed to live my life.
In my senior year in high school was a very difficult time for me: I lost my father. All I could think of was getting out of this school and into a college out of my hometown. I just wanted out!!
Another experience is my introduction to perseverance. What I didn’t realize is that I allowed my grief to almost consume me to the point of failing in school. When it was brought to my attention by the school’s guidance counselor, all I could think of was not being kept back and not going to summer school. It was as if I had been awakened from a long sleep. So, I got up, prayed, and started doing everything in my power like staying late after school and arriving early to school to get my grades up. I knew if I didn’t I would have disappointed my dad and my mom. Heck, more importantly, I would have disappointed me! All of those years of dreaming about being in the fashion industry and becoming a designer would have gone down the drain.
Since then, my mom continued to tell me I was beautiful; that I was made extra special with lots of vanilla!!
I don’t believe there is really any other single experience that stands out to me. I have taken all of my experiences with me everywhere in my life. When I feel like I can’t do any more, I do a little more. I don’t allow “life happenings” to determine my path; I fight and work hard for what I want. It is not easy, but I do it. For me, there is no choice except to make it happen.
POSE: Our society continues to polarize beauty. Regardless of the strides we have made around natural hair, fuller figures, and “My Black is Beautiful™, each of our definitions of beauty is different. How do you define “beauty?” Who was the first person to tell you how beautiful you were? Where were you? How has that moment made an impact on your self-image?
Sara: Beauty is in you, it is not about the surface view. If your inner beauty shines, your soul shines and so does your outer appearance. Although I don’t remember this exactly, my mom was the first person to tell me I was beautiful. When she carried me and received the news that I would be a little Albino baby girl, even though her nerves were driven by this ignorant world, she was grateful. She spoke to me from a peanut and told me I was beautiful and spoke greatness over my life. Since then, my mom continued to tell me I was beautiful; that I was made extra special with lots of vanilla!!
POSE: It is no phenomenon when naysayers wave their flags of negativity, chanting about what one can, can’t, won’t do and is incapable of doing. Depending on “who” does the naysaying, it can have an overwhelming effect on our lives. Was there someone foolhardy in your life who thought or said you would never be successful? What methods did you adopt to cope?
Sara: Sigh . . . So, this has been constant since I was a child. My albinism affects my skin, hair, and eyes so my vision is impaired. Because of this, naysayers always sought to discourage me, telling me “you can’t”, etc. I have never had anyone tell me directly you will never be successful, but I have had people question my business choices or impose their opinions when not asked. For example: a person finds out that I am writing my first book The Playbook to Essential Style and their response was “Why? I just think that’s a lot.” They proceed with “I just feel when people don’t know what to do they do anything.” Jaw to floor . . . What does that even mean? I have learned that not everyone will support you and that is okay. You will encounter naysayers and haters and that is okay, too. You must make a decision: Are you going to live for you or for them? I live for me. I hit the ground running like a hurricane living on purpose and realize my aspirations each and every day. Naysayers are background noise. Block the noise and rise above. Period.
POSE: Working for the mega companies you have worked for is no easy feat. Did you have moments when you doubted your innate capabilities and talent? How did you shut out those voices in your head?
Sara: Again, block the noise. Internal doubt is more detrimental than external doubt. We are our own worst critics. I have certainly experienced self-doubt, but I have a great village that will check me real quick. Furthermore, when I get into that I-wanna-doubt-my-abilities moment, I take a time out. At those times, the conversation I have with myself is simple. Sara, Why can’t you? God built you for this, so why can’t you? For me everything I have ever done has led me to this point. So I ask myself why because the God I serve won’t give me anything if it wasn’t His purpose for me. He has promised to supply me with what I need to get it done . . . ALL that I need “according to His riches in glory through Christ Jesus.”
In the fashion industry there are so many who are designing or styling. I find that when you focus on yourself and your goals you WIN, because there is a lane for each one of us. What’s for you is for you. What’s for me . . . well . . . .
POSE: Plus-size acceptance is on the rise in the fashion industry and in our communities. How did you make your mark in business when being a plus-size Black woman was less embraced? What were some of your “go-to” strategies?
Sara: I actually haven’t experienced much push-back because of my size. That may be because I haven’t always been this size. However, I am proud of the new trending plus-size woman. I have always wondered what does it matter what size you are as long as you are comfortable in your skin? My strategy is to love myself. I embrace my flaws and all that comes with them, and as for being plus-size, I make sure I dress my body properly and go strolling about my business.
