By Michal Goldfein
The thing that I love most about conducting interviews is meeting people from all walks of life and sharing in our passions. When talking to Sara Landsman, the owner of Sarelli New York, I got a sense of her creativity, forward-thinking, and astute business mind. Sarelli New York is a designer evening wear clothing store located in Brooklyn, NY. They specialize in rentals but also offer gowns for sale. Sarelli New York makes their own fabrics and does their own beadwork and design. The owner expressed her love for the business and imparted a sense of awe as I listened to her process that leads to her gorgeous creations. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy her candidness and insight as much as I did.
Michal Goldfein: How did your interest in fashion begin?
Sara Landsman: In my earlier years, I painted a lot and was very crafty but did not have fashion on my radar. When I entered into this arena, I wasn’t particularly intrigued by the idea of fashion but rather by the element of creativity and how that inspires fashion. I wasn’t driven by the supposedly glamorous aspect of the business but rather by the energy of creation and innovation.
MG: What’s your favorite part of running your business?
SL: There are many wonderful things about running your own business. One such benefit is not putting a cap on your potential. Knowing that I’m working every day for the success of my own business is extremely gratifying. On the other hand, there are tremendous sacrifices that come along with this career decision. In my earlier years in business, I let my passion and naïveté get the better of me; I allowed myself to get consumed by jobs that were not practical and from a business sense were time wasters. Over time, I realized that while running a business, a lot of sacrifices are made in your personal life and because of that your business plan needs to be tactical or you experience burnout. That, I believe, for me, had to be experienced in order to rectify it. I missed some really pivotal moments with my family over the course of time and I will never be able to go back and relive those moments. The only form of vindication I have now is that moving forward I have a much more astute understanding of how to balance my work and home life and make sure my family knows I’m all theirs whenever I can.
MG: The fashion industry can be very competitive; what challenges have you faced over the years?
SL: I think that most industries have a healthy dose of competition, and in some respects it’s good because it encourages businesses to constantly strive to improve themselves. Complacency is usually one of the contributing factors why businesses eventually go under. One of the challenges I have personally faced is that while I would like to leave my creative side untethered, that won’t necessarily translate into sales. A big part of any business’s success is being hyper-aware of the target market and succeeding to corner it. It is very challenging having to pick a direction for the business and sticking to it no matter the obstacles faced along the way. That being said, the greater the barrier of entry, the more worthwhile the climb is. I think if people could fast-forward and get a better sense of how their decisions ultimately play out, there would be a lot more people taking greater risks. As a … community, we tend to be a little late to the game on cultural trends. One of the key factors now driving business decisions is understanding the impact the e-commerce world has made on brick-and-mortar businesses. Because of this shift, we can no longer live in a closed minded world and expect others to do so as well.
MG: More and more, women are building brands and leading by example; has it been hard for you as a woman in this industry?
SL: I think women have a leg up in the fashion industry as it is a field of work they understand and choose to pursue. However, when discussing corporate-level positions, men still dominate the top-tier positions, leaving women struggling to compete. I think the result is that many women are left second-guessing their career decisions and that can be a deterrent in their success. I am not affected by this issue because having started my own business and serving such a niche market, I am very removed from this societal issue that permeates many industries that have a hierarchy of positions.
MG: I’ve worked in stores that make custom gowns and evening wear. There’s so much beautiful fabric and beadwork out there; how do you choose or know what consumers want?
SL: Keeping tabs on trends is very important because trends impact the direction designers take season to season and that has a trickle-down effect. That is why if you follow the collections from an array of independent designers, you will see tremendous overlap. Often it’s hard to trace where it all began. For example, some things that are trending now are fabric manipulation and use of laser technology. Designers are experimenting with materials and cutting techniques that are unconventional to the industry and the results are really mind-blowing. One such designer leading the way for others is Dutch designer Iris van Herpen. Because of the techniques the designer employs, the collections sent down the runway are complex in nature and a curiosity to the eye. What I meant before about the trickle-down effect is the way that designers inspire other designers in a kind of reciprocal nature.
MG: When designing evening wear and gowns, is it hard to come up with modest designs?
SL: A lot of the fashion choices we as an Orthodox community make are driven by our understated aesthetic. Modesty dictates our choices and inspires our creativity. From the point of view of designing, this does not hinder us at all. Where it becomes complex is working with different body types and not always having the leeway to accentuate women in the way necessary because we are governed by the laws of tzniut, and for some the challenge is greater. But in the end, it’s really very beautiful to see women prioritizing modesty and celebrating it.
MG: Fashion is what I’m passionate about, it’s how I represent myself to the world, and it puts me in a good mood. Researchers have found that fashion can affect your mood and psychological state. I also think that it’s a way to celebrate my confidence. Do you think the right dress can increase a woman’s confidence? How?
SL: The relationship one has with oneself is ongoing and very personal. Our time with our clients is very short-lived and has very little impact on one’s overall sense of self. However, while we engage briefly, we promote body positivity and encourage a positive outlook. I think women in today’s world have a lot to juggle and have to create outlets to rejuvenate themselves. One such way is taking care of their outwardly appearance and making sure they feel good about themselves. Clothing is a form of expression, and that, I believe, can really influence how a woman feels day to day.
