Barrett Ward has charged himself with awakening the fashion industry, and teaching the importance of respecting the process and the hands that make the goods. Through his social enterprise, ABLE, Barrett has a platform not only to effect change but to give a voice to those so deeply impacted by poverty. ABLE employs women from seven countries through their fashionable line of scarves, leather goods and jewelry. Founded with the belief that job creation is an integral part of solving the poverty issue, ABLE is not a charitable business but a social company in the business of creating jobs.
Understanding the backstory of the brand and Barrett’s conviction that all women should be celebrated is integral in imagining the future of the company. “As fathers, we want to make sure our daughters know their worth. Through our story, we hope to validate young women,” he tells us. Not only is Barrett a father, but he is a father of four daughters. In an effort to champion for women (his daughters included), Barrett had dedicated his life to providing opportunities for those to whom opportunities are not often given. “Our storyline is finding ways to end extreme poverty for those most affected, which is women and children,” he says.
According to Barrett, he was born an idiot and pursued idiocy through his 20s. It was not until a trip to Peru, when Barrett had his first brush with poverty, that he saw the jarring juxtaposition of his life and a life of poverty. “A beautiful little girl — I still have her picture — walked out of a shack and washed her face with dirty water. I thought, how does someone so beautiful end up in this situation? That just shows you how disproportionately misaligned I was with the world,” Barrett says. This experience led him to leave his job and move into the nonprofit space. A job with African Leadership landed Barrett in Africa. It was there that he began working with women. From there, he started Mocha Club, which, by allowing young adults to realize the impact of their money, fights poverty in Africa.
ABLE got its start in 2008 when Barrett and his wife moved to Ethiopia. It was the understanding that young women were making terrible decisions and selling their bodies to save their families that moved him. The story of a young woman going into prostitution to save her sister from breast cancer is one that Barrett can’t seem to get off his mind, even nine years later. The realization that these women were not degenerate but heroic badasses willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for the ones they loved inspired the company. “The bags let us tell good stories of these women,” he says.
Recent recipient of a GQ award, Barrett is not one to boast about his accomplishments. “I don’t figure things out in advance,” Barrett tells us. “I will never forget our first winter. There were tears welling up in my eyes — my arms so sore from dying scarves. Now we are doing things you can’t even imagine in a company this size.” It has been Barrett’s tenacity and dedication to the mission that has allowed ABLE to grow in its impact. The story is not about Barrett, but about his mission to protect women.
Since the company’s founding in 2010, there has been a commitment to making truly beautiful products. Quality product development and staying true to the company’s mission are the foundations of the company. Seven years later, they are able to sell these beautiful products from their flagship store now open in The Nation’s Stocking 51 development.
Claiming to know just as much about the aesthetics of the space as the fashionable outfit his wife chose for him that morning (hint: not much), Barrett directed me to Sarah Trammell, ABLE’s interior designer. “My plan was to keep the space minimal, refreshing and inviting … approachable. I want the product to be displayed in way that invites customers to try each style of bag or jewelry. We painted the walls white so only the product would pop. My hope was to create a space that anyone who walks in curious about ABLE leaves inspired by the product and mission.”
Visit the shop and do as Sarah intended: try each style of bag or jewelry. Within the 700-square-foot retail space, you will find leather goods, scarves and jewelry and behind the walls, ABLE’s work space. Sit, touch the product and hear about the mission and stories behind ABLE. But before you head there, let us give you a sneak peek into the space: