Designers / Industry

How I Got Here: Lele Sadoughi on Maximizing Opportunities for Growth


There’s one version of Lisa “Lele” Sadoughi that’s immediately recognizable: perfectly dressed, poised, and polished with a bejeweled accessory—or three—on her somewhere. She’s known as the “headband queen” for a reason.

The other version of Sadoughi is a practical old soul whose prowess in math, marketing, and business has built a wildly successful accessories company, also named Lele Sadoughi, that just opened its fourth retail location within two years. The Houston store opened in April in Sadoughi’s home state of Texas, and she plans to add as many as four stores per year going forward.

Her life has often been a balancing act, Sadoughi says. The girl who always wore a bow on her head that matched her clothing grew up to be a woman with an eye for products people love to wear, and the ability to analyze costs and determines value.

Lele Sadoughi
Lele Sadoughi says her style is unabashedly maximalist but always with a feminine touch—and it’s highly recognizable in her brand.

“I’ve always had a point of view. I’m not a trend follower. I know what I like, and I’ve known it since a young age,” Sadoughi says. “Our brand champions color and maximalism—that’s our DNA, and it spreads across every category.”

Sadoughi was born and raised in Dallas, the middle of three sisters—her older sibling was sporty, and the youngest was the family comedian, she says. Their parents supported Lele’s creativity: Her mother recognized her ability to draw and made sure she could take art classes, explore the arts, and feel free to be that kid who loved to dress up when everyone else was wearing sweatshirts and bike shorts.

At the University of Texas at Austin, Sadoughi majored in advertising but kept up her interest in fashion. She thrifted, went to weekend flea markets, searched eBay for the costume jewelry she adored. Her jewelry blossomed into a collection, and she enjoyed researching a piece’s provenance as much as wearing it.

“Advertising seemed practical; I was never forced into it,” Sadoughi says. “But I am practical about how I do things. I know what things should cost. I know how to get things done.… My best advice [for young designers] is to learn on someone else’s dime. Absorb everything—production, planning, copywriting.”

Lele demi fine earrings
Sadoughi’s latest demi-fine collection includes amethyst malachite deco earrings (second from left, $350), which show off her willingness to mix colors and shapes.

Her first job after college was at a small fashion brand in Los Angeles. She later moved to New York, working at Rebecca Taylor as an associate trim designer and then at Ippolita as an associate jewelry designer, creating pieces for accounts including Banana Republic, Club Monaco, and Neiman Marcus. In 2005, Sadoughi joined J. Crew, where she started its jewelry selection and grew it into a $60 million department.

In 2012, Sadoughi made the decision to establish her own brand of jewelry and a wider range of accessories. Lele Sadoughi‘s categories now include its beloved headbands, belts, handbags, home goods, and more.

Sadoughi’s office today shows off her feminine style—her chair is hot pink, and her bookcases are filled with hundreds of headbands—and her desk is covered at all times with fabric, gemstones, and trim. Though she spends more time on the business side, Sadoughi pursues creative opportunities when she can, developing new product and designing her stores.

“I felt very prepared and had a lot of confidence. When you’ve done something long enough, you mitigate the risk of not knowing what you’re doing,” Sadoughi says. “But even with your own company, you have to be agile. I’m learning new things all the time.”

Top: Lisa “Lele” Sadoughi just opened her fourth retail store and plans to open dozens more in the coming years. (Photos courtesy of Lele Sadoughi) 

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Karen Dybis

By: Karen Dybis

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