We had the good fortune of connecting with Saul Sugarman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Saul, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I hated my job so much that I started drinking a lot. I made a lot of friends quickly, and soon bars noticed, asking me to bring groups into their venues. So we struck a deal, and I needed more apparel to be seen in. I became known for bright, flashy, sparkly outfits with lots of sequins. A venue offered to throw my birthday party one year, and I wanted to go as a disco ball. Not being able to find a disco helmet, I found a DIY tutorial on Instructables for making one. My friend suggested I opened an Etsy, and “Sparkles by Saul” was born. I took out a Facebook ad on a whim, and soon after, the costume people for Miley Cyrus bought one of the helmets. She wore it 6 months on tour. That was the beginning of my notoriety: people began asking me to make them things I was making for myself.
So it was less a thought process and more a sort of luck combined with a need to feel seen, and an unending amount of creative energy that I wanted to put somewhere. I also come from a family of entrepreneurs, so of course that factored, too.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a full-time freelancer in writing, apparel design, and marketing. My background is in journalism, and I’ve covered so many parts of that industry: my first paid gig was as a sports writer for a Placerville newspaper. I also spent time at Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News in Hong Kong. And in San Francisco, I covered local news, then legal affairs, and most recently, I had a “Sex and the City”-esque nightlife column for the San Francisco Examiner. I just finished covering a couple proceedings in the Elizabeth Holmes case for Daily Beast.
My real art tends to come from life experience that I eventually must monetize to continue paying rent. I stumbled into an apparel business after an extended time buying sparkly things and being an attention whore. I wanted more custom pieces that either cost too much or, more often, didn’t exist yet. So I learned to sew and construct and glue from blog tutorials and YouTube. At first, I thought I knew nothing about fashion. But the more I made, the more I realized I had been paying attention all the time to silhouettes, fit, materials, and the general impact of a garment. I also have never been “straight passing” both in mannerisms and appearance, and in that way, I began designing apparel as statement pieces that emphasized queerness. This is very trendy now, I think, but it certainly wasn’t always.
My third business prong, “marketing,” manifested mostly as event production for about five years. This, too, was born out of a need to be seen and loved. Honestly, I think a pseudo-domestic housewife that loves throwing dinner parties lives inside me, so throwing things like gay gaming nights and underwear parties were, in ways, very elaborate dinner parties. I loved the challenge of handling the entire project, from securing the venue, hiring the staff, setting a theme through decorations and music, taking photography, to working onsite and making people feel included, seen, loved. The whole business kept me really distracted for a long time, in the best way.
Was any of this easy? No. Journalism especially is an industry filled with people who care mostly about their own jobs, their stories, and their opportunities to advance position. It is extremely seldom to find a mentor or a helping hand, and it has almost uniformly been underpaid. I overcame challenges in it because I had to: It was my first dream career and I was determined to not fail out. But I probably would not have survived were it not also with the assistance from a wealthy family when I fell on my face. That last bit I’m sure loses me some kudos, but I also mean it as a warning to anyone pursuing these industries because they are absurdly underpaid, and I don’t know how anyone survives in them without the help of several supporters.
Apparel and events are likewise about as difficult, but there are more friends there. The biggest crummy part of freelancing is no job security: jobs begin as quickly as they end, and you’re expected to remain calm and happy about it and just move on. Like I said, I’ve been lucky both in the amount of support people have paid, but also support when I stumble from other community members and family. It’s all a tough, tough grind.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Good gosh, a tour of San Francisco, okay: I’d definitely check out the Holy Rollers Church of 8 Wheels, both the one at 554 Fillmore St. and its outdoor community skate park at 6th Avenue and Kennedy Drive. Pier 39 with its sea lions and carousel are a must, as is down the street at the Exploratorium, and be sure to check out the tactile dome within. Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Take a drive up the street to the world’s most beautiful Taco Bell in Pacifica. Spend some time in the gay venues, including Aunt Charlie’s, Twin Peaks Tavern, The Detour, Oasis, and The Mix. My food recommendations are pretty off book since the pandemic took some of my favorite places, but I like Cafe Reverie in Cole Valley and Outerlands in the Outer Sunset. You can’t go wrong with other little road trips: Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga and Hog Island Oyster Co. in Tomales Bay. I’d hang out in Dolores Park and equally in the Botanical Gardens, Japanese Tea Garden, and amphitheater area between the California Academy of Sciences and de Young Museum.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The San Francisco LGBTQ+ community is where I discovered my voice and where it was encouraged to grow and feel validated. Jeff Arbildo took an early chance on me by making me a business partner in his Gaymer Night events. Drag queen D’Arcy Drollinger and her Sexitude dance classes played a significant influence awakening my love of bright, outspoken apparel. I am thankful for many friends who helped me by gluing mirrors to helmets and shared my name with their friends, and to faculty and classmates in the fashion department at City College of San Francisco that brought my expertise and manufacture resources to even greater heights in recent years.