POSE:Many artists feel the need to tone themselves down in more conservative surroundings or environments. Did you ever feel that you had to “tone” yourself down while working within iconic brands like Tommy Hilfiger? How did you maintain your authenticity?
Sara: I had mixed feelings with this at times. I have a big personality and an even bigger desire to create. I didn’t want to feel like I was a takeover queen at these brands, but I wanted to stand out, too! My goal was to learn, gain as much knowledge as I could, and create my own brand. What I didn’t know was that all of these stepping stones were helping me create my fashion brand and personal brand. So, I worked hard and went after what I wanted no matter how extra[ordinary] it appeared. Funny thing is, it was easy at Tommy Hilfiger because my design aesthetic was completely different than his. Staying authentic, you must know who you are first to even understand how to do this. Knowing who you are and staying in your truth. Don’t get caught up in the shine and what it looks like only on the surface.
POSE: On your website you mention that your love for fashion and style originated with your parents. Take us to the precise moment when you knew that you and fashion were soulmates.
Sara: I blame my parents for this fashion addiction … lol. I’m only kidding, of course! I have inherited the best talent from each of them: the creative sewing gene from my mom and the creative sketching gene from my dad. My dad nurtured my love of fashion with weekly weekend shopping trips long before my journey into the established industry. As a child, I recall falling in love with Donna Karan. During one of my outlet shopping trips to Lancaster, my sister Ann and I browsed the Donna Karan Outlet, and I happened upon a green silk blouse merchandiser in white lacquering wardrobe featuring. It was stunning and very conservative for my age . . . I was about 13 at the time; but I had to have it! I was already wearing DKNY, but the upscale Donna Karan shifted my entire view of fashion from that point forward.
POSE: Entrepreneurship requires the heart and mind of a unique individual to join life’s journey of its namesake. Which of the 5 Love Languages™ do you and your husband speak? Are they the same? If not, how do you keep the “loving” working with all the other work you do?
Sara: God Bless that man for being married to me [laughing]. It does indeed take a special person … a very special person … someone who is okay with you shining and doing your thing. He has always allowed me to be just who I am … simply me. That’s one of the reasons why I love him so! Our love languages have changed over the years and will no doubt continue to do so. I have become more aware of this quality-time person, this words-of-affirmation man. Honestly, we are a mixture of the entire 5, but these 2 are the most prominent. So when we plan quality time, we engage in deep conversations and pillow talk which allows me to speak to his love language. I am a text message gal, so it is easy to send great messages throughout the day as well. The way my schedule is set up requires both of us to get pretty creative with quality time. Oftentimes, we spend QT in the car on long drives or otherwise en route somewhere — anywhere! I am convinced that open-minded and creativity play a huge role in keeping our “loving” engaged. I am a planner and my husband is spontaneous, which could be a huge conflict. Because of this, he has taken on the role of teacher, showing me to prefer open-minded spontaneity. This allows me to ditch my schedule at times. ☺
POSE: For those of us married folk, our spouses would like to suggest they know us best. So, let’s honor that with some truth for the sake of this discussion. What does your husband say is your greatest asset and your greatest liability?
Sara: My husband, Kevin, is consistent with telling me it’s okay to take a day off or to do “nothing.” He would hands down say that his wife (that would be me ;o) is so smart and that my greatest asset is my full-throttle determination. I don’t accept No, because in my mind No means not right now. Now, as far as my greatest liability is concerned, I am very impatient. I am still trying to conquer this piece of me. He would say she wants what she wants when she wants it. She needs results now! It is quite funny, but I am truly working on this because patience is an asset and therefore one of life’s requirements for productivity.
POSE: The majority of entrepreneurial women understand that failing is commonplace for success; nonetheless, many of us forfeit success because of our fear of the pain and embarrassment attached to failing. What is your I failed story? What did you do to get back in the game of owning your business(es)?
Sara: Some might call it failing . . . some might even call it actual failure, but I call it experience and lesson(s) learned. I planned a Style Conversation Event, which is my untraditional book-tour-turned-style-and-business social event in a major city. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I had to cancel the event. The unforeseen circumstance was more of a lack- thereof situation. I truly felt conflicted because I was reared to do business in such a way that if you plan it then you make it happen! If your name is on it, make it happen the best way you can. So, when I had to reach out to guests and sponsors and share the cancellation news I wanted to crawl under a rock. I am not sure if others consider this failing or a downright failure, but it sure did feel like one of those to me. I thought this one mishap would tarnish my brand’s reputation and honestly, once I collected myself I realized everyone appeared quite understanding and surprisingly supportive of my next endeavor in their city. It was like … no harm, no foul. Full speed ahead! Pick yourself up, dust yourself off … and start all over again! True that!
