Mike Munter: Hey, Sara, how are you doing today?
Sara Dahlquist: I am good, how are you?
Mike Munter: Before we start, I have to ask you what you think of what I’m wearing, because in the past, you’ve commented on clothes that I wear—that maybe they are not age appropriate.
Sara Dahlquist: What? Me? Have an opinion?
Mike Munter: I’m wearing a pull-over here. I don’t know if you can see it.
Sara Dahlquist: You have a Henley—it’s in a gray color. It looks great on you. We actually are wearing similar kind of clothing combinations. It’s the layered Henley look—which I like for zoom meetings and all of this video conferencing—a bit of layering. You’ve done a great job.
Mike Munter: (Laughing) Cool. Thank you!
Sara Dahlquist: (Laughing) I give you a solid A.
Mike Munter: Before we get started, can you share a little bit of background about yourself? Where you are from, where you were raised, and maybe where you went to college?
Sara Dahlquist: I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. I grew up in Lake Oswego, and then went to Canby high school my freshman year. I graduated from Camby high school. And then, from there I went to Oregon State and I chose Oregon state because they had the apparel interiors, it was called the AIM program for apparel, interiors, merchandising and design. At least that’s what I believe it was called. I graduated from Oregon State with a merchandising management degree.
Mike Munter: It sounds like you knew going into college what you wanted to do—that you had an idea of the work you wanted to do.
Sara Dahlquist: I have always known what I wanted to do. Excuse me a moment—I’ve always known what I wanted to do. Excuse me, I just have to tell you that I have children who are staring at me right now. (laughing) This is real life at home, with a dog and kids. Everything is right behind this camera. If I seem distracted, please forgive me (laughing).
I remember having to pay my sister to play Barbie dolls with me and I never had any kind of theme—there was never a storyline. All I just wanted to do was dress the Barbies up. And then, as soon as they were dressed up, it would be two minutes on a date and then I would decide now, we are going to go do this so I could change the Barbie’s outfit again.
My sister said it was the easiest 5 cents she ever made since all she had to do was stand there holding the Ken doll. While I would just make cute outfits for Barbie the whole time.
I’ve always, always, always loved clothing and fashion and outfits, but it was when I was in college when I realized—the girls would get together in the sorority and we would get ready for parties. I was always the last to be ready.
I would be running around to everybody’s rooms, helping everyone get dressed. It was then that I realized this is something—I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I just really, my love was dressing people and making them feel really good. When you could see that confidence in their face and they felt like they were “killing it” tonight.
Then I was in merchandising and I kept failing all of my math classes. I was failing over and over and over again. That’s when I realized that merchandising was probably not part of my future. And that came a little late—I think I was in my fourth year of college that I realized this, but I got really lucky.
The summer after I graduated, my parents were golfing with this gentleman or they bumped into him on the golf course. He happened to work for Nike and he happened to know of an open position coming available at Nike. I just had happened to get a degree. He got me an interview and I got the job. I got a job at Nike right out of school. I was very, very lucky.
Mike Munter: Was that a job in merchandising?
Sara Dahlquist: Oh no, it was something different, it was a product tester. I think it was called a product tester. I would measure all of the samples that would come out of whatever department it is, which have to say—
excuse me Mike, here’s a visitor, would you like to say hi?
Mike Munter: What’s happening?
Sara Dahlquist: (Sara, conversing with child) No boundaries, Mike, there are just no boundaries.
Mike Munter: That’s alright. That’s alright.
Sara Dahlquist: What were you asking me?
Mike Munter: I was asking you about the job at Nike—if it was merchandising?
Sara Dahlquist: Oh yes, I would have to intake all the samples. I would measure them, I would have to make sure if they measured within a certain parameter, and I would set up fit model meetings. Honestly, it was a lot of measuring. I remember thinking it was ironic because the measuring part I could do pretty well. It was the mathematics that I did not enjoy.
But I really got a great perspective on Nike and the backside of the fashion industry, because I was working with developers, designers, and really I was working with the development of the garments. That part was incredibly fascinating.
Mike Munter: Interesting. But back then were you doing any sort of the personalized work that you are doing now? Were you doing that then?
Sara Dahlquist: No. No, at least not getting paid for it. Friends would always ask me to come over and go shopping. I always did that stuff for fun. No, I was at Nike for six years. I ended up as a project manager in sports marketing. It was called the GPS department back then, global promotion services.
I worked with sports marketing representatives who obviously represented the athletes and anybody who was sponsored by Nike. We would get them special materials. Many of them had basketball camps and certain activities like that. I ran, or I was a manager of a team that would implement all of those types of projects for the athletes and for other famous people, which was interesting, but it was not work that fed my soul.
To be honest with you, I was very young. I mean, I was 25 then and I was a manager. I was managing people that were twice my age and Nike has a particular way of operating. There was a certain way I was told to run the project and I would see many inefficiencies and I would try to change them.
