What do you think about when you shop? How pieces look, how they feel, how they’re priced—you’re probably not thinking about where the pieces came from, right? Even fewer of us probably stop to think about the people behind each garment and what their background is.
That’s where FASHIONABLE comes in. Founded by Barrett Ward, the brand’s mission is to aid and empower women overcoming addiction and transitioning out of homelessness by offering sustainable employment opportunities. Essentially, Barrett aims to help women better their lives, not through charity, but by giving them jobs of their own at which they can grow and use to help rebuild their lives. Pretty amazing, right?
What started in Ethiopia has since spread to Nashville, where more and more women coming out of bad situations can find a new way to help themselves through honest work. Their newest collection, Miriam, launches today and offers gorgeous jewelry, scarves, and leather goods. Seriously, their stuff is to die for. Plus, it’s already been seen on celebs like Minka Kelly and Julianne Hough—a little famous endorsement never hurt anybody.
We talked to Barrett about how it all got started, the new collection, and the future of the brand:
When are how did the idea for FASHIONABLE start?
FASHIONABLE started in 2010 after [my wife Rachel and I] lived in Ethiopia and saw that the sex industry was prevalent in that area. We met women who were in the industry to help provide for their families. To help them have alternative options for employment, we helped train women to make scarves and, eventually, leather goods.
Do you partner up with specific organizations?
We partner with multiple organizations around Africa and in the United States that fairly employ women. Those groups range from organizations who rehabilitate women out of the commercial sex industry, to women who have battled addiction.
How many women have you worked with since you started?
9 in the US and over 130 in Africa. In fact, each piece in our collection is named after the heroic women we work with.
What’s the most exciting part about creating the collections?
It’s very exciting to see designs come to life, but even more exciting to see the impact it makes on the lives of women across the globe.
What was the turning point that made you decide to make the shift to the US?
When I was living in Ethiopia, I got to spend time with the women we were working with. When we moved back to the states, I wanted to continue that type of relationship with the women we employ, so I decided to help create a local branch of the company. I’ve known of Gracie [Moakler, of Miriam Designs] for a few years and knew of the work she was doing with women in Nashville. She had a great reputation, and I liked the way she leads her team, so I asked her if she wanted to join forces—and she said yes!
As far as I can tell, the response to FASHIONABLE has been really positive. What’s the best feedback that you’ve gotten, and on the flip side, is there any negative feedback you’ve needed to overcome?
The best feedback we can get is that our products are on-trend while also helping people. We don’t want charity purchases. We want to be known for a product that women love, feel beautiful in, and want to share with their friends. The hardest challenge we face is losing a woman back to the sex industry or to addiction. It’s not possible to have success with every person, but that doesn’t lessen the emotional impact of seeing a woman relapse.
I know that you have a Campus Rep program. Has that grown since you have started, and what’s the best thing about implementing and running that program?
The best thing about the campus rep program is that it allows girls all over to step up and be leaders in their community. It allows them to be the “it” girl that finds a brand with cool products while also knowing that their efforts make a huge difference in the world. The program has grown organically because many brave and strong girls have stepped up and offered to partner with us!
What are you most excited about with regard to the new collection?
We are so excited about how big our family at FASHIONABLE is growing! It adds new energy to have production in-house.
What is the most rewarding part of FASHIONABLE?
Knowing that we are empowering women, helping them overcome poverty not by charity but by giving them jobs and dignity. When a woman has work to do and learns new skills, it can change her life.
Where’s the brand today? Where do you see it going in the long term?
Today the brand is currently working with women in Kenya, Ethiopia, and now Nashville. We want to focus now on growing the local work with women.
If there was one thing you’d want people to take away from FASHIONABLE, what would it be?
You don’t have to sacrifice fashion to be a responsible and conscious consumer.
FASHIONABLE‘s latest collection, Miriam, launches today. Head over to their website to check it out and learn more about the amazing brand!