When Sarah Carson launched Leota in 2010, she didn’t know she was about to create a clothing empire. What started with a pile of polka-dot fabric has turned into a complete women’s fashion line with four collections a year and more than 300 retailers globally. BELLA New York sat down with the busy designer to talk about her background, her business, and her Spring 2015 collection. Listen in…
What inspired you to launch Leota in 2010?
I used to spend countless hours at my home sewing machine churning out cute jersey dresses I could wear anywhere. After numerous compliments and special orders, I started to think I should be making dresses for a living. My true aha moment came after my sister, a very successful entrepreneur, looked at me and said, “Sarah, this is your passion. Are you going to challenge yourself to go for it, or what?!” Maybe it was the wine talking, but I decided to go for it and I have never looked back.
What is the significance of the label’s name?
I named the business after my great grandmother Leota, because my family history is the inspiration for my brand and my personal style. I think the real Leota would have agreed with our belief that, “Good manners and effortless glamour never go out of style.”
Why did you choose to start your company in New York?
It was a natural choice to build my fashion brand in New York. It is great for business in that it made it possible for me to start small and keep a close eye on quality, since the clothes were being made locally. Today we manufacture thousands of garments every season right here in New York, and at a profitable margin.
Why do you keep production here?
I believe in ethical production practices. It’s not just my company’s latest marketing campaign; it is central to our DNA. My team is proud to manufacture every dress in New York’s garment district. It’s important because we are supporting our local economy and contributing to fair and safe labor conditions. Our factories are like family and they treat us like daughters, for better or for worse!
How did your background (in finance or otherwise) prepare you to be an independent designer and entrepreneur?
My success is really a combination of hard work, good judgment, and high standards. I came to New York City after college to pursue a career in finance. There’s no better training for the fashion business than on Wall Street! There I learned the importance of surrounding myself with people who know more than me, thorough due diligence and good timing, market analysis, delivering results, and asking the important questions. I also realized fast that the fashion business is scrappy. My first factory owner used to tell me “listen with your eyes,” which was his way of advising me to follow my instincts with my new business relationships.
Your company’s tagline is “Everyday Glamour.” How does Leota make that accessible to women?
We try to make clothes that are comfortable, cute, and wrinkle-free. Leota dresses are for the movers and shakers who want to look great as they’re knocking through their to-do lists. They want to feel special without being a spectacle and require versatility from their clothes — to take them from day to night to weekend, just by reapplying their lipstick.
Tell us about your Spring 2015 line. What inspired this season’s collection?
Leota is a print-driven design house, so that is always the life of the collection. We create our own prints based on our theme for each season. Our Spring 2015 collection, Compass Rose, is an homage to the kaleidoscope of cultures that make us who we are. We intertwined our travels and personal histories to develop this beautifully versatile collection.
If a woman were to buy just one design from this collection, which design should it be?
The Ilana dress is my year-round staple and I’m wearing it in Turquoise Wild Flowers this spring. It has a reversible neckline so you can wear the scoop neck to the back or the front. It is the most versatile dress on the planet.
What do you enjoy most about having your own clothing brand?
The most rewarding part of my experience is making a product people want. I’ll never forget the first time I saw someone wearing a Leota dress on the street. I stopped her and offered her a free dress and sent it to her the very next day. Women have so many choices nowadays and no matter how many dresses we sell as a fast growing company, I am still grateful for each and every one.