Over the last 10 years, Lele Sadoughi has built her accessories line to be one of the most recognizable and sought-after in the industry, thanks in part to popular collaborations and staying ahead of trends.
“I didn’t necessarily have goals of where I’d be in 10 years,” Sadoughi said about celebrating her brand’s anniversary. “Did I ever dream it would be this? Not really — like it’s surpassed all of my expectations. We’re so fortunate to have a profitable business and be able to do it on our terms with no investors and really grow at a pace that works for us.”
Sadoughi’s line looked quite different when she launched, versus the multicategory business she’s running currently. The designer, who designed accessories at Tory Burch and J. Crew before launching her namesake label, first launched the brand offering jewelry, which still makes up a large portion of her sales. During the last decade, she’s slowly expanded into other accessories, including sunglasses, hair clips, hats, and most notably, headbands — with hundreds of versions.
“The key to growing [a business] is continuing to be innovative and continuing to evolve,” she said. “Have there been other people making headbands? Have there been other people doing flower earrings like mine? There might be, but when you have an opportunity to keep expanding and doing different things, you kind of don’t know what is going to resonate. When I first started headbands, I never thought that it would be as big as jewelry or bigger.”
While headbands are among the brand’s bestsellers, Sadoughi didn’t introduce the category until 2018. She said the category expansion came just before Prada’s spring 2019 ready-to-wear collection that debuted its puffy headbands, which caused a spike in interest in the hair accessory.
Sadoughi doesn’t consider headbands her hero product, as she first launched and still offers jewelry, however, the accessory became an important category for her during the pandemic when headbands became a popular quarantine fashion trend.
“Pre-pandemic, I was probably split between jewelry and headbands [as the brand’s hero product] and then during the pandemic, headbands were kind of a lifesaver,” she said. “Like with your Zoom call, you can throw it on and you look a bit polished.”
Sadoughi used the headbands’ popularity at the beginning of the pandemic as a way to connect with her customers during quarantine. Each week, Sadoughi would host Instagram Live happy hours where she would talk to customers and offer a headband at half price.
Quick pivoting early in the pandemic helped Sadoughi’s business survive at a time when many other brands were struggling. She quickly launched into cloth face mask production, and continued releasing collections that featured the same types of embellishments used on her headbands.
“If you had told me before that [face masks] would be a big part of the business, I never would have believed you,” Sadoughi said. “I think it’s unprecedented to have such a category dominate and then disappear like masks. It’s still something that we’re selling, but it’s nowhere near the levels of where it was.”
Just a few months into the pandemic, Sadoughi had sold roughly 500,000 face masks, which led to the brand growing by 50 percent, with online sales growing by 150 percent in 2020. Sadoughi said the face masks also served as an entry point for customers who would then purchase from other categories. The increase in revenue has sustained two years into the pandemic, with the brand expecting revenue to be up 50 percent versus 2019, according to the brand.
Retail is Sadoughi’s latest focus. Last year, she opened her first retail outpost in Dallas, her hometown, in the Highland Park Village luxury shopping strip. This May, she opened another retail store in Newport Beach, California, and next month, she will be opening her first New York City store on Bleecker Street.
Lele Sadoughi is already carried at retailers like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Shopbop and others, but the designer wanted to have her own stand-alone stores to present her offerings more cohesively.
“It’s an opportunity to see the collection as a whole,” she said. “As an accessories company, you’re specifically challenged because, for instance, with Neiman Marcus, I might have to work with seven different buyers. There’s a headband person, handbag person, scarf person and a jewelry person. Although we sell all of those categories, they don’t live together because the real estate is perhaps in a different section. So, it’s just rewarding to see all the categories together as it has been inside my head.”
Sadoughi’s goal is to open about two dozen stores in the next two years, she said.
In addition to retail, Sadoughi is still continuing the brand’s collaborations with other companies. She recently teamed with Roller Rabbit on a collection of headbands, jewelry, makeup pouches and pajamas, and is partnering with Barbie on an upcoming collaboration.
“It’s an exciting thing for me to go inside the DNA of another brand and see how you can maintain your own DNA and do something collaborative together,” Sadoughi said. “It’s such a fun, creative process.”
Sadoughi has no plans to slow down operations after celebrating the brand’s 10-year anniversary. She has plans to expand the brand’s hat and handbags collections and enter the home category in the near future.
PHOTOS: Street Style Headbands and Barrettes