But then I was told often—I would get in trouble a lot for trying to walk outside the boundaries of what was expected of me. I kept having to go back and like do it the Nike way. And I just think there was something about me being so young and so passionate about what I do or what I love that I just could not—I couldn’t do it anymore. Honestly I, excuse me, my kids are fighting upstairs.
I’m sorry for this. Excuse me again (talking to someone off camera) Okay, what was I saying?
Mike Munter: You were talking about stepping outside of the boundaries.
Sara Dahlquist: Oh, I actually I got depressed. I was really, really unhappy. I was going through—I went through a period where I was really depressed and it got to a point where I had just met my husband and we had moved in together and I was so miserable. I remember I woke up one day and I just told him that I have my review today. I asked him, “If I quit, are we going to be okay?”
And he was a hundred percent supportive. He encouraged me and said he thought it was what I needed to do. He said, “You need to quit. We need to close this door and then figure out what you want to do next.”
I walked into Nike and I had my review that day. I told them, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this.” I turned in my notice. Two weeks later, I left Nike and I literally felt I had an existential midlife crisis at 28.
I had no idea what I was going to do. Everybody was saying that I was out of my mind, “you just left Nike? Why. How could you leave Nike?”
My parents were, I don’t think my parents would even speak to me for a few weeks. They were so upset. I don’t know, I had this faith that there was something else bigger and better and brighter out there for me. I sat around and watched TV a lot then and Oprah was doing the make-over shows—there was an Oprah makeover show. And I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, I could do this. I know I could do make-overs. I do it every day.”
And I loved it. I knew could start charging people instead of doing it for free. And if my friend calls me up and she wants me to take her shopping, I’ll do it. I think I charged about $45 an hour back then. That was 2003. I think that’s when I started.
I just started doing it like that. Then, I advertised in the Oregonian and I started reaching out. I remember I would do free seminars at the Coliseum and I would have people sign up and I would get about 20 women.
It was just a free seminar to explain what the fundamentals of personal style was but back then, Mike, nobody had done this before–nobody was doing make-overs, there were no personal stylists in Portland.
I remember there was one woman who was doing something similar. I remember going to her seminar and I realized that we just have a different—she had a totally different vibe than I did. But you had to educate people. You have to let people know like what you are doing and that I knew my fashion.
They, or a lot of people might be naysayers, “Oh, yes, you can dress people.” But I really understood the fundamentals of what works best on someone’s body. I call myself a body type expert. That’s how you gain people’s trust. And in doing that, I would gain clients. And then, I’ve built a reputation and yes, here we are, I’m going on seventeen or actually eighteen years. That’s crazy. I have not done the graph for a while.
Mike Munter: That is exciting. You said a lot of interesting things. One being, you felt unfulfilled at the job at Nike. Two, you got the encouragement from your now husband to move into something else.
Sara Dahlquist: Without even knowing what that something else was going to be.
Mike Munter: Yes, without knowing, but just having faith that it was going to work out.
Sara Dahlquist: I don’t—I really can’t explain that faith, but I have had conversations with people who also get the chance to do what they were put on this earth to do as a career. There’s something about just knowing when you are really good at something–that’s your calling. There’s a blind faith that happens that I always tell people to try and follow as much as you possibly can.
Mike Munter: Well, it is cool that you have known this since you were a small child, that you were at least interested in apparel.
Sara Dahlquist: Yes. I tell my kids that too. I feel really fortunate that I knew young, what I wanted to do, but there was also that journey I had to take to figure out what I’m good at, what I want, and what I’m most passionate about within the field.
It was interesting to find that I was not as passionate about fashion in the way that I thought I was going to be, or really what society was saying. You might be interested in fashion, but here’s Nike and that’s a good job and you should stick with it.
I was drawn to this, drawn to what I do now, which is, which is personal—I called myself a personal style coach because it’s not just dressing people, it’s understanding who the person is and connecting their fashion and what they wear to who they are and what they want in life. And then, creating that wonderful equation that works right for them and their body type, not for anybody else.
Mike Munter: You mentioned all your friends were saying that you should stay at Nike. I think maybe myself—I would have followed that, or probably taken that safe path.
Sara Dahlquist: It was, it’s the easier path for sure.
Mike Munter: Yes, it is.
Sara Dahlquist: It was the easier path, but I have to tell you, I was so unhappy. I don’t make the money that I made then, or would probably make with 17 years with Nike or by now, gosh, it would have been over 20 years. I would probably be going on almost 30 years with Nike, but I’m so much happier. I really, really love what I do and what I do makes a difference in people’s lives.
It feeds my soul, which is more important to me than that safety, to be honest with you. I’ve been through a recession and now I’m going through this pandemic. My business has suffered. It has been very, very challenging, but I still stick with it. It’s not—there’s no other choice for me.
