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Salt of the Earth

We talk with gritty, hilarious people who run successful small businesses.
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Aug 2, 2016

Paula Varsalona has designed and made over 60,000 dresses during her long career in New York City. Originally from Independence, Missouri, Paula arrived in the 70's and started out living with 5 girls in a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side and finding work where she could. 

The bridal industry wasn't easy, and she was hired and fired a few times before venturing off on her own. In the 1980's, she opened her own shop with a partner and quickly lit up the NYC bridal scene. In an industry that was surprisingly male-dominated, she became one of the most popular designers in the country. "People threw money at me", she says, somewhat reminiscently. 

In this interview, I was struck by how demanding the design profession is. Paula is in her 60's now. She says she tries to get one day off per month. And design is literally the first step in a very long process to sell something. The outcome of a designers work is affected by so many other variables like seasonality, marketing, cheap imitations. And yet Paula gives the impression that the entire success of that dress is in her craftsmanship. Maybe it is. 

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