By William Smith
After a year-and-a-half at Western Illinois University, Sarah Hall was disappointed.
She was not receiving the education in dress design she had hoped for. So she left and began teaching herself.
"I figured it out on my own. It was difficult at times,” she said, recounting an early job where she accidentally cut a dress several inches too short. “But I learned from my mistakes.”
Hall began dreaming of opening her own dress shop in middle school, encouraged in the craft by a friendly home economics teacher.
She continued to make dresses in high school, including the one she wore to the homecoming dance sophomore year. She even made her future husband’s tie.
A few years later, Hall transformed her home into a business-front — Sarah Hall Unique Designs. This was a step toward a long-held dream, but not nearly enough to support two children.
“I was working at Starbucks when COVID hit,” she said.
Like other restaurant employees, Hall was affected by state-mandated closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Soon after, she began making face masks — hundreds of them. Her name was trending locally on Facebook, the synergy of popularity and opportunity cresting when retail space at 400 Jefferson St. became available in October 2020.
Every corner of the shop is filled with dresses — many of her own designs.
"It’s definitely a big difference, not being in the house anymore. It’s so much less stressful because, in the house, I have two children. And they throw toys everywhere,” she said with a laugh.
Guns and Wedding Dresses
Hall’s first big test was a personal one — making her own wedding dress. That was in 2012, and it went so well she added a bridal boutique to the business. Even during a pandemic peppered with economic chaos, love flowers.
Most future brides want a wedding dress. Many, however, are not keen on the expensive ceremony that usually goes with it.
“I’ve mostly been seeing people who go off to Colorado and elope,” Hall said. “It’s more personal. A lot of times, at a bigger wedding, the day isn’t about the bride.”
Besides using her nimble hands for sewing, Hall practices her trigger finger on the firing range.
“I like to shoot guns,” she said.
It’s a hobby picked up from her two years as a Burlington Police Reserve Officer from 2016 to 2018. A reserve officer does everything a full-time officer does, including dealing with high-tension situations.
Hall thrived on that tension and may go back to the department after her 1- and 6-year-old children get older. By then, there should be a couple of employees around to deal with the rising demand for wedding dresses.
“It was a great experience. I did love being in law enforcement. It was something different every day, and it was exciting,” she said.
An Accidental Role Model
Wherever her outside interests and careers, the dress shop will be a constant in her life. She is proud to be a black business owner in Burlington.
“There’s definitely a lack of black-owned businesses,” she said. “For children, it’s hard to relate when there are not that many black people in a power position.”
Like most role models, Hall never sought recognition and is too busy to contemplate it. Hall knows no way but forward. And she is creating a path that others may be tempted to follow.
“I got 14 calls for orders on Monday, and I just kept texting my husband, ‘Another one. Another one,’ ” Hall said, her voice filled with deserved satisfaction.
Photo by William Smith