The Art of Relationship Building

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When Sabrina Dunbar ’13 returns to Dominican University of California to speak to art students, she tells them about the first-name relationships she developed with her professors and the flexibility her major provided her.

“Our careers don't often go in a straight line,” says Sabrina who earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in the School of Liberal Arts and Education (and created the watercolor pencil drawing above). “Art teaches you to have an open mind and to think more creatively, more passionately. Those concepts have undoubtedly helped push my career forward.”

Today, Sabrina works as a product development manager at Betabrand, an online women's clothing company in San Francisco. Prior to that, she was an associate manager of product development for women's woven tops at Banana Republic for four years. She worked cross-functionally with Banana Republic’s design and merchandising teams, as well as with their vendors overseas, to develop products based on customer appetite and trends within the apparel industry.

“I get to see a product go from a sketched idea, to a sewn-up sample, to a full-blown garment that people love,” she says.

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Drawn to Dominican by its size and location in scenic Marin County, Sabrina fulfilled a premonition by her art teacher at Freedom High School in Oakley that Sabrina would someday get an art degree in college. 

Though she thought she might major in communications or psychology, Sabrina’s first-ever class at Dominican was an oil painting class with Foad Satterfield. Foad helped create the San Marco Gallery on campus and was an award-winning art professor at the University for 37 years before retiring. The experience inspired Sabrina to then take a watercolor class with Lynn Sondag the following semester. Sondag is an associate professor in the Art, Design, and Visual Studies Department and director of the Honors Program.

“It was truly after that class I decided that I wanted to make this my major. Not because I had an epiphany about my career path, but because I enjoyed it and wanted to learn more about it,” Sabrina says.

What Sabrina also learned is there were many supportive, motivational, and inspirational people around her on campus. She made true life-long friends.

“I have met some of the most wonderful people at Dominican and that is invaluable,” Sabrina says.

And, as she had hoped when she came to Dominican, she communicates with them on a first-name basis.

“Lynn (Sondag) was really the driving force behind not only realizing that I wanted to major in art, but also realizing the potential that art and having an open, creative way of thinking can help in any career,” Sabrina says. “I guess I always thought that school was for a specific end goal. You go to nursing school to become a nurse, or study psychology to be a therapist. I think that's an old way of thinking. Once I removed the boundaries I had created in my head, I realized how many career opportunities I had.”

After Dominican, Sabrina started out in retail business when she landed a job in inventory management at Williams Sonoma, Inc. before moving on to Athleta and Toss Designs.

“After working at Williams Sonoma, I felt more in tune with the different functions in the corporate retail setting. I knew I wanted something more creative than inventory planning, but more analytical, technical and process-oriented than design,” Sabrina explains. “Through networking and research, I decided product development was a good match – and maybe a perfect match – for me as it encompasses creativity and analytics all in one.”

Sabrina joined Banana Republic in May 2018. It wasn’t the straight line on a successful career path she originally had anticipated, but her experience at Dominican taught her how to handle the curves.

“Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, `It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,’ ” Sabrina says. “The most important takeaway for me was that college wasn't about getting a job, or having an end goal. For me, it was about the professors that really made me think, the strong friendships I made, and the relationships I created through networking.”

Moving from Banana Republic to Betabrand in April of 2022, Sabrina said, provided her with a better opportunity to advance her career. Betabrand specializes in comfortable, fashion and work attire; most known for the “Dress Pant Yoga Pants.” She works with Betabrand's design and merchandising team to develop and produce our styles. She also work closely with its overseas team and our vendors, sourcing new fabrics and trims, negotiating costs, and problem solving construction or production prohibitive issues.

“I absolutely love what I do, as it allows me to be creative, but also gives me the ability to really be analytical,” Sabrina says. “I've found that working on a smaller team definitely presents some challenges, but it also allows me to have a voice and autonomy in what I do, which is exactly what I was looking for with this career move.”

Sabrina said in reflecting to her years at Dominican she would not have guessed that she would end up working in apparel development and production.

“Probably because I hadn't really thought or heard about it until long after I graduated. But I think that's the point that still rings true to me today,” she says. “As a student, it's really hard to picture life after school; what career you will end up in, if you are good at it, and if you really even like doing it. My advice to students is to not get so hung up on the future per se, but to really focus on the present, because oftentimes our paths aren't straight. Study things you love, and don't solely focus on things you think will make you `successful.’ ”





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