Break the Rules Like ... Sarah Lawrence
Not all Wonder Women wear capes, and not all Unladylike role models need to sit in the C-suite to spark change. Each week, we're introducing y'all to rad women and nonbinary folks we admire. They'll offer up pointers on how we all can #breaktheruleslike they do and help them make the world a better place. If you have a role model to shout out, send hot tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Introduce yourself: Who are you, where are you from and what do you do?
I’m Sarah! I’m a graphic designer, brand person, idea haver, and side hustler here in Atlanta. I was born and raised about a mile from Downtown, went away to college for four (and a half ...) years, and immediately moved back to take a job at a music magazine here in town.
I’m now in my third year of being a full-time freelancer (learning how to say phrases like “small business owner” instead), and I love working with all types of clients. I illustrate for Facebook, make infographics for Georgia Organics, build websites for Midtown Alliance and a variety of projects in between. I even got to work on the branding for Unladylike!
2. When did you first realize this was the right path for you?
I’ve always been a little headstrong and independent – when I was 12, I got a screenprinting kit for Christmas and taught myself how make my own T-shirts. I was selling them shortly after and even taking custom orders. I only stopped because it was the very early 2000s and I didn’t know how to set up ecommerce on the website I’d built and launched from Dreamweaver. It was really difficult; Etsy and Wordpress didn’t even exist yet. Teens These Days (yes I said it) are starting marketing agencies and shit, and I think that’s incredible. I wonder how my path would’ve changed if I’d had access to all of the amazing tools available now.
Anyway, fast-forward to a few years ago; I was always assigning myself projects when I worked full-time, doing side things for friends, small freelance projects and building up a wonderful client base that I loved working with. When it was time to make the leap to doing this full-time, I didn’t look back.
3. What’s unladylike about you and what you do?
I was always a tomboy – my mom is a strong feminist who doesn’t believe in getting your nails done and still insists on $10 haircuts from Great Clips, so I had to learn a lot about ~girly~ things from my friends.
I’m stubborn; I know when to fight for something but also when to let it go. I’m not afraid to walk into a meeting with a bunch of executives because I’m confident I know what I’m talking about. When learning to set prices, I usually talk to male colleagues and get their advice to make sure I’m not undervaluing the work I do.
4. Which of your heroes or role models would you immortalize in bronze?
This is always a tough question for me – I feel like it’s pointless to lift someone up who’s already famous or successful. My role model is Liz Shinn (hi Liz!), my former intern from Paste Magazine who I loved working with so much I asked her to be my assistant. My goal is to someday be successful enough to just, like, throw enough money at her to steal her away from her full-time job.
Liz is an incredible designer; she’s got a passion for travel that helps me break out of my own shell (currently, she’s in Brazil, and then going to Argentina for a few weeks), and she even founded an Atlanta-based group for ladies who work remotely but still want to foster a sense of community. She’s living life on her own terms without waiting for permission, and I find that super inspiring.
5. What was your feminist aha moment?
Since I was raised by a fierce-as-hell single mom from a pretty young age, she was my feminist role model. She’s been a Planned Parenthood supporter forever, and she used to take me to fundraising events at law firms in downtown Atlanta when I was only concerned with trying to steal as many sodas as I could out of the breakroom.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t consider myself a feminist. One time in middle school, a teacher popped their head into class and asked for a few strong dudes to help carry boxes of books to another classroom. I (too aggressively?) volunteered on the basis that girls could do what boys could do. I ended up stealing a cart from a third classroom and pushing the books on that, so, brains over brawn I guess.
6. What’s bringing you joy right now — or at least keeping you sane?
Running my own business has been such a joy – I get to work on only the projects I want to, with the clients I want to. I find that incredibly fulfilling; I can decide how I want to grow and what paths I want to follow and take the steps necessary to get there.
7. Aside from keys/wallet/phone, what do you never leave home without?
I keep my whole brain inside a paperback moleskine – I fill one up about every month and keep them all in a bookshelf in our den. They have my notes from calls, to-do lists, ideas, thoughts, sketches, dreams and phone numbers.
I know it’s foolish to keep something so important in a physical form, but I’ve tried cloud-based task management apps (Trello, etc) and never really taken to it. I also love that drawing or writing in my notebook keeps me off my phone.
8. How can unladies help you and/or your mission?
I really want to learn more about retail – art galleries, coffee shops, running physical spaces that strangers come into and either spend money or hang out. I’d love to shadow people, trade knowledge for designy help, or something. I’m also working (very slowly) on some online classes – I’d also love to learn from people who have experience with this!
I think everyone should read the book Creative Confidence. It’s popular enough among creatives that I’m rolling my own eyes writing that – but it’s full of really inspiring sparks of creativity that don’t necessarily come from traditional artists or designers. I read this book about once a year and am still floored by the anecdote about designing MRI machines.