Abi Ferrin: Fashioning a Revolution – Part II
With the encouragement of a Dallas cousin, who invited her to stay and work out of her garage, and the inspiration of her sister Kelly, who did humanitarian work with women in Asia, Abi fashioned a pioneering business model: Her designs incorporate elements handmade by Nepalese women rescued from the sex trade - craftsmanship that fully supports them, generates micro-lending and fosters education and economic independence for women and children at risk.
Abi says there were many reasons she could have given up, but something always happened that made her know this was absolutely what she was supposed to do. Winning Stanley Korshak's Texas' Next Best Designer award in 2007 was one such occurrence; others fall into the mysterious realm of "signs."
"I tell people, if you want to believe there is something bigger than us, you should spend some time with me!" Abi said.
Awakening in Dallas one morning with the realization that she immediately owed her vendors $13,000, Abi knew she had to pay her bills that day or ruin the relationships and her business. There were seven staff in her current showroom, and she told them they needed to find a way to make $13,000 in one day.
"Thirty minutes later, until 7 p.m., a different woman would call and another would call and come in. Each one came in and spent a thousand, two thousand, three thousand dollars. At the end of the day, we tallied the numbers and had $13,000.01," Abi said.
The grace and grit Abi exudes may have been inherited in part from her forebears: Her great-grandfather was the founding settler in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where she was born and raised.
"I have pioneering in my blood," she said. "I started sewing at the age of five and continued in 4H." In her South Side on Lamar studio, Abi pulled out the little printed green cotton skirt, neatly stitched, that was the first fashion she made, 25 years ago.
She credits her parents for inspiring her vision of caring for the world. "My parents are amazing. Dad is a hunting and fishing outfitter. They were raised and lived on the land, and if you don't take care of it, you have no land to live on."
Among their close neighbors, friends and clients in Wyoming were Dick Cheney and former Undersecretary of the Treasury Roger Altman. Abi developed an interest in public life and earned a degree in government and broadcast journalism. Altman introduced her to the woman who was head lawyer of the environmental section of the Justice Department and prosecuted the Super Fund case, and Abi lived in her Washington, D.C. home in exchange for babysitting.
"I was raised very conservative, and that works if you work on the land. This woman mentored me on the balance: Life is different in the cities," she said.
Abi's Washington connections also helped land her first big job out of college: production assistant for famed newsman Jim Lehrer. "He taught me everything I need to know about business," she said.
Another break came in Dallas with the hiring of her assistant designer, who is the step-daughter of entrepreneurial guru Michael Gerber, author of E Myth Revised and other works coaching small business people on formulas for success.
"She has been trained in processes and systems and gets a lot of direct feedback from Michael. He introduced me to the Grameen Bank, the Banker to the Poor, who invented micro-lending. He said I had to read that book," Abi said.
"What he sees next is the Social Entrepreneur, which I already was. It's companies that don't just seek profit for greed's sake, but for the betterment of the world they live in."
Abi says that greed doesn't work; it is going to implode. "Some people may have a really great time for a minute, but it is not going to last. People need to look at the bigger picture and realize we have responsibility for more than our little corner."
"If I could do it when I had less than nothing, there is no excuse. I have broken open the myth: I was in the position I was in, and I was at least able to impact seven people."
So what's in store next for pioneering social entrepreneur Abi Ferrin?
"I want to be a global brand," she said.
Her designs are sold in Dallas at her own studio, Stanley Korshak and Rich Hippie, in more than a dozen other locations coast to coast, in Bahrain and online at www.AbiFerrin.com
With a thriving business that has gone from day-to-day survival to month-to-month stability, Abi aims to link her success to the expansion of a social revolution.
"Wow, how much more are we going to be able to do with continued growth and success!"
Cultural journalist Rosalind de Rolon, who has been based in Paris and Dallas, offers spectacular insider trips to France. (See Mother-Daughter* Paris & Royal France, booking now, at www.RoseJourney.com. *Or Aunt-Niece, Grandmother-Granddaughter, etc.)
See Abi's designs at Women with Purpose, the 10th Annual Super Bowl Awards Banquet and Fashion Show benefiting St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 4, 2011, at the Fairmont Hotel, Dallas. For information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.©Rosalind de Rolon 2010