The perfect pair of pants are hard to come by. This is something Deb Polanco, founder of West Coast-based label Sanctuary, knows all too well. When Polanco launched her label in 1997, in just 12 stores, it was all about the pants. Since then Sanctuary has branched out into easy tees, dresses, and separates, and is now in 800 specialty stores. You read that right: from 12 to 800. Plus the brand just launched e-commerce so you can get that California look without having to leave your New York City couch.
Find out how Deb Polanco is "making it" in fashion, and how she makes those great fitting pants, too.
Fashionista: What was the inspiration behind starting your own brand? Deb Polanco: We wanted to create a “Sanctuary.” A fun place to come to work and a company that gives back, all while making a great fitting pant that you could live in.
Why did you start out making pants? Pants are an obvious staple in all our closets. I’ve always been a pant girl, collecting vintage pairs for years and getting them tailored. So, the idea was to create that perfect quintessential pair. The pair that once you find it, you end up wearing with everything.
What's the secret -- if you can divulge -- of perfect pants!? Perfect pants, you can tell the minute you slide them on. They fit like a glove, enhance your booty with no extra fabric and yet are still comfortable. This has taken years of continuous work and we have achieved it because I'm a stickler. I’ve always loved pants and wear them constantly!
Why do you identify the brand with the 'Gypsetter' look? Why does that appeal to you? I identify the Sanctuary look as Gypsetter because that reflects my lifestyle. I find myself traveling between LA, New York, Paris, China, and London regularly, as well as making the occasion voyage to places like Morocco or maybe even the desert, gathering inspiration, vintage pieces, fabrics and samples along the way. All of these elements eventually become part of the ultimate look of each season.
Why did you decide that it was time for Sanctuary to break out into different categories? The success with pant making was a great platform to evolve into a full lifestyle brand. It was a natural progression and with it we have stayed true to continuing to provide great product at a great price.
Did you have any previous design experience? I’ve been designing since I was in school. I used to make halter tops and then sell them to my girlfriends after class, so I guess you could say majority of my life has been gaining design experience. Although, I formalized my degree at FIDM here in L.A. and have been designing ever since.
What inspires your designs? All you have to do is walk out your door everyday, inspiration is all around. I love walking and seeing the fashion on the streets and of course vintage shopping and traveling.
Who is your dream customer, living, dead, or imaginary? Oh let’s do all three. Living, Kate Moss. Her style is so effortless and I would love to see her remix on Sanctuary. Dead, hands down it’s Madame Coco Chanel. She’s forever an inspiration, and she would have loved our trousers! Imaginary? Hmm...Zoe Saldana’s character, Neytiri, in Avatar. Gorgeous. We could make her character liquid pants.
What’s a typical workday like for you? A lot of clothes, a lot of colors, a lot of meetings and a lot of decisions, then the day ends with my family and I love it. ... My daily work consists specifically of morning design with a team of three designers, three assistants, and three technical designers all sharing new inspiration. This is followed by daily fit sessions with the technical team and fit models, as we perfect the Sanctuary signature fit. I usually have lunch at my desk, as I go through emails, blogs, shoppings sites, and WGSN. Next, it’s onto scheduled meetings in the afternoon with management, sales, and fabric vendors.
What’s the biggest challenge that you’ve faced? Mastering the process of making a great fitting pant! We’ve accomplished it.
What’s the biggest risk that you’ve taken business-wise? The biggest risk is the first decision to go for it on your own.
Was there a factor that pushed you over the edge to go for it and start your own business? Having an entrepreneur husband certainly helped with the push.
What’s the most fulfilling part of your job? Seeing the clothes on women on the streets! I love it! A Sanctuary sighting!
When did you feel that you had "made it" in fashion? When I was able to have a team instead of a one man show, and my cards read Creative Director :)
What do you see in store for your brand in the future? Intimates, Bags, Belts, and Shoes! Can’t wait!