Sarah Edwards is rarely late. This much I’ve gathered from the few times I’ve met the hyper-organized entrepreneur at local runway shows. But when she is, it is fashionably so. She slides into Un Dito, the Piazza-style bar attached to Italian Eatery, at a quarter past 5 p.m., her chic blonde bob peeking out from beneath a sun hat and a pair of dark shades commanding her face. Edwards, who once described fashion as a “theatrical form of escapism,” has donned a breezy off-the-shoulder sun dress that flows behind her in a casually glamorous manner. It’s no wonder we are meeting today to discuss Edwards as the subject of the magazine’s annual fall fashion shoot.
A few heads turn upon Edwards’ arrival, either because her effortless style and shock of white-blonde hair (it was pink the last time I saw her) are hard to ignore or because they feel they know her from somewhere—and they probably do. Edwards’ face is a recognizable one in the area, regardless of which hair color she is sporting that season. If the Minneapolis fashion scene were a kingdom, she might be its queen. And one who has built her kingdom the hard way—brick by brick, with the kind of perseverance it takes to create three successful businesses.
Raised in the northern Minnesota town of Grand Rapids, about three hours from the Cities, Edwards was a relative outsider when she first made her way to Minneapolis in her early 20s. Back then doubling as a full-time receptionist at Pixel Farm and as a waitress at Glueck’s, she didn’t necessarily have any crazy dreams. “With a 401k and health insurance” was about as successful as she dared to imagine herself. But she did possess a deep longing for culture—to be around artists and creatives and marvel at the weird and interesting ways they see the world.
Despite having little money, Edwards began tossing around the idea of hosting events that would bring all of these fascinating people together. With a loan from her mom of about $250, she barely pulled off the solo organization of her first fashion show in 2010, titled “I Am MPLS.” Edwards may not have had resources on her side, but she did have people. Her idea of making the fashion scene more approachable by replacing runway models with the fascinating creatives she had come to know turned out to be what the city was craving. She waited anxiously the night the doors opened at Fine Line, wondering if anyone would show up to an event put on by a “nobody waitress-receptionist.”
The event sold out.
Flash forward to today, and Edwards is CEO of three style and branding organizations in the Twin Cities: Fashion Week Minnesota, the state’s biannual showcase for local designers; the creative marketing agency Some Great People; and her personal brand, I Am Sarah Edwards. Edwards has become not just an entrepreneur but a true community connector, the kind of person known for knowing everyone.
This much I knew of Sarah Edwards before we sat down to chat. I knew she was an influencer and an entrepreneur. I knew she was a well-regarded local celebrity. I knew how the community saw her. But I didn’t know how Sarah Edwards saw herself.
When I raise this question, her answer is strikingly simple: “I am an artist.”
She tells me that she used to say this with a shaky and unsure voice, but she says it today with finality. She is learning how to be unapologetic—one of the many lessons born out of the tumultuous past year of her life.
Last year, Edwards finally started to run out of steam. Two of her businesses began growing faster than she could keep up with or afford. She knew she needed help. But Edwards was busy doing her own helping. Her habit of saying “yes” to everything had her stuck in an incessantly draining cycle of people-pleasing. The more she said “yes,” the more people asked, and the more she felt inclined to follow through. The adage is you can’t pour from an empty cup, but Edwards had been doing it for years. It was almost second nature.
“It felt like I was on this train I had built for myself,” she says, “and the train just kept going faster and faster, until eventually I didn’t have control of it anymore. All I wanted was a break.” But if she didn’t show up, the train would stop moving, and she would lose everything she had worked for.
On top of feeling her professional life spiral out of control, Edwards was also amid personal turmoil—a fresh divorce from her husband of a little over a year. The pair had been together for over seven years. Little time was afforded for her to mourn privately, as she continued aboard her entrepreneurial train, taking phone calls with caterers and booking out venues even as her personal life unraveled. Through social media, it may have looked like she was living the high life–attending runway shows in her glamorous ensembles—but in reality, Edwards was deeply lacking one of the only things she ever truly craved: stability.
If you saw her out and about during this past year, you likely had no idea that she was at one of the lowest points of her life. Hair stylist and long-time friend Katie Giles never fails to be amazed by this positive demeanor. “She is always so calm and collected,” she says. “You will never be able to tell if she’s stressed. She puts a smile on her face no matter what.” Edwards tells me that when she hosts events, she knows people are reading her energy. As a byproduct, she has mastered the art of the spirited hostess. But what does this performance cost?
Eventually, she started to feel a bit like a robot. Showing up places without really being there. Performing tasks with little fulfillment or inspiration. Playing the part even on her worst days, because she felt she had no other option. Although it was the identity that mattered to her most, she felt a thousand worlds away from being an artist.
