From Art Major to Business Owner
Laura Roberts ’07, the owner and founder of The Pink Phoenix, a sewing and alteration company, has always been drawn to visual expression and the arts. As a child, she would collect scraps of fabric while her family worked on sewing projects, and when Roberts reached high school, fashion became a means of personal expression.
“I experimented with alternative fashion to the degree of what my high school assistant principal told me was ‘a distraction,’” she said.
So how did a distraction become a college degree and soon a small business? Through the encouragement of teachers, mentors, and a support system in the Lebanon Valley Educational Partnership, combined with her drive for success.
Established in 1989, the Lebanon Valley Educational Partnership (LVEP) encourages students in the Lebanon School District to commit to their studies and see college as the next step after graduation. The partnership pairs Lebanon High School students who have outstanding academic performance but may have hurdles keeping them from attending college, with current LVC students who serve as their mentor throughout high school. If the student maintains good academic standing and enrolls in college preparatory classes, they will qualify for a tuition scholarship at The Valley.
“It's hard to find the words to express the gratitude to the people who financially, and otherwise, support the LVEP program. The gift of higher education is, alone, incredible. But that gift was packaged with a support network that surrounded me starting in middle school, carried me through the day of my college graduation, and continues today, thanks to Jen and Karl Liedtka,” said Roberts.
Through her studies as an art & art history major (now creative arts) at LVC, Roberts developed personally and creatively, noting how the smaller classes allowed her to connect with her professors, who she said would tailor classes to help her explore her developing interests in textiles.
“I felt lucky to be so intellectually nurtured, which might not happen as powerfully in a larger class setting,” she said.
Though she studied art with no intention of opening her own business, Roberts said LVC prepared her for exactly that.
“I’ve always believed that if you’re passionate enough about something, the money will follow, so I focused on learning as much as I could about art. In my art education, I learned to be an active part of my community, speak to large groups of people without paralyzing fear, be an educated woman in the world, and know my value as an artist. Because of those skills, I had important job experiences in my field, which have ultimately honed my craft, shaped my values and business sense, and led me to where I am now,” she said.
After graduation, Roberts jumped into a job designing costumes in the wardrobe department at the American Music Theater, before freelancing for other live events and theaters, as well as high-end stores. Later in her career, Roberts even did work for Cirque du Soleil.
“One of my favorite accomplishments was designing fabric seed pods for the set of the Cirque du Soliel show Toruk. The prototype is hanging up in my sewing studio, and people often ask, ‘WHAT is THAT?’”
Through The Pink Phoenix, Roberts combines her education and experiences with her flair for design to repair and create unique items. She performs alterations, custom designs, embellishments, and upholstery to preserve the longevity of items that otherwise might be thrown out or wasted.
“In middle school and high school, I would have absolutely believed that I would be doing what I’m doing today. I think it’s more as an adult, considering life’s more practical matters, that I find that I’m amazed at where I’ve gotten by doing what I love. And, I’m just getting started!”
-- Darby Seymour, Marketing & Communications Student Assistant