In the Face of Personal Challenge

Sandy Gradman’s The Studio: A Community Effort

by Susie Davidson —The Jewish Advocate
October 5-11, 2001

BROOKLINE — Sandy Gradman, a survivor of remarkable merit, began her equally indefatigable clothing store twenty-two years ago with two friends (one her twin). Her story is heartwarming and uplifting, a tale of extraordinary community independent of the economy or the times.

“It was our dream to open a store that sold real clothes for real women,” recalls Gradman, who with twin Ilene Epstein and Marcie Brawer launched The Studio in a Brookline office building on Harvard Street in Coolidge Corner. Each, with no prior retail experience, put in $500 and a lot of spirit and enthusiasm. To their surprise, women of all sizes, mostly in the 30-55 age range, began pouring in to check out the stylish, high-end but reasonably apparel as well as the unmatched personal attention. Today, their customer base numbers 9600.

This attention soon grew to a genuine community atmosphere which included the publishing of an entertaining and versatile newsletter, Studio Talk, as well as wall displays of clients’ literary work.

“Women came,” say Gradman, “sometimes from great distances, and climbed the stairs because they knew that in those second floor rooms they would find not only an extraordinary collection of clothing that would make them feel and look beautiful, but a ‘comfort zone,’ a place where they cold let their hair down and bask in the attention of a talented and caring sales staff. More than two decades later, we are still challenged by a changing world, changing dress codes and changing technology.”

Sponsorship of fundraising events have been in the mix as well. “Our first event,” says Gradman, “was ‘Women in Television: Homicide, Life on the Streets.’ It was a ‘sell-out’ at our local art deco theatre and benefited two local charities. The next even was ‘Body & Soul: The Politics of Fashion.’ The evening included the screening of a thoughtful documentary about one woman’s feeling of self-worth, a provocative lecture by noted women’s study scholar Jean Kilbourne, regarding the role advertisers play in promoting unhealthy images of women and a Studio fashion show using customers as models, sized 2-14; ages 25-65. An audience of over 400 people attend, many of whom brought their daughters. This evening too in $10,000 for Rosie’s Place.”

Gradman, no stranger to challenge, faced a big one recently when she was diagnosed with a gynecological cancer. She saw Elsa Dorfman’s “No Hair Day” documentary and read a Boston Magazine piece on breast cancer. True to form, she decided to give back to the community by donating 10% of the store’s summer sale proceeds to the Dana-Farber Women’s Cancer Program Survivors’ Clinic (opening this fall). Gradman had been working all along with a wig; she softened the blow for her clients by appearing alongside her partners without it for the sales postcard.

Her clients were able to approach her already knowing about her treatment; they were overwhelmingly inspired by her commitment, as were Elsa Dorfman and Oprah Winfrey, who will feature the story in an upcoming issue of O Magazine.

“The best part,” Gradman feels, “was the response from long time Studio shoppers who confirmed what we had always believed: that we did more than just sell clothes.”

The Studio’s support of the Clinic will be ongoing. The clinic’s purpose will be to help women cancer survivors with the psychological and social aspects of living with the disease.