The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon
Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon

Barbara Samuels

Founder and president of THE LION'S SHARE, INC. Barbara Samuels was born August 15, 1937, in Gary, Indiana. The daughter of Blanche and Dr. John Wilson, Samuels grew up in Chicago where she attended Burke Elementary School and graduated in 1955 from Lucy Flower Vocational High School. She then attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Chicago State University.

Her career began at Sears Roebuck and Company in 1963 as a copywriter for the Sears & Roebuck Catalog. She was the first African American to hold that position. Samuels worked as part of a design team at Sears & Roebuck that made household accessories including lighting fixtures, dinnerware and tabletop items. Samuels was then promoted to buyer of handbags and later to national buyer of casual footwear. In 1998, she was named global "Buyer of the Year," winning out over 300 other contestants. She was also one of the first African Americans to visit many of the manufacturing facilities abroad.

After an early retirement, Samuels launched THE LION'S SHARE in 1994. The firm offers practical, profit oriented advice for fledgling designers, merchants and small companies in the fashion industry. Samuels organizes fashion shows for major organizations and charities such as the Jesse Owens Foundation, the Chicago Urban League, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. As a media personality, she has participated in fashion segments on Channel 32 Fox TV, WVON Radio, and the Bertrice Berry Show. Samuels was wardrobe and set design consultant for public television's America's Family Kitchen with VertaMae Grosvenor. She has also written a fashion column for N’DIGO. Samuels serves as board member or officer of several fashion-related entities, including Fashion Group International, the Apparel Industry Board, Inc. of Illinois, GenArt, The Color of Fashion, the Leaguers of the Chicago Urban League and the Costume Committee of the Chicago Historical Society.

Samuels has two sons, Michael and Gregory. She resides on Chicago's North Side.

Accession Number

A2003.301

Sex

Female

Interview Date

12/17/2003

Last Name

Samuels

Maker Category
Schools

Lucy L. Flower Technical High School

Edmund Burke Elementary School

School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Chicago State University

First Name

Barbara

Birth City, State, Country

Gary

HM ID

SAM02

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Indiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Paris, France

Favorite Quote

Isn't That Amazing?

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

8/15/1937

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Japanese Food

Short Description

Business consultant and retail buyer Barbara Samuels (1937 - ) has served as a national buyer for Sears, and founded THE LION'S SHARE, to offer profit-oriented advice for the fashion industry.

Employment

Sears Roebuck & Company

Lion's Share

N'DIGO

Favorite Color

Orange

Timing Pairs
0,0:9605,297:10060,303:10697,313:14337,361:26998,511:27350,516:28142,528:33394,568:36859,642:38553,674:38861,679:43173,777:47023,862:48178,877:49333,898:50642,932:61484,1062:61970,1069:62699,1075:63023,1080:63752,1100:65696,1135:72014,1230:72338,1235:72824,1243:73148,1248:80438,1385:81005,1394:82220,1414:83030,1425:83516,1435:99950,1644:100468,1652:109202,1777:109592,1783:117728,1935:118032,1940:118564,1948:119400,1965:121832,2019:122592,2036:126696,2118:129052,2167:142086,2337:144070,2378:153625,2553:154340,2570:155380,2586:159296,2604:168692,2735:169214,2742:171041,2772:176836,2812:177340,2820:180148,2878:180940,2891:184684,2955:185116,2963:186916,2998:188284,3022:194560,3054:195034,3061:196000,3069$0,0:6454,143:8886,181:9570,191:11926,227:14054,266:14814,277:15194,283:20820,318:21240,325:21730,334:22430,346:22850,353:28520,444:31180,486:32090,504:34120,552:34400,557:34820,564:35940,587:37480,627:43422,671:46596,760:72110,984:74770,1042:75120,1048:84850,1222:85200,1291:92570,1349:92850,1354:93340,1362:95650,1417:97120,1431:104260,1552:104750,1564:112760,1655:113752,1671:114248,1680:121586,1769:123818,1819:125906,1867:128858,1915:133898,2057:148940,2299:154072,2341:154504,2348:155008,2356:157024,2410:157528,2418:164537,2525:168990,2642:169783,2659:174250,2688:174655,2694:179596,2772:181216,2799:182269,2824:182998,2834:193608,2967:194157,2975:195011,2994:211040,3263:212480,3288:224822,3487:230816,3617:233084,3690:233489,3696:239366,3736:239987,3752:241436,3780:242195,3789:242540,3795:243023,3804:249540,3856:257262,3993:258750,4019:260052,4056:263896,4165:270404,4229:274166,4253:274502,4274:275174,4283:281138,4480:291477,4675:295453,4765:295808,4770:298648,4839:299003,4845:301750,4855
DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Barbara Samuels's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Barbara Samuels lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Barbara Samuels describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Barbara Samuels describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Barbara Samuels describes her mother's upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Barbara Samuels describes her mother's life raising three children in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Barbara Samuels remembers a traumatic childhood injury in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Barbara Samuels describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Barbara Samuels describes her grade school years at Burke Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Barbara Samuels describes her experience at Lucy Flower High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Barbara Samuels remembers visiting the Regal Theater and the Chicago Theater in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Barbara Samuels remembers meeting famous actors during her teenage years

