Sara is the fashion designer of Sara Duke and works and lives in Parkdale, Toronto
What is your morning routine?
Most mornings as my husband gets ready for work, he and I share a pot of coffee and talk about our cat. Before he leaves, I tell him I love him and he kisses my forehead.
I find it impossible to wake up before 8 am. I am not a morning person – I plan my days accordingly by scheduling all meetings after 1 pm, just to be safe. I generally make my way into the studio just after 9 am, with the help of a few additional cups of coffee.
Tell us about your career path
After graduating from the fashion design program at Ryerson, I spent a bit of time in the design departments of a couple of mass-market retailers. However, for me, working in an office was difficult and felt very unnatural – I had a tough time adjusting to the schedule, the cubicles, and to wearing high heels.
In early 2009 I started working independently. At first from home, on high-end custom garments for private clients, and then eventually out of a studio on Markham Street where I became friends with the two lovely ladies who run Coal Miner’s Daughter. In the summer of 2010, they gave me the opportunity to produce a small line and sell it in their shop.
Shortly afterward, I opened my own shop in Bloordale and, for a couple of years, learned a whole lot about my customer. It was such a gift to be able to interact with women as they were shopping, noting the fabrics and fits they were drawn to and why. However, the success of the store forced me to choose between being a designer and being a shop owner, as they both required full-time hours; I picked being a designer.
In 2013, I started putting out collections and lookbooks, following a traditional retail fashion schedule. Over the past few years, the line has become available in most of the major markets in Canada and is sold in lovely boutiques across the country.
What challenges do you or women face in your industry?
It’s pretty easy in the fashion industry. All of the shop owners, employees, and models that I work with are smart, driven, and accomplished women.
For me, life gets complicated when I have to move in circles that are outside of the network of great women that make up my peers. Because I do not often encounter gender bias at work, it is all the more jarring when I am confronted with inequality elsewhere. I am very sensitive to it.
What advice would you give to young girls who want to be the NEXT you?
The best advice that I have is to make messes and mistakes and to try things. The big secret is that for every style that ends up in a store, there are about five terrible samples hiding in my closet. Everything takes a couple of tries and nothing is a waste of your time.
How do you separate work life from your personal life?
I do a subpar job of separating work from my personal life. Even though the business has been solid and predictable for a few years now, I still end up working 10-12 hours a day and then on most weekends. That said, my job is such that I have the advantage of being out of touch and am rarely confronted with an urgent email. As long as I manage to leave or stay away from the studio, I am able to steal a couple of hours every day to spend time with my husband and watch some TV.
What inspires you?
Parkdale. The neighbourhood that I live in is my greatest source of inspiration. There are so many different kinds of people living every kind of life you can live – there is something really beautiful about the people who make Parkdale their home.
In addition, the shopping and restaurants attract people ‘in the know’ from all over. If you pay attention to what people are wearing and eating, and to what new businesses open up on my block, you’ll have a solid idea of what’s in fashion.
All of this while still being a place that you can live! Complete with an independent grocery store, pharmacy, medical clinic, hardware store, and cheap takeout.
When you’re off the clock, what are your indulgences?
I love hot days, so I do my best to get as much work done from when it starts getting cold in the fall to when it starts getting warm in the spring. I try to have a little less to do in the summer months so that I have time to be outside in the city. I love taking an afternoon off and spending it at the pool with a couple of friends.