MG: Where do you gain inspiration when designing clothing?
SL: My aesthetic stems from my own personal relationship with myself. While I love being a woman, I appreciate the ease in which men can dress. One of my favorite designers is Alexander McQueen because of the fierce message the clothing conveys and the elaborate construction of the garments. On the extreme flip side, I love the highly feminine aesthetic of designers like Ralph and Russo who celebrate femininity with ruffles and feathers, or other designers who encompass both the feminine and masculine aesthetic merged, like Amato Couture. I love clothing that tells a story that sparks emotions when worn. So when I am designing from the ground up I think about what the story is going to be. And so the simplest detail can cause a network of ideas that harmonize in my brain. That’s usually where it all begins. From there I strategize how to make it consumer-friendly and then the process begins. The pieces that usually make it to the showroom are pieces that were designed specifically for someone in mind or samples made to generate sales. Usually the designs that are more show-stopping are more difficult to move, which further drives us to create more mainstream inventory. This, of course, hinders creativity but this is the practical course of business.
MG: Have you ever carried other brands besides your own?
SL: Over the years we have been experimenting with different concepts and have toyed with the idea of carrying different brands alongside our own. We currently still do carry other designers besides our own but as we strive to perfect the beading process, our quality level of handwork is surpassing many well-known designers.
MG: Your beadwork and embroidery is masterful. Can you describe your beading process and how do you decide which silhouettes should be paired with which beading?
SL: Fabrics/beading sourcing is done in the earlier stages of design. As a designer, the knowledge of fabrics is crucial because fabrics have certain tendencies and knowing how they will respond to cutting and sewing will determine the success of the garment. Trying to force a fabric to do something it is not intended to do is like fighting an uphill battle that will conclude with bad results. In addition to that aspect, it’s essential to know which fabrics work for each body type. When we work with our clients, we really fine-tune the process for them. Our beading process is equally calculated. Besides employing the correct techniques in each design, we also need to consider weight distribution, beading density, artwork layouts, and more specifically the patterning that is geared towards an individual customer.
The process of fabric production usually takes many months to perfect. It involves creating multiple swatches using variations of beading techniques in order to weed out the ones we will ultimately not move forward with. Because of this time-consuming process, we require a specific amount of lead time in order to create a custom piece for our clients. Because of the constraints we usually face, we routinely bring in new samples into our showroom so the selection is plentiful. The knotting process, while beading the fabric, is imperative to quality control, and fabric choices are crucial to how the dress responds to wear and tear. That’s something we really get.
MG: I understand that a lot of care goes into restoring the gowns. Can you tell me more about that?
SL: The attention to the restoration process sets us apart from other rental businesses. Usually the fabrics that are heavily beaded require tremendous upkeep as they are susceptible to pulling, and beads are constantly being reinforced. We have to understand how fabrics will respond to cleaning and what kind of treatment to give it in addition to understanding the vulnerabilities of the fabrics to prevent unexpected occurrences. For the purpose of this business model, we need to know how to alter a dress in the most unconventional way to yield the results we want for a particular client and then being able to reverse the steps to accommodate someone else. While working with designer pieces, we find the fabrics to be more susceptible to tearing and more difficult to accommodate for our clients who need a very customized fit. This is one of the main reasons we are leaning towards the exclusivity of our own brand.
MG: For someone who is unfamiliar with your store, how would you describe it? And tell us a little bit more about what you do.
SL: Our line of evening wear is designed and made with the discerning woman in mind. The process of designing the fabrics and then bringing them to life provides each dress with a unique and distinguished look. In addition to our mother and sister of the bride, we are now going to be presenting bridal as well. Our focus is upscale with a mainstream price point. We are trying to create an experience that is very different from what people would associate with the rental business. We have just opened the doors to our newly renovated showroom on Flatbush Avenue located between J and K in Brooklyn, New York. Our location was chosen with the mindset of bridging the distance for all our tri-state customers and providing a very short trip for our Long Island customers. For our clients who fly in to New York, we wanted to make the experience feel worthwhile. With a less retail dense location, parking is a much smoother process. Our aim is to provide the customer with a transformative experience that leaves them with a really positive feeling.
MG: What are some of your favorite trends for fall/winter?
SL: One of the things trending now is clothing that elicits a sense of fantasy and wonder. We are currently seeing abstract designs and billowing fabrics that allow the beholders to immerse themselves in their imagination. And then gracing the runway, you can see extremely technically challenging garments that are so complicated in construction that one could argue that it’s not a garment after all. The use of color is trending now. Designers are experimenting with unique shades of familiar colors, so expect to see an offshoot of the traditional primary colors. The experimentation of using fluorescent colors is making its way into many formal collections and even into evening wear (see Christian Siriano). Stay tuned for our new Fall 2019 collection that incorporates fresh techniques and color.
Sarelli New York is located at
1781 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11210.
email email@example.com for inquiries.
Michal Goldfein is a fashion influencer and content creator on Instagram and posts daily modest fashion inspiration @TheFashionDetour. You can listen to her modest fashion podcast on Apple podcast and on Jtriberadio.com. Email your fashion questions to Michal at Thefashiondetour@gmail.com.