Kent and Campbell started a mail-order catalog for women artists in 1983 called Sisters:
A Gallery Without Walls, which contained limited edition women’s art including Campbell’s one-of-a-kind, signed-and-numbered wearable art pieces. “It was all about texture,” Campbell says. “I was passionate about textiles and design.” The pieces quickly grew into a cottage industry, with Campbell producing clothing designs with the help of a small factory in Fall River. “I had been getting some help from sewers in Vermont, but the clothes would come back smelling like wood burning stoves,” says Campbell.
The designer secured her first wholesale account in 1985, and quickly hit it big. That same year, the Hingham-based women’s apparel company Talbots picked up and sold the Sara Campbell label in their stores. For 23 years, Campbell and her design partner, Peter Wheeler saw their work distributed in more than 500 specialty famous stores including Talbots, Nordstrom, and Laura Ashley.
After most of her clients either went out of business or brought all the designs in house, Campbell struck out on her own. “If you’re tenacious and a risk taker, you can ride out an economic storm,” she says. Since 2002, she has run a small retail shop out of her office in the South End in Boston, which was her first retail outlet and destination shopping store, containing everything from full-price to bargain alley items. “This brought us closer to the customers,” Campbell says. She has opened five more retail stores since 2009, including the latest in Newport, Rhode Island.
In July 2010, Campbell opened her Nantucket shop, a charming, 800-square-foot building on South Beach Street with Sara Campbell’s signature black and white-striped interior walls and two rocking chairs outside. Last year was a lesson in learning to run a shop in such a seasonal place—Campbell says she didn’t budget enough inventory to last through the fall. This year, she’s planning to keep the shop open for four-day weekends through the winter. The atmosphere in all her stores combines attentive customer service with the comfort and familiarity of a small boutique. “Basically, when you come into our store, you should feel like you’re coming into your living room,” she says.
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