Mike Munter: Right. Well, you mentioned the moment when you were watching Oprah, and you realized this is something you can do. I’m curious what happened when those friends that you used to go shopping with for fun and for free reacted when you asked them to pay you now.
Sara Dahlquist: You know, what’s fascinating is I was terrified. It’s one thing to do what you love, but it’s another to ask people to start paying you for it. It just, I felt that imposter syndrome, I felt like I had that and yet I was amazed at the response.
People were so willing, they were 100% willing to pay me whatever it was charging without question, without anything—I had 100% support. I found that to be true going forward in all the years of my business.
Every time my business grows or I realize that I have leveled up in my career and I need to ask to be compensated for that, there’s always this moment where I feel fear about whether people will still call. And sure enough, people will call. It’s validating for sure.
Mike Munter: I bet it is very validating to have that trepidation and then to have people just say, “Sure, no problem.”
Sara Dahlquist: Yes. It really is. I feel really fortunate.
Mike Munter: I remember you said you were doing the free, instructional, presentations at the Memorial Coliseum.
Sara Dahlquist: Yes, I did a lot of those, I would go into women’s groups and talk to them about what I do. There was a lot of leg work and a lot of not getting paid, for information that I was offering in the first five years. There’s a lot of educating people and letting people know what I do.
And each one of those meetings, I would get a client or two and it just kind of built from that. Now I don’t get out of bed unless you’re going to pay me (laughing). It doesn’t, I just—I don’t do that anymore.
Mike Munter: Well, it’s a complete flip. When we are starting out, and we are doing work, we are giving things away in the hopes that we can attract some customers and to build a resume. And then when you have built your customers up to a certain amount, you can say, “I don’t have to be so aggressive with my marketing anymore.”
Sara Dahlquist: It’s true. And also, I have 17 years of experience underneath my belt—of working with every type of person, men, women, and everything in between. Trust me, after 17 years, I think I’ve seen it all and worked with so many different kinds of people in different stages of their life. That I’m truly—I’m confident to say that I’m an expert.
That’s where you get to the point where, I have sons who are 10 and 13 and I really get to dictate my hours. I also get to dictate who I work with because I choose to work with people. I don’t work for people. And there are some people who want to hire me and have me work for them. Right.
And I have spent years working for people and I had to do it because that’s how you grow your business. But now my business has grown to a point where I can choose who I work with and who I don’t work with because I like to work with people.
Mike Munter: That’s a good place to be, isn’t it?
Sara Dahlquist: It is. It’s really, even during a pandemic, it’s a blessed thing. I still can choose and not choose who I want to work with because there’s no desperation.
Mike Munter: Can you talk about working with women versus working with men?
Sara Dahlquist: (Laughing). Gosh, men, there is a difference. Men are so much more, or much more about things have to be comfortable on your body and they have to feel good. And then, men want them to look really good. Most often men can decipher when something does not feel good, but they usually want help with determining yes, this looks good. And help with coordinating an entire outfit.
Some men tend to be a lot more opinion-ated and their boundaries are a lot tighter than some women. On the other hand, I have female clients who will come to me and say that they will only wear solids. I won’t wear buttons. I hate zippers. I won’t wear a collar. I love wool but hate cashmere. Where their list of likes and dislikes is a bit bananas.
All that is to say, it can be really interesting. I like when people—I feel like a counselor where I get to learn people’s lifestyles and their likes and dislikes and what feels good to understand how it’s going to correlate with their life and work.
But it is really interesting. I get those people, all of these ladies and some of them have become my lifelong clients and we laugh and giggle about it because I’ll slide in a button or a zipper here and there. It will be something that they absolutely love and wear all the time and we can giggle about it now.
Mike Munter: They thought they didn’t like it, but you showed them the way.
Sara Dahlquist: It’s all about just gaining trust for people, right? There are two women that pop out in my head that have been with me for since the beginning.
And they both were just—they fought me so much in the beginning and I would have to gently coax them in the right direction.
And now they just say to me, “Tell me what to wear and I’ll wear it.” It just took a long time to gain their trust. And also, they have become their own. They have become my muse. They are so fashion-able and so stylish.
Every time I see them, I’m making sure that I’m put together head to toe because they can put me a shame some days (laughing).
And Mike, what I love is the education. It’s the teaching people. That is what it really is for me. I get to teach and counsel using fashion as a tool. That’s really what I do.
Mike Munter: Yes. Well, as you have said, you’re also making lifelong relationships. And what I have always thought was interesting is what you are doing for someone’s self-esteem.
Sara Dahlquist: Yes.
Mike Munter: For someone who does not have the perfect “rock star” body, you can still make them look good.
