Laurentian Connections

Alexis Williams ’15

Sarah Baitsell Oliver '87, Sarah Oliver Handbags

What started out as a hobby for Sarah Baitsell Oliver ’87 turned into one of the biggest successes on ABC’s hit television show “Shark Tank” last December. 

The founder of sarah oliver handbags, Oliver sells women’s accessories knit by members of the Purlettes, a group of senior citizens from the Redwoods Senior Community in Mill Valley, California. “I began working with them because of the fond memories I have of knitting with my mom and grandmother,” she explains.

Many of Oliver’s friends suggested she look into “Shark Tank,” but at first she didn’t think the show was right for her company.  She changed her mind after being approached by one of the show’s producers and watching a few episodes. “I went from not knowing anything about the show to finding out every single detail about it and the sharks,” she recalls. 

For Oliver, entering the tank was an intense experience. “It was like taking a huge exam,” she explains. “There’s so much information that you’re prepared to talk about, and at the same time this huge emotional sense of responsibility to present yourself and your company in the best way possible. And you have only one chance.” 

That’s all she needed:  Oliver “reeled in” $250,000 and three sharks—Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec and Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’ Leary—to advise her. She had anticipated 500 orders but received more than double that, as well as countless emails and press requests—all during the holiday season. 

The night her segment aired, Oliver was with the Purlettes. “I knew the outcome, so I spent the evening watching them react,” she says. “They were so excited to be there and see their work pay off. There was electricity in the air that we all felt. It was a really proud moment for us.”

Entrepreneurs know that in order to be successful, they can’t be afraid to ask for help. Oliver is no different. “I’d love to get feedback from the St. Lawrence community and hear what expertise others have to offer,” she says. In return, she offers some advice to those Laurentians holding on to the next great idea: “Just move forward with it. There is never a perfect time.”