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Barbara Samuels remembers experiences with the faculty and racial discrimination at Lucy Flower High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Barbara Samuels shares memories from her time at Lucy Flower High School in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Barbara Samuels describes her years at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Barbara Samuels describes her job at the Chicago Urban League, including work with HistoryMaker Harry Belafonte

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Barbara Samuels describes her first years as a copywriter in the clothing business

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Barbara Samuels recalls experiencing harassment as the first black female copywriter at Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Barbara Samuels recalls changes in culture and fashions during the 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Barbara Samuels describes her promotion from copywriter to retail buyer at Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Barbara Samuels remembers the aftermath of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Barbara Samuels describes her attempts to change the corporate culture at Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Barbara Samuels recalls winning the Buyer of the Year award while at Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Barbara Samuels explains her reasons for leaving her job at Sears, Roebuck & Co. in 1993

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Barbara Samuels describes her involvement in the fashion industry and founding her own company during the 1990s

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Barbara Samuels talks about her time as a fashion writer for N'DIGO

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Barbara Samuels describes some of her favorite advancements in fashion during her lifetime

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Barbara Samuels reflects upon on trends and technological advancements in fashion

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Barbara Samuels comments on style trends among African American men

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Barbara Samuels describes changes in corporate fashion in the late 20th century

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Barbara Samuels describes the influence of hip hop on modern fashion trends

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Barbara Samuels talks about the disconnect between high fashion and average consumers

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Barbara Samuels talks about how an individual's clothing and style can reflect their personality

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Barbara Samuels describes global influences in the fashion world

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Barbara Samuels describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Barbara Samuels reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Barbara Samuels talks about how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Barbara Samuels narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$3

