Founder Barrett Ward discusses the challenges and rewards of curating the ABLE denim line — created and crafted primarily by and for women…
It was time spent in Ethiopia which served as your impetus to empower impoverished women… Can you describe what that entailed, and how you started building ABLE at that point?
I was living in Ethiopia and saw firsthand how extreme poverty forced young women, generation after generation, to resort to prostitution as a means of supporting themselves and their families. The goal was to provide these women with the opportunity to earn a living, empowering them to end the cycle of poverty that kept them trapped.
You started out weaving scarves — today, you make a range of items including the denim that FP is carrying. How did the expansion take place?
My wife actually saw beautiful scarves for sale in the market, and we learned that weaving was an age-old tradition in Ethiopia, but that it was actually dominated by men. So that’s where we started — giving women a competitive skill in their culture. From there, we learned about the Ethiopian leather industry, again typically dominated by men, and we found partners that would employ and teach women to craft our products. About 3 years ago, we added in a local component to our work, employing women coming out of recovery in our hometown of Nashville, TN, to make our jewelry. And then just last year we expanded into 2 new countries and 3 new categories: shoes and apparel made in Peru, and denim made in Mexico. Each item has one thing in common: through working with women, it is leading all of us a step closer to the end of generational poverty. With your help, we are working each day to give opportunity to women in a safe and healthy environment and encouraging peers to do the same.
What has been your greatest challenge? Greatest reward?
One of our greatest challenges has been meeting demand while staying on mission. As we have grown, there’s been the temptation to find the “quick and easy” ways to keep up with the pace of sales, but we’ve chosen to stay on mission, and continue to invest our dollars and our time (and our patience!) into our partners.
One of the greatest rewards has been watching our global partners really grasp our mission and vision. Our Ethiopian representative and translator began a manufacturing company with us as his only client, and within a year was employing over 50 women from his community. The other reward is having a space right here in our offices where we get to employ women who need opportunity. Just yesterday, I was meeting with our jewelry production manager, and she shared with me that 5 women in her department have been able to get homes this year, because they have a job. And that’s what gets me excited.
Talk about ABLE’s denim fit/special details?
ABLE denim means quality, comfort, style… using the highest quality cotton fibers woven together in fabrics that are durable and authentic. Our details are inspire by vintage American jeans, yet with proportions designed to flatter. These jeans will mold to your body so by the time you put them on a second time, you’ve already secured your perfect fit.
What similarities exist between FP and ABLE?
We share the value of making women feel courageous. We both care for the woman who speaks out about the things she cares about. She seeks adventure and is willing to try new things, and she appreciates quality over quantity and wants to feel good about the clothes she wears.
Name five women who have changed your life, personally or professionally.
While it may sound like I’m trying to earn points, the truth is: the 5 women are my wife, Rachel, and our 4 daughters. Both personally and professionally they keep me grounded. They are a joy that rises above the good and bad that daily live can provide. And I’m grateful to work with the extraordinary team at ABLE. I am 1 of 2 men in an environment of 50+ women. The culture they have nurtured and the courage they instill in each other reminds me why I believe women are the future of a more empathic and empowering community and beyond.
Best piece of advice you were ever given…
When I was starting ABLE, the most critical thing was having someone walking beside me as a personal coach, as I was learning how to deal with the emotional roller coasters of starting a new business. It’s always been about having the right people around me, helping me carry the weight and knowing that I don’t have to be the one with all of the answers.
What does the word “free” mean to you?
To me, “free” points to the freedom I experience knowing that mission is our highest priority as a company, not our bottom line. For me, our focus on purpose keeps worry at bay… A friend once told me, “don’t get destination sickness,” meaning don’t let a future worry determine your present happiness.
+ Shop FP x ABLE here.