Despite a storied family legacy, Sara Sugarman didn’t plan to end up in the home-furnishings industry. Sara’s grandfather, Louis Sugarman, was the founder of Decorative Carpets, a pioneering custom-flooring operation renowned for handcrafted artistry. Sara’s father, George, assumed control of the company in the 1980s, serving high-end clients such as the Four Seasons. Interior design was in Sara’s blood.
Nevertheless, Sara broke from the dynasty after college, while being groomed as Decorative Carpets’ next CEO. “I actually went into the magazine business,” she tells heymama. “I wanted to be an editor.”
But after logging time in the media trenches, Sara realized her passion for home decor ran too deep to ignore. So Sara returned to the family biz—and completely reimagined it with the launch of a modern furnishings e-commerce site she dubbed Lulu and Georgia.
Upon its founding in 2012, Lulu and Georgia (feminized versions of her father and grandfather’s names) set itself apart with a spiky, funny brand voice and fashion-forward home furnishings—many designed by Sara herself—that discerning style hounds couldn’t find anywhere else. Once Lulu and Georgia’s obsessed fan base grew to include A-list celebs such as Sofia Vergara and Vanessa Hudgens, Sara had a multimillion dollar juggernaut on her hands.
Here, the mother of one chats with heymama about her tricks for spotting trends, her non-negotiable rules for family time and why she refuses to accept outside funding.
HEYMAMA: You started Lulu and Georgia in 2012 and garnered a pretty huge following right out of the gate. What was it about your brand that resonated with people?
SARA SUGARMAN: We were filling a hole in the market—there really wasn’t a shop like ours that had our style-driven aesthetic and spoke to the modern woman the way we did. We focused on growing our following organically, through influencers and online publications. I think that really helped cement our brand from the start.
Your brand’s unique voice probably didn’t hurt, either. Was that fully formed when you launched?
Thank you! Our voice is a reflection of the passion our employees and I have for the company—we truly love home décor, and I think that comes through in every aspect of our site. That said, we’re constantly tweaking our branding to stay current. I think the site has become more sophisticated as we’ve grown.
I knew that building a brand takes time and didn’t want to compromise our vision.
You’ve passed on repeated offers of investment and funding. What were your reasons for that?
I wanted to have control over the brand and was concerned that investors’ goals might not align with my own. I knew that building a brand takes time and didn’t want to compromise our vision. Admittedly, we were pretty bootstrapped in the beginning, and we didn’t spend on advertising. But at no point did I feel like I needed investment money to grow. We’ve always had a positive cash flow, so additional funding wasn’t necessary.
What’s the number 1 thing you learned about yourself during your first year of operation?
Resiliency—that I can face a lot of challenges and overcome them.
What’s most surprising to you now?
I’m always surprised by the amount we grow from day to day–how many people are shopping the site and buying our product. It’s amazing to see how many cities our customers are from. I think we all feel proud that we’ve created a place where so many people want to shop.
In addition to offering one-of-a-kind pieces you source through dealers, you and your team design many pieces in-house. What’s that process like?
Our initial meetings draw upon inspiration—clothing, art, nature, and so on. We create mood boards that feature various design trends we see. We then decide what qualities and mediums we want to use. For example, if it’s a rug, we’ll decide if it should be a flatweave, hand-knotted, and so on. Our designers then draw the CAD and we choose colors. We then send it off for sampling. Once the sample is approved, we go into production.
You’ve said that you discover trends before they’re actually trending. How do you stay ahead of the curve?
I’ve found that fashion trends can often predict what’s about to happen in the home category. I also take cues from the way people are living—the move to open-concept floor plans, for example, or the growing love of indoor-outdoor living. But most important, I like to think we create trends. We find items we love and design products we’re passionate about in hopes that people will love them as much as we do.
What are some of your favorite pieces right now?
That’s so hard to say! We just launched our Lulu and Georgia Littles collection, which really takes the Lulu and Georgia look and brings it to a younger audience. It was so fun to create. My favorite pieces from the line are the glam Reese Settee, the whimsical Oh Deer Wallpaper Mural and the vintage-inspired Jesse bed. Makes me want to redo my daughter’s room!
You have a little one at home. What are some of your go-to strategies for balancing life as a mom and business owner?
I’ve tried to create a fairly consistent routine so I don’t feel that pull every day of deciding how to spend my time. I leave work at the same time every day so I can be with Vivian before she goes to bed. That predictability in the workweek has helped me.
Also, when I’m with Vivian, I’m really with her. I don’t answer emails or take work calls during that time. Being present at work and being present at home has helped me keep that balance. It’s challenging in the beginning to decide what balance looks like, and it constantly evolves as your children grow.
How do you unwind at the end of the day?
To be honest, unwinding is very hard for me! If anyone has any great tips, I’d love to hear them.
3 pearls of wisdom
Stay grounded. I once read that moms are like a tree, rooted in the earth, and kids are the branches, constantly swaying. The tree needs to be grounded so the family can feel stable.
Create a culture of acceptance and not one of expectation.
It's OK to let your kids be bored; that's how they develop creativity.