A head for business, a heart for giving

Generation Next


At 12, Sarah Lentz is designing a brighter future — for herself and others

Doug Finger
Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 3:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 3:56 p.m.

Many pre-teens are preoccupied with pop culture: the latest boy bands, fashion trends or celebrity gossip. Not 12-year-old Sarah Lentz. Sure, she's a fan of Taylor Swift, but music is mostly background noise when she's sewing dresses for her online clothing business, Designs By Jewel (www.designs-by-jewel.com).

Not only is she a budding entrepreneur, Sarah is also a philanthropist. A member of the Ladybug Club, a community service group at Fort Clarke Middle School, sixth-grader Sarah recently asked friends for a unique gift.

“For my birthday, I had two friends come over and instead of presents, I asked them to donate blankets,” Sarah explains. She received 14 blankets to donate. And, she's even recruited members of her Vision Volleyball Club of Gainesville team to donate blankets as well.

It turns out the Gainesville native has a penchant for giving back to the community. While her 7-year-old brother, Ian, is happy to donate used toys and sporting goods or provide a helping hand with projects, Sarah is usually the one who prompts him. She's also the one who jumped into action after her mom read about the need for blankets at St. Francis House.

“Sarah just has something about her that wants to reach out and help,” explains mother Laura Lentz, a freelance marketing professional.

Helping others is a high priority for the entire Lentz family. They attend Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, where Sarah serves as an acolyte, and they all pitch in with community service projects.

Prior to making and embroidering quilts for the homeless, Sarah learned how to sew first from her great grandmother Polly Norton, and then from her Millhopper Montessori assistant teacher, Susie Long.

“I used to sit on my grandmother’s lap and guide the fabric [through the machine],” Sarah recalls.

Along the way, she learned from other local sewing gurus like the professionals at A-1 Sewing and the “Crafty Gemini” herself, Vanessa Wilson. (Wilson is known for her “Crafty Gemini” brand of how-to sewing videos on YouTube.)

But it was Long who picked up on second-grader Sarah’s extraordinary sewing skills.

“With sewing, if kids have an aptitude for it, the fabric just slides right through. Sarah’s had it since the first time she started sewing … she just sat down, started sewing and never looked back,” Long says.

After consulting with Long, Sarah’s parents, Beau and Laura Lentz, bought her first sewing machine. According to Laura Lentz, Sarah’s knack for sewing outpaced her equipment, so as a gift for her ninth birthday, they bought the used Husqvarna Designer 1 sewing and embroidery machine that she uses today. But Sarah is already looking ahead: She wants the advanced Husqvarna Ruby.

“She’s saving up her money to buy a new machine, and she’s saved $900 already,” Laura Lentz says.

Much of that is from her business, Designs by Jewel, which sells pillowcase dresses for infants and children. Instead of using actual pillowcases (although that’s how the name came about), each dress is made with fabric and ribbons for dress straps. Sarah’s creations range in price from $25 to $30 each, depending on customization.

“I really like making pillowcase dresses,” says Sarah, who spends about an hour on each one. “It’s exciting when people customize their orders.”

Many of her orders come from the annual home show she participates in, which is hosted by family friend Garrett Bell. For the past two years, Designs by Jewel sold garments at the event; this year, Sarah came with a table and a garment rack filled with pre-made pillowcase dresses. She sold 21 dresses, which included several custom orders.

Of course, the young business owner enjoys taking a break from the sewing machine to spend time with friends and focus on her other passions.

“I really like cooking and volleyball,” says Sarah, who recently learned how to make a new dish, jambalaya, from her uncle, Greg Rinker.

Although she is passionate about her hobbies, Sarah is open to what the future holds. With a 4.0 GPA, the R.E.A.C.H. program (an advanced studies group for college-bound middle school students) member is excited about college and beyond.

“I’m not exactly sure yet but [fashion design] is definitely one of my goals,” Sarah says.

No matter what she decides, she will surely go far.

“To be honest, I think the sky is the limit for her,” Long says. “I told her in the third grade, ‘I’ll probably be working for you!’”

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