Location: Mercer Island, Washington
Age: Over 50
Marital Status: Married
Education: Degree in Textile Design from the University of Washington
Staying real has helped Jarbo prevail despite the recession. And Sharon can’t imagine it any other way. She’s a straight-shooter, real-deal kind of gal. To wit, her inspiration doesn’t come from the catwalk, but from her late grandmother, Emmi Rindler, a holocaust survivor who came with Sharon on her first sales appointment and sat with Jason, Sharon’s son, on her lap. “She was just the strongest, most wonderful woman on the planet. I still talk to her every day in the shower!” says Sharon.
Where did you grow up?
Bellevue, Washington. I moved to L.A. when I was 21 to be in the fashion business. Now I live on Mercer Island, a suburb of Seattle.
Were you always into fashion and design?
I grew up around kids who had a lot more than I did. My mom, a schoolteacher, couldn’t buy me lots of clothes because my dad died when we were young and finances were tight. But, she would buy me fabric, so I took sewing in school and made my own clothes. I worked in a specialty store in Seattle when I was 14 or 15. I’d sew the hems of jeans to make extra money.
How did you break into the fashion industry?
One thing led to the next. I was promoted to manager of the women’s department at the specialty store. Through that, I made many connections and started working for sales reps. I worked for one salesman who had drug problems. He let me go to all the sales meetings in New York because he couldn’t go himself. Here I was, 19 years old, with a suit and briefcase, going off to important meetings in Manhattan. I thought I was the coolest thing in the planet. Eventually, I got my own showroom.
You were a retailer?
I was a wholesaler. I repped different lines for years and did really well at a young age.
Did you stop to go to college?
I was working full-time while I was at the University of Washington. I went for my Mom. She wanted me to get a 4-year degree from a real university. (I wanted to go to FIT!) She didn’t understand fashion as a business. As a side note: [designer] Trina Turk was my roommate in college!
How did you transition from selling clothes to designing them?
In the 1980s, private label clothing was just starting to get big. I’d go to Nordstrom and show them the lines I repped and they’d say “Well, we are already doing that with our own line.” So, I started designing private label for department stores like Nordstrom, Eddie Bauer and Victoria’s Secret. I designed one of Nordstrom’s biggest-selling items of all time.
What was that?
A pleated stirrup pant. I made them for Nordstrom and Victoria’s Secret. That’s when I started working so much. I was 30 years old and just getting married.
Did you have children?
I had my son when I was 31. And then I had my daughter a year and a half later. One day, when Lauren was 10 months old, she was on one of those Fisher-Price phones. I heard her say the name of one of the buyers I used to work with. That’s when I said to myself, “Your kids only know that you work… this is it.” The next day I kind of handed off the business to a neighbor. I took the following seven years off.
That must have been a difficult decision.
It was a difficult decision, but my kids and family are number one. My passion, the clothing, was number one and number two. But I realized, you can’t do both.
Tell us about how you started Jarbo.
I got back into the business slowly, with a leather coat line that started as a charitable venture. I met a fabulous woman, Cynthia Woshner, who I knew would be a perfect design partner. After a series of twists and turns, in 2008 we relaunched Jarbo, a line of women’s separates in fine fabrics. My Seattle team has taken it from zero to the sky in the last two years.
Why do you think it’s caught on so well?
I stuck to my vision: Clean, edgy European design in fine fabrics. I take the style or look of the season but cut it so that a real woman can actually wear it. I would try on clothes at department stores and I couldn’t wear some of the great lines I wanted to. They were beautiful, but they looked all wrong on me. Nobody made clothes for us. I said ‘Screw this, I’m going to make clothes for us.’
Do you have a particular woman in mind when you design?
Absolutely. My customer is confident; she doesn’t care about brand names. She cares more about what the fabrics feel like.
Why do you think you’ve done so well, despite the recession?
When the economy changed, designers were scrambling. Their stuff was not selling–trendy, goofy stuff was out the door. I just kept going with what I believed in and we always had a niche. When the economy changed we got revisited by some of the top stores. They all said “Wow, we can use this now.”
Do you regret taking off all those years?
I think it was meant to be that I started my business at this age. Here I am, 50, and there’s nobody my age that’s still plugging away trying to ‘make it.’ I’m the only one who’s really making clothes for us!”
Who are your favorite designers?
Do you have a favorite restaurant?
Lola in Seattle. Tom Douglas is the chef and his food is just so interesting. It’s local with a Mediterranean flair…so yummy. You can order a bunch of little dishes a la carte and try them all.
Favorite local delicacy?
What’s your skincare routine?
Soap and water and any lotion that happens to be at my fingertips.
What about hair care?
My daughter’s best friend, Ivanna, comes and does my hair every time I need her. She flat irons it for me and makes it beautiful because I have big Rosanna-danna hair.
Do you have a favorite secret place?
The Pike Place Market or the Ballard Market. I take my kids every Sunday and we go to Café Besalu (in the Ballard Market). It’s like being in Paris. They make the best French pastry on the planet. Their croissants and brioche are just wonderful.
Where do you shop?
I taught all my kids and their friends to buy clothes at thrift stores and to be creative instead of going to all the fancy-schmancy places.
Do you have a signature piece from Jarbo?
This fabulous Pima T-shirt with little pin tucks. It will be in our spring 2011 line. It’s super soft and super long….30 inches. It covers my arms because the sleeves go to the elbow. It’s easy and loose, and I love it.
Who or what inspires you?
Real people. My children and their friends. My life is this business and all those kids. I’m an unfiltered, open person so they confide in me. They’ll come over and talk to me for hours. I’m honest. That’s why they like me.