August, 20, 2020
In July 2009, Sara Campbell and her business partner Peter Wheeler opened their first pop-up Sara Campbell boutique, off the beaten path at 5 South Beach Street, next to Nantucket Yacht Club. Eleven years later, the store opened seven weeks later than usual due to the pandemic. Dressing rooms were not allowed to open until June 29, just in time for the fourth of July. Things were clearly different this year.
This season has been like no other. The company, which designs and manufactures their product in Boston and New York, was on lockdown for three months. All production for summer was halted and the clothes that were “under the needle” for spring delivery abruptly stopped. Twenty-three Sara Campbell stores closed their doors on March 16 as the company laid off 98% of the staff and cash flow became zero.
The brand had plans to launce a new ecommerce website this July and it was clearly necessary to accelerate that project. On March 26, a “Pop-Up Online Shop” was launched with all of the women’s apparel product that was currently in the Boston warehouse and local stores. The few employees left on payroll carried the company on their backs for the next five months.
“We were very leery of e-commerce shopping, since it doesn’t allow for touching or feeling the beautiful imported fabrics. We also could not get to know the customer in the same way. However, we had no choice but to take the leap!” Sara Campbell said. “It was really exciting, especially at first. We used Instagram stories to sell and educate our client about fit, style, detailing, and fabric. This platform has given us a new way to connect with our customers. We get to hear her questions in real time and actually gained a new kind of dialogue with our clients. Now, our Instagram Live Try-On- Sessions happen almost weekly. I think the most important lesson through this pandemic is the constant and consistent need to keep communicating with our customer. We do not want her to forget us, and we have to really think about how her life has changed since March,” Sara said.
This year, the foot traffic has been down for obvious reasons. “We often learn that this is our client’s first outing since March. We are so happy that she has chosen us for her first stop, where we do everything feasible to ensure comfort and safety from the virus,” says Mary Ann Tralka, the Nantucket boutique manager of seven years. “I was very worried about opening this season. I was not sure what to expect. Many of our customers are in the high-risk category and have not been out shopping this season. Others come in with a big smile and fun mask and are so happy that we are still here!”
Losing three months of clothing production impacted the brand being able to open its resort stores. They had to shuffle goods to fit the current needs of the customer— favoring styles of a completely casual nature since there was no longer a need for occasion dresses or workwear. The focal point became about what to wear for Zoom calls, casual distanced dinner parties, or virtual graduation parties and weddings. Because the company controls all its production, it was able to maneuver some good solutions when their factories reopened in mid-June. This new focus presents a challenge that will continue in the months ahead, given the unknowns surrounding COVID-19 and how it will impact consumers’ needs and lives.
The fall collection is now arriving in the boutique on South Beach Street. It was styled with a wear-now casual point of view in limited-edition quantities. The dressier pieces were mostly canceled, while more chunky cotton sweaters were quickly designed for boating or cozy hangouts. Many pieces meant for the office were also eliminated and their fabrics (which were already purchased) translated into simpler daytime styles.
Sara Campbell’s holiday collection is designed with a focus on “Home for the Holidays!” as opposed to the feminine, classic holiday party dresses and sportswear that has made up the collection in years past. The line will feature comfortable palazzo pants with fake fur and lots of stretch velvet styles that can be paired with jeans on leggings, along with easy cashmere and cotton knits.
Every day brings a new opportunity for the company. In the fall, the pop-up website will transition to a more permanent and sophisticated shopping experience. Just recently, they begun to offer a White Bag White Glove service, which is a virtual experience with the store team resulting with a curated bag of product that can be passed along curbside. It comes in a white bag with a kit of gloves, a mask, and disinfectant. These are very difficult times for small businesses as they face so many unknowns with very little relief. Supporting these stores will propel them into viability for the next season. Without that support, the charming mixture of boutiques after a day on the beach will disappear.
September 15, 2020 | Rob Fucci
If you walk into Sara Campbell, a women’s apparel shop in Concord, one of the first things you’ll notice is a round table with a red cloth displaying some jewelry.
What makes these items special is they are hand-made by artisans of the Women’s Craft Cooperative (WCC). The Cooperative is part of Rosie’s Place, founded in 1974 as the first women’s shelter in the United States.
Sara Campbell is a longtime supporter of Rosie’s Place, and last November began a new relationship with the artisans with the hope of giving these women a new opportunity to join the workforce.
“They didn’t have many avenues to merchandise it,” Pat Clarke, manager of the Sara Campbell store in Concord. “We offered to do that for them.”
The WCC employs six women at a time, each spending one year learning to make jewelry and receiving resources and help for what might come next in their lives. According to Michele Chausse, director of communications for Rosie’s Place, when each guest is hired, she identifies three goals for the year ahead. With the coordinator’s support, an artisan works toward meeting those goals.
“Goals range from finding a home to resuming school or entering a training program, to moving on to full-time employment,” Chausse said. “Many women use this income to save the thousands of dollars that are needed to move into an apartment in the Boston area.”
During the holiday season last year, Clarke said the store was selling at least one piece per day. Currently, they sell a few pieces weekly. When customers purchase a piece, it is logged as a 100% donation to Rosie’s Place.
“Most people do know about Rosie’s Place and like to support it,” Clarke said. “They are happy to purchase the jewelry.”
Chausse said having the support of Sara Campbell has been tremendous.
“We are so grateful for our longstanding relationship with Sara Campbell LTD,” she said. “Sara herself is a member of our Leadership Council and has supported our work in so many significant ways. She has sponsored shopping events that benefit Rosie’s Place and, of course, allowing us to sell our jewelry has been a tremendous boon. We are so pleased that her company’s values align so well with our commitment to unlimited help and unconditional love for the most vulnerable women among us.”
Neither Clarke nor Chausse could say how much the Concord store has donated since the start of the venture, but both agreed the display has been a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness of the artisans’ work.
Just before COVID-19 hit, Clarke had planned to host the jewelry makers with a lunch at the Concord Cheese Shop. She planned to the artisans them how their jewelry is displayed and discuss how their products compare with the store’s products so they could feel a stronger sense of pride in what they created. The store had to close for over three months, canceling the invitation.
“They go to the program several times a week and create the jewelry,” Clarke said. “But they don’t really see where it is afterward, where it’s being sold.”
But Clarke said the ability to help these women continues to be something she enjoys.
“It feels great,” she said. “It could happen to any one of us at any time in our lives. To be homeless, or to not be able to work, and to get back into work and learn how to work again, and to be creative and learn these life skills... we love supporting these women.”
For more information, visit rosiesplace.org/shop.