Pearl R. Sterling had her lifelong professional passion sewn up from the very beginning. She was first influenced by beautiful surroundings in the Caribbean island nation of Jamaica, where she was born and learned the art of fabric cutting and dressmaking. Later, she attended a specialty school owned by Hilda Morris, a woman from California who would become Ms. Sterling’s mentor, teaching her everything she knew at that point, including embroidery, beading, and more. By the time Ms. Sterling moved to the U.S., she was able to easily apply her advanced skills in multiple areas of the dressmaking industry.
As Ms. Sterling approaches her ninth decade of life in a few years, she proudly reflects on the trail she blazed working 44 years for McCall’s, Vogue & Butterick as the manager of the dressmaking department, retiring in 2012 at age 75. Her responsibilities were to expertly create gorgeous garments for 16 dressmakers and complete the task in time for McCall’s, Vogue, and Butterick’s release by the first day of every month, a deadline she never missed while always putting forth her best effort. A rare person of color joining the company at the time, Ms. Sterling demonstrated hard work and dedication and treated the business as if it were her own. This commitment kept her motivated and earned her the trust of her peers and recognition from society at large, including being previously featured in Marquis Who’s Who in America.
Throughout her career, Ms. Sterling traveled extensively and had the opportunity to meet and work with numerous celebrities. Achieving great success through her work has allowed the mother of two children to leave a legacy to be cherished by her four grandchildren as well as her great-grandchildren and the entire family. Looking back, Ms. Sterling says she never could have imagined achieving so much in her lifetime. The most rewarding feeling during her time at McCall’s, Vogue and Butterick was being an inspiration and imparting her knowledge to younger dressmakers, including the notable Ina Andrews.
Ms. Sterling believes her success is the result of her love for her craft in addition to her unmatched industry skills. For example, she knows how to use freehand techniques by simply looking at a picture instead of using or relying on patterns to create her garment, an invaluable ability she developed in Jamaica where, she says, it was a common and necessary practice – and now makes her nostalgic about “the old days.” Thus, during her career, she was always a designer, pattern maker, and dressmaker, who took great satisfaction in seeing her work come to life from beginning to end.
Ms. Sterling’s passion and prowess for creating beautiful dresses have stood the test of time through changing fashion eras and trends. She made a wedding dress for her youngest daughter’s friend more than 35 years ago, and recently, the friend contacted Ms. Sterling to repair the same dress so that the friend’s daughter could now wear it on her wedding day. Thanks to Ms. Sterling’s stellar craftsmanship, the dress is still immaculate enough to adorn a new generation.
Today, even though she is professionally retired, Ms. Sterling is still doing what she loves personally as a designer and more. One of her daughters has followed in her fashion footsteps, while her other daughter works in finance. In the coming years, Ms. Sterling will continue to advise and encourage young people to pursue meaningful careers that they love and that will benefit their lives, just as her long career at McCall’s, Vogue & Butterick did for her, bringing “immense happiness.” She also hopes to pass on her knowledge and skills to a professional peer who can share them with the next generation, hence, the reason she stays active in her craft.