January Designer Highlight: FashionABLE

The life of a FashionABLE bag embarks long before you spot it on our shelf

I had the pleasure of interviewing Marisa Pardo, the Marketing Director at FashionABLE, to talk about the company. FashionABLE differs from some of our other designers and brands because it is much bigger and along with its local impact, FashionABLE has a strong global presence as well. The beautiful thing about buying FashionABLE products is that you are doing so much more than gaining a dependable bag. You are giving women life-changing job opportunities while all-the-while getting a high-quality product that will last a really long time. Their business model is very intentionally set up to provide this combination. The life of each bag has begun in places such as Ethiopia, Zambia, Peru and Cambodia, where it has enriched the local economy and given somebody a technical skill. FashionABLE’s mission includes combining excellent quality with a purposeful mission so that they may be sold in stores such as House Of. Without further ado, here is a look inside our conversation!

How did FashionABLE get started?

Pardo: “So it came out of a non-profit that Barrett started (Barrett is our founder, Barrett Ward). He started that non-profit in 2005 and then one of the groups that we were working with was a group of vulnerable women in Ethiopia that were in a rehabilitation process and needed sustainable income when they graduated from that program. He and his wife were living over there and connected the dots that these beautiful scarves that were being woven in Ethiopia were a skill that these women could learn so in 2010 he actually launched that, exactly about 6 years ago. He started with just a group of women weaving scarves and then now it has grown into multiple product lines in multiple countries!”

In one sentence, how would you describe the mission statement?

Pardo: "We’ve kind of tweaked it over the years as we’ve grown and changed over the years but really right now I would say the core is creating a sustainable business opportunity for women so that they are not dependant on charity but they have the dignity of a job."

What is the process like with working globally versus locally? How does it differ and what have you found to be challenging?

Pardo: "Internationally, we are less involved, because of the nature of what it is, on any part of their journey before they get to a job and then we come in on the business side and really help build that and help build capacity and strength in our partners on the business side whereas locally, we are a little bit more involved in their journey and their story because they’re living and working here and they’re working in the offices with us and so they are more apart of our everyday team and we get to be really involved with their lives, which is beautiful and lovely but can be hard sometimes too. There’s a different ministry inside of that that we get to welcome them into our team. I would say the challenge globally, even though we definitely have people on our team that visit our partners periodically, is that we don’t get to be with them constantly, so we have to figure out the right balance of being active and involved with them. We do have someone on the ground in Ethiopia, one of our employees, and she’s an Ethiopian woman and she’s amazing. She is kind of our hands and feet over there for us but getting to have the girls here with us in our office just reminds us every day of why we do what we do."

You have scarves, bags, jewelry, etc., so who designs these items and how does that process work?

Pardo: "We have a design team and each of the product lines have someone specialized in that area but then they all still work together and collaborate on different designs. They try to take on inspiration from the places that they’re being created, in fact we will soon be in three more countries. So we are going to be doing leather in Zambia, and jewelry out of Peru and Cambodia. But again each of those places are inspiring the designs in their own ways and trying to use locally sourced materials and things that would make sense within those places, but then our design team is also taking into consideration trend forecasting, wanting to be things that people are really excited about."

Where do you think FashionABLE will be in the next 5 years? How will it change or evolve?

Pardo: "Without giving too much away, we are going to continue to grow both our product offering and our impact. We have a pretty exciting vision of where that is taking us and we really hope to be the company that people think about when they want to buy a beautiful product, no matter what it is, we want to be their first thought. We hope that eventually we can have that great of a product offering and impact for women all over the world."

And finally, what do you love most about working for FashionABLE?

Pardo: "I think the people, for sure. Both our team here and then the people that we get to work with around the world, and getting the opportunities to have met them. And knowing that it is beautiful products and that our customers are learning how to buy things that are made well and caring about what pleases them but at the end of the day it’s impacting people’s lives and bringing sustainable solutions."

Thank you FashionABLE for your time AND for gracing House Of with your products! It’s an honor to be able to sell them in our community!

By Hannah Kersey