Sarah Burroughs: Tailor-Made Philanthropy
Today’s young business owners are making social consciousness an essential part of their business models and Utah-based designer Sarah Burroughs is no exception. As the owner of Made designer handbags, she uses her business platform to make an impact in her community and around the world, one stitch at a time.
Sarah picked up sewing in middle school and started making handbags mainly out of a sense of frustration with functionality and design. When it came time to take her first trip out of the US, she took her sewing with her. Accompanying a nonprofit to Uganda, Africa, she taught math at a secondary school, helped build a school, provided marketing help to a local business, and taught sewing to women in a local village. “I was so inspired by the people’s eagerness to learn and experiencing their humble living conditions,” she says, “I knew I wanted to seek more ways to travel and teach.”
Flash-forward two years, she brought along eight volunteers to teach sewing and jewelry-making to 40 women in Hyderabad, India. Sarah taught the women how to make traditional clothing pieces and proper feminine hygiene, including making reusable sanitary napkins. She returned to Hyderabad this past summer, in a different village and with a new set of volunteer seamstresses. “Each of us was touched with how hard working and grateful each of the women were.”
“Don’t be shy about your mission. Ask everyone and tell everyone! Most people want to help, but don’t know how or are too shy to find out. Be the one who does something about it.”
When Sarah started her business, anne b designs, 4 years ago in Salt Lake City, with support from friends and local small business owners she pitched a plan to hire refugees. But it wasn’t easy. “I had to learn how to set expectations for an employee that’s come directly from a different culture, adapt to their schedule and family needs, and be accommodating of their level of understanding the English language,” she says. “But it’s been a great experience for both parties. They get to jump into a familiar job while they adjust to a new way of living and get a chance to practice English. And we as makers are given an opportunity to refine our teaching skills, be exposed to new cultures, and for me it’s been humbling to witness not just their hard work, but their happiness.” When she doesn’t have a position available for an interested seamstress, she places her with another local business interested hiring local refugees. “So I’ve in a way become a connection for the job-seeking refugee community and local small businesses.”
A chance encounter with a man in her downtown shop spurred Sarah to tackle a new problem. When he asked her to help him make a sleeping bag and fix up a toiletries bag, “I thought he was a traveler and avid camper, but came to find out that he was homeless. He talked with me as I sewed his items and I learned about his situation. He happily paid me for my time and then he was off.” She has stayed in touch with the man through his move to Montana, a job at Walmart, and the purchase of a used Suburban, where he sleeps instead of on the streets, all while studying for his GED. The experience inspired Sarah to hold a class to make sleeping bags and hygiene kits for the homeless. The donations to Rescue Mission of Salt Lake City have become a holiday tradition.
Sarah continues to be inspired by her community, travel, India, vibrant colors, teaching, doing good, and inspiring others, all of which she has folded into her business. “I don’t want social conscious behavior to be an afterthought,” she says. “We need more businesses growing where they are planted and finding ways to impact their community and using their talents for good. I want to feel better about why I do what I do rather than what I do.” She also has this sage piece of advice for her fellow young business leaders—“Don’t be shy about your mission. Ask everyone and tell everyone! Most people want to help, but don’t know how or are too shy to find out. Be the one who does something about it.”