There was one bright spot, however, in this dark and difficult year. It was at an event she put on called “Sonder,” which brought 800 creatives together in the dead of Minnesota winter to celebrate art. For one night, at the Chambers Hotel in Minneapolis, artists of many mediums showcased their talents. Ballerinas elegantly balanced cocktail trays en pointe. Opera singers bellowed from the intimacy of a ballroom. Painters, including Edwards herself, displayed their talents across the walls.
Edwards had learned the term “sonder” from John Koenig’s “Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows.” The book about hard-to-define emotions describes the word as “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.” She felt sonder at full force that night among a crowd that contained both multi-millionaires and broke millennials, CEOs in business suits and aspiring designers in hand-stitched ensembles. Each person was strikingly different yet tied together by a common appreciation for the art before them. That night, Edwards realized that this was what she needed most in her life: more sonder.
As she explains this to me, she points to our waiter, who was slipping into the kitchen, having just dropped off our food. “Even him,” she says. “I can’t help but think about whatever complex life he is living outside of this job.” I smile as I watch him serve the next table and realize that I, too, am going to start seeing sonder everywhere I go. “Humans are so multifaceted,” she continues, “but we have a tendency to put them into little boxes. ‘Sonder’ is just about seeing each other as our complicated and imperfect selves.”
With sonder at the epicenter, Edwards began reimagining her business ventures. She wondered what it might look like to bring more people aboard the coursing train with her. To have a means of support for her three businesses, other than her own blood, sweat, and tears.
She started talking to investors, something she had little knowledge of prior. She met and connected with her own mentors, intelligent and inspiring women who poured into her woefully empty cup. She finally began, against her nature, to welcome the idea of asking for help. And it turned out lots of people were willing to provide it.
A woman named Stephanie Dillon entered her life at seemingly the perfect time. Dillon, an artist and a current culture writer for Rolling Stone, is a well-established creative in her own right, and began offering Edwards the kind of “big sister” mentorship she had felt deficient of.
“There is no one I have more confidence or faith in” Dillon says of Edwards, “she is a great example to all of us of the resilience of the human spirit. How to continually get up and make an impact.”
Dillon, a businesswoman and investor herself, guided Edwards gracefully into her next chapter when she introduced her to Tracy Call, founder and CEO of Media Bridge, the second largest ad agency in Minnesota. “Tracy is an innovator,” says Dillon, “and Sarah is innovative.” It was a natural fit from the start.
Media Bridge is now set to form an official partnership with all three of Edwards’ entrepreneurial entities, which she has united under one umbrella, titled Haus of Sonder. In partnership with Call, Edwards will maintain her equity and act as president, with an office in Media Bridge’s North Loop location. Instead of having to be everything all at once, she will have a team of her own. She will have the time and capacity to be creative again, to finally execute visions she has put on the back burner for years.
“It is going to be a game-changing, revolutionary approach to community-building,” says Call, who has been blown away by Edwards’ trailblazing spirit. “We are just the machine providing support, Sarah is the true visionary.”
As Edwards tells me this news, she is two days away from signing the papers that will finalize the arrangement. Something in her voice makes it clear she’s not quite daring to believe it yet.
“I was cry-laughing on the phone with my mom the other day when I told her,” she says. “It just feels too good to be true.” Still, she feels she has only just begun. Under Haus of Sonder, she imagines taking things to new heights. She says—again, unapologetically—that she envisions it as “one of the largest communities in the world for creatives to connect.”
But, coexisting with this fiery ambition, her next chapter will also be about freedom and restoration—about relinquishing people-pleasing tendencies, something Edwards is still working hard to unlearn, and cultivating authenticity in all aspects of her life. Edwards may not know exactly what the future holds, but for now, she can breathe. She can paint and walk her dogs and spend time with her real friends. She can do the things that make her not an entrepreneur, or an influencer, or a mentor, but just Sarah.
A few weeks later, when I attend the fashion shoot (seen above), I watch Edwards pose for photos in a floor-length dress of her own design, bearing a resplendent pattern that is none other than her own painting. I am reminded of the pride she exuded when she told me she is an artist, and how it seemed like one of the first times she was saying it with conviction. As I watched her wear her art that day, I could tell that I was seeing a new Sarah Edwards. One who wasn’t defined by her work or her public image, but instead by her complex and vivid life behind the scenes—her sonder.
Her repetition of “I am” statements are what sparked nearly everything. The first community event she ever held: I Am MPLS. Her first brand and introduction to the creative scene of the Twin Cities: I am Sarah Edwards. “It’s like an invitation,” she says, “like extending out your hand to the world and saying, ‘This is who I am.’”
But she has learned, since then, that identity is never final. It is dynamic, duplicitous, and ever-changing. Her life could flip upside down again in three years, but she is not afraid of that anymore. She has learned to welcome redefinition. So, I suppose the only real answer to the question Who is Sarah Edwards? would be this: She is still evolving.