In just three years, Sarah Law — an Explo alum listed as one of Forbes Magazine’s 2015 “30 Under 30” — has turned a nascent handbag label into a global brand. With their minimalist and urban aesthetic, KARA bags are designed for “people that have a strong sense of themselves.” Sarah talks to Explo about community, following your path no matter what, and opening yourself to new experiences.
KARA bags are now carried in 50 different stores — including Barneys New York, Opening Ceremony, and Harvey Nichols — and in 15 countries around the world, and have been featured on the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and The New York Times Style section. Nominated for ‘Designer of the Year’ when she graduated from the Parsons School of Design in 2008, Sarah, who attended Explo as a student from 6th-8th grade, is a member of the CFDA Fashion Incubator 3.0 class, a "business development program designed to support the next generation of fashion designers in New York City."
What is the best part of running a company?
Building a community! I have an incredible team at KARA. I had an employee tell me that Sunday night was her favorite time of the week because she knew she would be coming in to work at KARA the next day. This was the complete opposite of how she felt with previous jobs when Sunday evening was a time of dreading the week ahead. That was a huge compliment.
20+ Explo Alums Crack Forbes' 30 Under 30 List
Every year, the editors at Forbes Magazine feature individuals who are the most innovative in their fields in their 30 Under 30 issue. To date, 20+ Explo Alums are among their number. To all of them, we'd like to offer our most enthusiastic congratulations!
I read that you have said that, “mistakes usually turn out to be a good thing.” What did you mean by that?
I think that mistakes, although they are painful at the time, show you something you previously didn't see. They clarify where you fall short of your goals and sometimes force you to question if you believe in what you are doing. That unpleasant feeling is always an opportunity to improve and focus on what is important.
Did you always know what you wanted to do?
Now, with hindsight, I can see I was on a clear path, but I didn't know it at the time. My whole life, I have always dreamed of having my own company. Growing up in Hong Kong, there was a very specific idea of what was considered an acceptable career. It seemed like everyone should become a doctor, a lawyer, or a banker and I wasn’t interested in any of them! I have always been fascinated with business and at the same time, loved making things with my hands. The grown ups around me didn't work in fields I gravitated towards, so it was hard to understand how my interests could become a career. That is part of what made Explo so special, the chance to see how much is out there.
What were you making then?
At my church, there were volunteer projects to raise money for various charities and I would always sign up so I could do the craft. I remember being about six years old and buying 200 matchboxes, covering them with sequins to raise money for an orphanage in the Philippines. I was hustling around offering people a better price if they bought in bulk!
So you were entrepreneurial even then?
Well, I didn't always see it that way. On one hand, I was always making things and on the other, I was fascinated with the process of getting a product into a market. When I was at Parsons, I noticed most students were on a tight budget and had so much to carry around. I began sewing big portfolio bags over school breaks and selling them from my dorm room. Even when I was working full time, designing accessories at The Gap, I had a business over-dyeing antique rugs and selling them at the Brooklyn flea market.
So it was never art for art’s sake?
The process of making something is usually what sparks my initial interest but I get a lot of gratification making things that reach an audience larger than myself. I have a lot of respect for people who make a living based on what they create. It takes a lot of work and dedication.
What do you value about your three summers at Explo?
First of all, the friendships I made were a huge part of the experience. I am still in touch with some of the people I met at Explo. Another thing that has stayed with me, was the enormous range of courses to pick from. As a kid, all of the choices just seemed amazing. I attended Explo with my brother and we had very different interests, yet there were tons of cool things for both of us to do. Finally, I would say that having instructors who were actually studying and pursuing careers in the fields that they were teaching was inspiring.
What advice would you give to Explo students?
Try as much and as many different things as possible. Don't worry about an end goal or having a reason for everything you do. The exciting part of being young is the amount of freedom and opportunity around you. It's important to be open, try new things, and learn more about yourself. You never know where a new experience will take you!