We had the good fortune of connecting with Sarah Desage and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sarah, what is the most important factor behind your success?
WILLO LA was created as a gift, with the idea of making someone happy, and it remains the most important factor behind the brand.
The Christmas after I had my second child, my diaper budget ate into my Christmas budget. It was a year when lots of family member were getting together, and I felt a bit at a loss in terms of what to give. I decided I was going to make gifts from the heart, aka handmade gifts. The first WILLO necklaces were created and they were very well-received!
WILLO necklaces and earrings are colorful, bold and fun. Wearing a WILLO is like wearing a little bit of happiness.
The comment I hear the most often is how often women get compliments when they wear WILLO. It is actually how the brand came to become a jewelry collection. My mother-in-law loved her necklace and wore it often. She lived in New York at the time, and loved how her necklace gave a fun accent to her dark winter outfits. One day she entered a local store and the owner complimented her necklace. She wanted to know if she could sell them in her store. Well, the answer was yes! I didn’t have any necklaces to sell but YES, of course, she could sell them! I created a small collection of three different styles in a very short time! Sadly, the deal fell through. I had never sold handcrafted goods before, nor had I ever thought about cost of goods, profit margins, cost of shipping etc…. all I knew was, I loved making them.
Meanwhile I started wearing my new necklaces (of which I now had an entire collection!) and also got compliments. Some of my friends fell in love with them and asked me if they could buy them. I was soon offered to have a stand at our local art market. Before I knew it, I was expanding my collection to include earrings.
Like a strand of beads, WILLO has grown into a brand, one compliment after another.
Happiness, I believe, is the secret ingredient behind the success of WILLO LA.
Wear Your Happy!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
WILLO LA is a feel-good brand and it is important that I feel good making it. Therefore it is an eco-conscious brand. The jewelry I make is made of organic materials, my packaging is plastic-free and handmade. I request that my shipping be delivered with as little plastic as possible from my supplier. Once the use of the WILLO is over I want it to biodegrade. The only footprint I want to leave is your happiness.
I need to be creative between these guidelines, and a lot of what makes WILLO so unique is what comes from those limitations. What motivates my choice of clasp, beads, design etc… is not necessarily my profit margin, but rather what’s best for the environment.
Community is very important too. To be honest, I didn’t start selling WILLOs and say “this will be a community building based brand”. The brand took on a life of its own. It is by word of mouth and the incredible community of women that brought it to life. I started to open little “Shop & Sip” events, an opportunity for women to get together, shop and sip. And naturally this community of women grew bigger and bigger until Covid-19. The pandemic put a stop to the community building aspect of the brand, but the world is opening up, and I look forward to my first post pandemic Shop & Sip.
Covid-19 had put a stop to any open air markets as well. I missed those a lot, mainly because my daughters usually come with me. My oldest daughter, who is 8, genuinely wants to share the WILLOs with people. She is so genuine and outgoing, she is the best at introducing the brand. After my first market with her, I decided never to do another market without her! I feel lucky to share this experience with both my daughters. I get to learn something new with them, I’ve never been an entrepreneur before! There is no “one fits all – how to” manual for it. A lot of being a creator and entrepreneur comes with trial and error, learning from your mistakes, looking at what can be improved, and lots (lots) of problem solving. All of which are good skills to have. I am glad my daughters get to see me, their Mom, pulling my hair out sometimes, just trying to find the solutions to whatever new problems I discover. I am proud to show them you can be anything you want.
I also like to include them in the creation and design process. They have great ideas!
I am looking forward to pick up WILLO LA where we left off pre-pandemic. I want to expand the brand to include WILLO LA Kids.
WILLO LA is made with love and happiness and I believe women can feel it when they wear it.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Los Angeles is a great town, with so many hidden treasures. It is an urban and metropolitan environment sprinkled with awesome parks and amazing hikes. During the pandemic, these green spaces were our little oases. I would want my friends to enjoy them as well. For a wonderful family day in nature, we would go to Descanso Gardens or the Huntington Gardens Library. Descanso is a bit smaller and more intimate. Walking through, it’s easy to feel like this is your garden made just for you. Huntington is more dramatic, and so varied. It is hard to visit the entire garden in one day. Don’t miss the impressive Chinese garden. After a day there, you feel you’ve traveled to a land far far away. For a more modest escape, I recommend stopping by the Brand Library. The library has a wonderful Japanese garden as well, very relaxing.
Now, of course we’ll get hungry. I recently discovered an amazing Pop Up Pizzeria called La Sorted’s. The owner makes the most amazing pizze right out of his wood oven customized truck. His truck is bright yellow! And his pies are divine. You need to follow him on Instagram @lasorteds to find him… totally worth the follow! If you don’t feel like having the most amazing pizza….well, we can go for ramen at Jinya Ramen Bar. I have been hooked ever since I tried their spicy chicken ramen. It is the place I want to go to for my birthday, Mother’s Day, anniversaries…. you get it …. I am obsessed. Actually, I’m going to stop my recommendations here, because you need to make a reservation now… bon appetit!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would love to dedicate this shout out to all the women who have been loving and wearing WIILO LA. I find it quite extraordinary to see how a necklace has become a brand, through a chain of compliments exchanged between women. A big thank you to Enid, who started that chain. I also want to thank my two daughters who always help me and inspire me, keeping my heart full. WILLO LA has some great fans. Thank you for your enthusiasm, I always keep you in mind when I create new designs.