Furthermore, when I get into that I-wanna-doubt-my-abilities moment, I take a time out.
POSE: “A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things.” (Ecclesiastes 10:19) If money solves all things, it is no wonder lack of capital is one of the main reasons women-owned businesses fail. What are the top 3 underground or little-known funding sources you recommend our readers consider?
Sara: I recommend self-funding. Most entrepreneurs have a 9-5 or part-time gig. Find a way to use these monies to pay for necessity items like website, promo material, ad placement, etc. Stash away these funds until you have a solid plan. No matter how talented you are, you need some kind of plan.
Crowdfunding is trending right now, and the beauty is you can get as creative as you like. It is simply the opposite of traditional funding and gives you all the power. Your reach is limitless, and it is a great way to get in front of large groups of people . . . the right people. I always encourage people to check out the specifics online.
There is also a federal program called Business Savers. This program teaches you to save, and once you have saved the required amount you receive a match. It varies from city to city. When it was offered in Delaware it was a 1-to-2 match. So if you saved $2,000 you would be matched $4,000. Just follow the rules. Visit AEO, Association for Enterprise Opportunity to find out if your city offers this program. It is amazing. Just read the handbook and follow the rules.
POSE: Research and get creative to get your results. Being a fashion entrepreneur suggests you are super capable of taking unrelated pieces of a puzzle and making them fit together, beautifully. What piece of your “entrepreneurial puzzle” is your most difficult focus?
Sara: I believe we need a high level of focus on the overall picture. You have to be able to understand the functionality of your business and the processes required to achieve the ultimate goal. However, as a business owner you can’t do everything all the time . . . which personally drives me crazy because at times I want to do everything. For example, one of the most difficult things for me is to give my website utmost attention. My website is a huge puzzle piece to my business, especially since mine is a visual brand. The site is obviously a reflection of me and my vision, but I learned to delegate! I hired someone to execute it. She is amazing and highly knowledgeable. I could not have asked for anyone better! The way my day is set up there is no way I can be at meetings, create, and then sit in front of a computer for hours editing and creating a website for the brand. It is too time consuming. You will get to a point where you will have to relinquish some control and . . . for lack of a better description . . . stay in your lane and prioritize your energies.
POSE: You recently did your TEDx Talk . Congratulations! What was the process like planning for TED? What do you hope to accomplish as a result of the experience?
Sara: The TEDx Experience is like nothing I have ever experienced. I feel like I am constantly saying this but it is the truth. There’s a plethora of deadlines. You submit your talk in written form and visual in addition to blog posts and slides, if your talk requires such. It is most important to submit on time because if you miss deadlines you are OUT, as Tim Gunn would say. I literally submitted things days before the actual deadline, because when you’re busy, time can get away from you. I am hope to utilized this opportunity to clarify my knowledge about Albinism, which I pray will inspire someone to push through society’s ignorance. My plan was never to be an advocate for Albinism as this talk has inspired, but it has led to expanding my talk entitled “A Signature Pigment” into my second published book. The release date will be October 12, 2017 . . . my mom’s birthday.
Anything you desire the most will be a journey and a challenging one, indeed.
POSE: Given the choice of a woman-entrepreneur-mogul, living or deceased, who would you choose as your mentor?
Sara: There are just too many to choose from, but I am going to cheat a little bit. I would want a combo-mentorship with Fashion Stylist and “auntie in my head”, Ms. June Ambrose, and the amazing Ms. Oprah Winfrey who knows what it means to start at the bottom and break out into the fashion industry. She has done just that. Auntie June is an obvious pick because she is a stunning woman and has truly accomplished so much. She balances all of it with a beautiful family. Now, Ms. Oprah Winfrey’s story is a true inspiration, and I believe there isn’t anything I can’t learn from her. I would literally hang on to her every word. It is truly an honor to have such great women of color for inspiration and aspire to be like some day.
POSE: You are truly on a journey many only dream of, Sara. When will you know you have done all you set out to do and are ready to rest a bit?
Sara: Anything you desire the most will be a journey and a challenging one, indeed. I am beyond grateful and humbled by the people I have met, the lessons I have learned, and the experience I have gained. There is a saying, “You can rest when you’re dead.” I agree; however, I also believe it is important to enjoy life and your successes. More importantly, live your life’s purpose. God has given me lots to do. So when he tells me to sit down, that is when I will rest! But for now, one thing is for sure . . . the journey definitely isn’t over . . . it is just beginning.
Connect with Sara @anaraoriginal on your favorite social media platform.