During a study-abroad trip in college, Michelle Blue traveled to Ghana, where she was transformed by the joy, spirit and drive of the beautiful women and girls she encountered. The inspiration she garnered on that trip transformed her, and when she shared her experience with her best friend, Sasha Matthews, the two women came up with an idea — they decided to form a company that not only puts to use their own skills, which include fashion merchandising and mathematics, but also that allows them to provide sponsorship of books, tuition, supplies and uniforms for the girls in Ghana. And so the Atlanta-based Bené Scarves was born, and today we’re excited to introduce you to the brilliant women behind the fantastic, benevolent brand of scarves. Meet Michelle Blue & Sasha Matthews, co-founders of Bené Scarves and today’s FACES of the South!
Michelle, why did you decide to visit Ghana while you were a sophomore at University of Georgia? What were your expectations about visiting the region?
I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Of course West Africa has a very rich cultural history, so I was excited about experiencing everything Ghana had to offer, but I knew my view was limited to only what I saw from books and television. There’s so much more to a place when you experience it firsthand, so I went in with an open mind, and I definitely got more than I bargained for.
What was your favorite part about visiting with the girls you assist in Africa?
Michelle: My favorite part about the visit was actually meeting them. The joy in their spirits was so evident, and I immediately knew there was something special about the group. They welcomed us so warmly with song and dance, then after hearing their stories I was even that much more amazed.
Why is it important to make sure all women and girls, from around the world, receive proper education?
Sasha: Women are the backbones of society. There’s a huge opportunity missed when a country doesn’t educate its women. Not only are women immensely capable, they are well-deserving of equal opportunity to develop themselves and have their effect on their communities and the world.
What’s the best (and the worst) part about working with your best friend?
Michelle: The best part of working as best friends is working with someone I trust. Going into business with someone is almost like entering a marriage, and the business is the baby. We have a good foundation that plays into our working relationship. And it’s a bonus to get to go to work events with your best friend — it doesn’t even seem like work!
How do you choose the scarf designs, how often do you release a new design, and how are they designed and created?
Sasha: We work with a textile designer in New York City to come up with unique designs for our brand, then we have the fabric custom printed, and the scarves are manufactured here in Georgia. We are inspired by the cultures that we build into, so those influences are seen in our designs, even to the point where each scarf features a message from one of the girls we support along the edge. Right now we release a new set at least twice a year.
How does it feel when you see someone in Atlanta wearing a scarf that originates all the way back to Ghana?
Michelle: It feels great to see someone wearing a Bené scarf. It still amazes us that we get to do this work and that people are out there supporting us. We like to say that the scarf connects us as women. It represents our compassion and investment into one another’s success and empowerment.
Where do you see Bené in 10 years?
Sasha: In 10 years we see Bené supporting hundreds of girls across the world to receive the education they deserve. We’d love to expand both our product line and our global reach to continue to make an impact.
Can you share a few scarf hacks about the coolest way to wear your products?
Sasha: One hack I use all the time is when I’m going out and I have a short-sleeved shirt/dress on. It’s easy to throw on a scarf or throw it in my purse, then if it gets cold I have something I can open up over my shoulders/back. Another thing I like to do is tie it on my purse to bring it to life!
What’s your favorite part about living in Atlanta?
Michelle: The community here is so supportive, and there are a lot of resources for entrepreneurs that are continually popping up.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Michelle: Don’t just network, build meaningful relationships. We would never be where we are today without the people who have helped along the way.
Excluding friends, family and faith, what three things can you not live without?
Sasha: Good music, great clothes and good food!
Thank you to Michelle and Sasha for sharing what inspires your great product line and the work you do. To learn more about Bené Scarves, visit the website here.
Thank you to the uber-talented Catrina Maxwell of CatMax Photography for the beautiful photos of Michelle and Sasha.
Less than a week after graduating from high school, Haley Grizzell underwent heart surgery at TriStar Centennial Heart & Vascular Center. In our latest FACES of TriStar feature, this heart survivor, along with her mother, shares her story and how the physicians of TriStar made all the difference in getting this now-thriving young woman ready to take on college and the rest of her life. Click here to read her inspiring story.