““When we get creative work, it’s soul lifting.””Sarah TimberlakeCEO
“In my first life, I was a dancer.”
Sarah Timberlake started her career as a dancer in a small arts community in Florida. As both a dancer and the dance company’s resident costume designer, she was very familiar with creating and wearing costumes, and even taught a class called “Costuming for Dancers” at Brenau University. She eventually decided to shift her career away from dancing and towards costume creation, supporting herself through several sewing-related jobs, and working on custom clothing manufacturing and alterations.
It’s in 1986 that she made her way to New York City, where she began to work for Betty Williams, a theatrical costumer and garment researcher. Sarah quickly became Betty’s protégée and worked under her guidance for about a decade at Studio. When Betty passed away, Sarah decided to continue her legacy; In 1996, she became the owner of Studio, and renamed the business Timberlake Studios.
At the time, there were about thirty costume shops in the garment district, congregated around Broadway theaters. While many of these shops have now shut down their operations, costume manufacturing still remains essential in the Garment District, as actors cannot travel far for fittings while rehearsing for shows. Timberlake Studios’ current location – in the heart of the Garment District – plays a very important role in its operations.
“Giving people jobs is immensely satisfying.”
Like so many other Garment District manufacturers, Timberlake Studios has had highs and lows over the years, yet it has always focused on keeping its staff employed, and providing a pleasant work environment. Working together, as a business, is what Sarah loves most. She values having a close-knit team, where everyone feels supported and busy — this is one of the reasons why she has not more aggressively expanded her business.
Many businesses were unable to overcome the deep challenges that came with the 2008 financial crisis, but Sarah and her team pushed forward, staying loyal to each other. During that time, there was a shift in the way many theatres and shows were designing and sourcing their costumes. Theaters went from period pieces to contemporary spins on older classics. As such, they no longer needed one of a kind costumes, and many started purchasing their costumes online. Timberlake Studios learned to embrace this challenge and worked through it, citing surviving 2008 as one of their significant achievements.
Yet to date, COVID-19 has proven to be an even bigger challenge. During the shutdown, Sarah’s team started producing and donating Personal Protective Equipment. This kept her team busy given that all shows were put on hold. Pre-COVID, Sarah and her team were working on a Colorado Nutcracker Ballet and thankfully, this work has continued. The ballet company decided to move forward with the costumes, despite delaying their show until 2021. During the pandemic months, Timberlake Studios has also been working on home decorations, creating curtains and upholstery. The team is hoping to receive some orders from the TV & Film industries, which have recently become more active again.
“When we get creative work, it’s soul lifting.”
Timberlake Studios loves to work with all its clients, small or large, with the goal of always developing long-term, repeat costume clients. The shop’s first repeat customer was American Girl Doll; the team was asked to make the clothing for the dolls in the NYC, Chicago, and LA flagship stores. American Girl Doll kept growing and adding new dolls and storylines to their brands, which resulted in more work for Timberlake Studios. Today, Sarah’s repeat customers include Broadway shows such as The Lion King and Book of Mormon, as well as the renowned Martha Graham Dance Company.
While some projects may be more challenging than others, Sarah and her team enjoy stepping outside of their comfort zone. Sarah especially loves dance work. Over the years, thanks to both Betty Williams’ patternmaking expertise and Sarah’s own dancewear mastery, Timberlake Studios has received large orders for many dance shows, plays, and musicals, such as Cinderella on Broadway, STREB Extreme Action Company, Kansas City Ballet Nutcracker, The Producers, and more. While many of the projects just mentioned are large, Sarah enjoys working with young designers just as much, helping them through the process of landing their first big break. Decades later, Timberlake Studios remains passionate about each and every job the company takes on.
“There will always be the need for creative decision making.”
Sarah wants to keep growing the business and eventually step away, handing it off to her team for its next phase. One goal she aspires to achieve before this though, is acquiring a large group of costume clothing, which Timberlake Studios could use to develop a costume rental service. Sarah also believes that this would help to keep her employees even busier.
When asked about the future of the industry, Sarah believes that it will involve significantly more technology and machines. This does not mean that people will play a lesser part, but rather that humans and machines will collaborate to achieve more. There will always be a need for handcrafted clothes and accessories, machine operators, beaders, and drapers, and especially creative decision making.
When Timberlake Studios moved into the Garment District, it had to cut its space in half. When business picks up again, Sarah would love to eventually move into a larger space and hire more creators at higher wages. Experienced pattern makers and drapers are hard to come by, and higher wages would allow Sarah to attract the right candidates. As one of the only costume shops that also provides costume alterations, Timberlake Studios must remain extremely selective in its hiring needs, so as to maintain its impeccable reputation around quality and reliability.