1. Tell us about the inspiration that prompted the start of ABLE? While living in Ethiopia in 2010, Barrett Ward and his wife Rachel saw firsthand how extreme poverty forced young women to make difficult choices for money. They wanted to give women the opportunity to earn a living with dignity. So they turned to a profession that made sense for that community: scarf weaving. Since this was considered a man’s job at the time, they taught a handful of women how to make scarves and sold them under the brand fashionABLE. That holiday season, there were 4,000+ scarves sold and the team knew they had something that resonated with people: being serious about solutions to poverty by creating jobs for women. From there, our evolution into a lifestyle fashion brand came about organically as we grew. We added leather bags and jewelry to create more jobs locally and globally, and then clothing and shoes to empower our customers to shop socially responsible from head to toe. If we were to do it all over again with the same mission from a strategic standpoint, we’d probably land exactly where we are. It is widely known that the empowerment of women is key to ending generational poverty, and fashion is one of the largest industrial employers of women. So, if we can help lead the industry in responsible employment, and equip consumers to demand more from the brands they love, there is an opportunity for global impact. 2. How does ABLE contribute to the betterment of society? We want to build a better world for the next generation—one with less poverty and more equality, where less people are sick, and where more children go to school. And investing in women is the way we’ll get there. If you’re serious about solutions to poverty, you must do two things: create jobs and hire women. Globally, women are concentrated in the lowest-paid and least secure jobs, making them particularly vulnerable to poverty. Last year, 82% of all wealth created went to the top 1%, while the bottom 50% saw no increase at all. And women are often most affected by this growing inequality. But the good news is that there are proven solutions—when we invest in women, economies and communities thrive. Women invest twice as much of their income into their families than men (80% vs. 30-40%), which means that when they are paid wages that meet their basic needs, personal safety, overall health, and education improve for each generation. For ABLE, investing in women is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do if we want to see real change.
3. As the market continues to invite competition, even in the sustainability and social responsibility space, where do you see ABLE fitting into the ecosystem in the next 5-10 years? Our dream is that in 10 years or sooner, publishing wages in fashion will become as common as the nutritional facts label in food. As an industry, we need to embrace a mindset of empathy, caring about our social impact as much as we do the bottom lines of our business. And we need to shift our thinking to realize that doing good in the world does not have to come at a cost to business success—there are so many successful models proving we can do both. There are two things ABLE is doing that other brands can do as first steps towards engaging these efforts: publish wages and evaluate representation in leadership. Transparency is crucial to change, so we’d ask brands to join us in being transparent about their lowest wages so that together we can work towards our goal of achieving living wages across the entire supply chain. Representation in leadership is also crucial. It’s hard to empower people if their voices are not heard, and we must be intentional about having women at every level of leadership. 4. What are your most popular products? The Mamuye Tote is an ABLE classic and the perfect everyday tote. Julianne Hough, Jessica Alba, Olivia Wilde, and Minka Kelly have been spotted carrying it around. Our denim jacket (The Jacket – Merly Wash) is also a fan favorite for it’s supple feel and worn-in, ripped, and relaxed look. Plus, our new tortoise jewelry collection that’s handmade in our in-house jewelry studio in Nashville, TN is quickly becoming a top seller as well. 5. If you had to give a piece of advice to a start-up company, what would it be? I’d tell other companies to value progress over perfection on their drive to become more ethical. We’re not perfect, but we want to be perfectly transparent with our consumers, and we believe that will equal relationship. Even in the most recent of events, we see that consumers want to align themselves with brands that risk profit in order to stand for something. You don’t have to wait until you’ve achieved your mission-oriented goals to be transparent about them, and we’ve actually found that being transparent along the way empowers consumers to come alongside us in this process.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with Sustainable Inc.! For more information about ABLE, please visit their website here: www.livefashionable.com
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