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Caftan Calling

Caftan Calling

Meet the Buckhead fashion designer transfixed by textiles.

Sarah Lawler, founder of Tela Luxury Mercantile, found a creative outlet in making caftans.

Like many people, Garden Hills resident Sarah Lawler found herself with idle hands during 2020’s COVID-19 lockdowns. A self-described lifelong creative, Lawler craved an outlet. “I wanted to bring brightness to a dark situation and really was drawn to design,” she says. After her husband gifted her a sewing machine, Lawler began sewing punchy-hued, sequin and lace covered caftans, and launched her company, Tela Luxury Mercantile, a little more than a year later.

Lawler grew up in Brookwood Hills surrounded by creative entrepreneurs. Her dad is in residential construction while her mom is a successful attorney and writer. She recalls being drawn to fashion at a young age. “I’ve always expressed myself through my style. I remember begging my parents for a pair of crushed velvet bell bottoms, and my parents’ phone ringing off the hook the day after I wore them to school,” she says. During high school, Lawler launched two fashion lines and eventually graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in apparel and textile design.

The road to becoming a designer was not without a few speed bumps. Akin to other wide-eyed fashion industry hopefuls, Lawler set her sights on a stint in New York, but she was injured in a boating accident just after college graduation that halted those plans and kept her closer to home in Atlanta. While that could have derailed Lawler completely, it instead rerouted her course and changed her idea of what fashion could be. “After the accident, I gained a lot of weight, and it was upsetting because it became harder to dress myself. Eventually, I started gravitating towards dresses, and particularly caftans, which are a one-stop style shop,” she says. “Just add fabulous accessories and go.”

Post recovery, Lawler stayed in Atlanta to work for Spanx before leaving the fashion world to be a business consultant. Her fascination with fashion, and fabric specifically, remained at the forefront of her mind, thanks in large part to travel. “I found a lot of inspiration during two trips to Africa. I went to local markets and was drawn to the colorful textiles that were being sold and worn. Fast-forward a few years later, my husband and I went to Morocco for our honeymoon, and again the textiles everywhere were so inspiring.” Feeling motivated, she got to work developing her own pattern.

“The thought of designing a simple silhouette that focused on the fabric is what directed me to caftans. I let the fabric speak for itself,” says Lawler.

Despite a Tela caftan being a simple silhouette, it required many iterations to get to where it is today. “I wanted it to look just as good on a size zero as it does on a size 20. It’s important to me that my designs be size-inclusive so you always look and feel good, no matter what.”

As for her love for textiles, Lawler hopes to one day design her own fabrics for her caftan line, but for now, she’s enjoying the thrill of the hunt. “I have vendors in Nigeria, and I love using their fabrics. It’s amazing to support these small artisans on another continent.” Available online, caftan prices start at $155.


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