Sara Dahlquist: Well, I really believe that every person is beautiful. I call it empowerment. We can use clothing as an empowerment. I like my clients to not have to think about what they’re wearing and what they wear automatically makes them feel more like themselves so they can just shine themselves, even brighter. Do you know what I mean? I’m not trying to change who my clients are.
I want the clothes that my client’s wear to really represent them, so that they are not worried about what they are wearing. They feel great. Their clothing has empowered them to just be their best selves. You and I both know that when we are wearing the right clothes and we’re really “feeling ourselves,” you are not thinking about what you’re wearing. You’re thinking to yourself, “I am awesome. I feel like I can go out and I can take on the world and do whatever I want.” Right? Yes.
Mike Munter: Yes. You feel good. I love this Henley or whatever it is because I feel like it fits me in the shoulders, which is rare for me. Yeah. It’s comfortable and it speaks to my personality.
Sara Dahlquist: Yes. And it is a good color. People, men, especially do not understand or take into account how impactful color is because as men, you don’t typically wear makeup.
Color is going to influence what colors pop out in your skin tone and your eyes, and how it can make you look tired. It can, it can make you look invigorated. Color is it’s just incredibly powerful.
Mike Munter: Yes. Well that is why you don’t see me wearing red and orange. I know I don’t look good in those colors.
Sara Dahlquist: No you don’t. No, thank you (laughing). Do you even like those colors? Are you drawn to those colors at all?
Mike Munter: What red and orange?
Sara Dahlquist: Hmm.
Mike Munter: On other people but not on me so much.
Sara Dahlquist: Yes. It’s interesting. I would say most men are drawn to colors that—they can be drawn to the colors that compliment them. But for men, mostly men are only offered blue and green and plaid and brown and charcoal.
There are not a lot of colors offered out there unless it’s something really loud, but I love—I love seeing a man in a great purple or a pink shirt or a statement tie, or fun socks. There’s certain ways that men can really show their personal style in their own unique way.
Mike Munter: Yes, alright. Well, we are coming down the home stretch here. What are you excited about as you move into the future? What’s next?
Sara Dahlquist: Well, I’m really excited to get back into the stores and get shopping again. I personally—I have seen boutiques and small businesses go out of business, not be able to make it through the pandemic, which is really heartbreaking for me because like I said, I went through the recession and I know that we will come back. We will bounce back and make strides.
It’s just some people cannot hold on for that period of time. They have to make their mortgages and feed their families. I understand that. It’s been really sad to see some of the boutiques to go under. I am 100% percent committed to that as soon as we can get back to being in-person with shopping, that I can get out and support the local businesses.
I really want to push for that.
I have to do a fair amount of mall shopping with my clients to start off with because we really have to build a foundation. However, I’m going to do my very best to try and shop within the boutiques as much as I possibly can because those businesses had my back. I want to have theirs as well.
Mike Munter: What about a young Sara who might be graduating from college, and that is interested in doing what you do. Would you consider being a mentor to someone?
Sara Dahlquist: Yes, 100% hundred percent. I have been asked that throughout my career and I have never been in the position where I had the ability to give somebody my time and my expertise. So yes, 100%, I would love an opportunity to be able to mentor people.
Even, I love—I love talking to high schoolers. I love setting them up at the high school age and explain to them how this works, to set them up for the future. I will say my path is my path and going to college was important for me, but I don’t think I would have had to go to college and have that debt in order to do what I do, if that makes sense.
I would not discourage somebody from going to college, but I would definitely want them to figure it out or maybe take business classes or major in business during college, rather than merchandising, unless they want to go and be a merchandiser at a big store. I would lead them in different directions.
Yes, I am 100% percent down for that. I would love to give back. I am in a place where I can now do that.
Before, I was raising kids and started running this business. After the recession, my business just went nuts and I have been working so hard. Now I’m, as of a few years ago, I am now in a position where I can kind of step back and be able to mentor a person or two.
I would like to figure out how that would look and how I can do that. That would be—I think that’s a great suggestion, Mike, for me to put into my business plan for the next five years and how I can really find a specific corner where I can start mentoring other young women.
I don’t want employees. I’ve never wanted employees. I don’t like the drama and I don’t like the overhead. That is not really something I’m interested in with my business, but to give back and help inspire other stylists, yes. Now, in Portland, there are about five of us that are solid, and really successful at what we do. It is encouraging.
Mike Munter: Yes. Well, it’s nice to come from that place of abundance rather than that place of scarcity too.
Sara Dahlquist: Yes, it is. But I worked really hard—really, really, really hard. It was not easy. There were lean times, there were lean Christmases. I am pretty stubborn and I just kept persevering.
Mike, you’ve known me for a really long time—perseverance is just part of my DNA. I don’t know how not to persevere.
Mike Munter: Great. Well, this has been great fun, Sarah. Thank you for coming on.
Sara Dahlquist: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.