DAStory

11$3

DATitle
Barbara Samuels remembers visiting the Regal Theater and the Chicago Theater in Chicago, Illinois
Barbara Samuels describes her attempts to change the corporate culture at Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Transcript
At what point in your life was your mother [Blanche Daniel] working for the Regal [Theater, Chicago, Illinois]?$$When we were in grammar school [Burke Elementary School, Chicago, Illinois].$$Okay and who were some of the personalities that you met, met there (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) I met James Brown, Al Green, Leslie Uggams, anyone who appeared there actually. There were some, you know, kind of weird folks my mother didn't want us around--$$Okay.$$--you know, for obvious reasons, and so we had to stay back in the office. But one of the, one of the--my mother was a real good friend of Nat [King] Cole's, you know, so that was great. But we used to wait--in high school we used to wait outside the Chicago Theater when they had live, live shows, and that was a highlight, and get autographs. That's what we did. I must have gone through four or five autograph books and of course, some of the stars that we thought were absolutely incredible turned out to be the nastiest and the ones that we didn't really care that much about turned out to be really nice, nice people. One of the highlights from waiting around for autographs was when Zachary Scott and Joan, Joan Bennett's sister, I can't--Constance Bennett, they were in town with a play called 'Bell, Book and Candle' and all five of us-there were five girls who hung together and we went over to the theater to wait for autographs and this very tall, black guy came out with these dogs, walking these dogs and he saw us and he said, "Well hi, who are you girls," and we said, "We're waiting to see Mr. Scott or Ms. Bennett to get autographs," and he said, "Well I'm Mr. Scott's personal assistant." And he said, "Have you seen the play," and we said no. In fact, we had never seen a play. We had seen stage productions but we had never seen a play per se. And so he said, "Well how would you like to come and see the play?" And we said, "What," and we were only fifteen years old at the time and he said, "Why don't you come and see it." He said, "I'll make sure you can see it." And I said, "Well we have to discuss this with our parents first, okay," and he said, "Fine," so he gave us cards and we all went home, talked to our parents. They said, "Well, okay as long as everyone's going," and they were going to pick us up. And we were--oh, did we ever have a big conference about what we were going to wear, oh it was incredible. We decided at the time pique, cotton pique jackets, flyaway jackets those were the big things so we each went out and our parents bought each one of us a different color jacket and we all wore these pique jackets over our dresses and skirts, and when we got to the theater, they took us--we went inside and most of the people were seated already and these five little black girls, teenagers came walking down the aisle. We had our heads up, we were so proud and everyone was whispering, "Who are they? What's this?" And they sat us right down in front, and then William Windom the actor was right--he was there too and he took us to see Johnny Hartman.$By '68 [1968] were there many black employees in the--at the corporate level (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) But again--but everyone was at an assistant level. There were very few blacks at full title, very few blacks at full title. And those of us who were, were constantly being questioned about our abilities and double checked, checked and double checked and just all kinds of stuff. I worked for a buyer who was extremely difficult and really anal. He was somewhat embarrassed because I was his assistant, and one of the secretaries who had a high school education went over to personnel and she said, "I want to be a copywriter," and they said, "Well you can't write or anything, you haven't been to college," and she said, "Well if she can do it, I know I can." And this woman could barely type a letter properly, you know? Lots of, lots of jealousy and you build up defenses and so--a thick skin, that's probably better, a thick skin for all of that. So it was, it was quite rough. It was quite rough.$$Did you get a chance to write about fashion at some point?$$Oh yeah, because I was in a fashion department with footwear, okay (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) (Unclear).$$So what happened was the buyers, when I was a copywriter, they were coming to me because of the way I dressed and I don't know where--I just started picking up this fashion know how by reading. I started subscribing to all the magazines and reading and everything. So they would come to me about colors, silhouettes, everything, who is this going to appeal to, what do you think, and their sales were going up just by listening to me. So the national merchandise manager, a very powerful position, he said, "I want you to come to my department as an associate buyer and forget this copywriting thing." And I said okay, and he said, "Because you're a rebel and that's what I want" because I used to wait for buses for ever just to get over to the West Side [Chicago, Illinois] and then the "L" [elevated train] and then walk. When we had moved downtown and it was still cold, it was even worse because you had the wind from the lake blowing. So I decided I am not going to continue wearing skirts and freezing my tail off in the winter. So I wore pants to work one day and it went all over, all over the place and they called over to the We- the office manager called over to the West Side and said, "This woman is wearing trousers to work, she's wearing pants and that's not the law. I'm going to make her go home," but I didn't work for her so she couldn't do it. I worked for the advertising department so the merchandise manager came into my office and I was sitting there and one of the other girls who was a copywriter, very political, she was white and wasn't going to make any waves because she wanted to be promoted to something else. Well she wore pants too, we were going to do this and she chickened out and put a skirt on over them so that she could remove them in case there was too much heat. So Bill Grant walked into the office and he said, "Stand up," and I stood up. He says, "Turn around." Well see now today, he'd be in all kinds of trouble. But he said, "Stand up, turn around. Okay you look great. Sit down. You don't have to go home." And after that women started wearing pants to work in droves and so they changed the dress code because I had guts enough to do that.$$Now was Sears [Sears, Roebuck and Co.] ahead of or behind the rest of the corporate world in terms of women wearing pants to work? 'Cause it wasn't that long ago, I guess, well long ago now but there was a time when women couldn't wear pants publicly (unclear) (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) I think Sears was ahead of the time, because in most of the big corporations even when that happened women were not wearing pants to work and that was in--it had to be around '68 [1968], '69 [1969], something like that. So I was getting phone calls from everybody, "Aw, thank you so much. God it's great that we can wear pants to work," you know, and then guys would call me up and say, "Hey, do you know what you've started? What would happen if we started wearing skirts to work?" You know silly stuff like that. So that was--that was, that was good. That was good.$$This is about nineteen sixty (unclear) (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Yeah about '68 [1968]--$$Sixty-eight [1968], okay.$$--sixty-nine [1969], yeah somewhere around there.$$All right.$$And you know I mean really it was Sears was not a law office. I could understand the legal department if that was what they wanted to do but with all the running around and everything we had to do, it was stupid for us to not be able to wear them. My mother [Blanche Daniel] was very proud of me; she thought that was just great that I had done that because that's the same kind of thing she would have done.