Thursday, December 9th, 2010
The career of fashion designer Abi Ferrin, 30, may appear an out-of-the gate success, with a 2003 young-girl-makes-good start in Hollywood, where she dressed the starlets, to beating the 2007 field in Stanley Korshak's Texas' Next Top Designer award, to showing at this year's New York Fashion Week and winning an ever-widening circle of acclaim and clients.
But that's only half the story: Ferrin's trajectory has been anything but seamless, and the designer is no fashion-world diva, but a grounded woman with determination and heart.
"She's the most accessible successful person I know," said Romonda Jordan, an Abi fan and wife of former Raiders team captain and Texas A&M Coach Randy Jordan.
Mrs. Jordan and her friend Sherice Brown, wife of Heisman Trophy legend and sports broadcaster Tim Brown, are founders of the NFL Off the Field wives association, which will showcase Abi's designs at its upcoming benefit in Dallas.
The two modeled holiday looks at a pre-gala show that Abi hosted at her edgy Dallas location in the historic South Side on Lamar building, a space she initially won for a year as part of her Top Designer prize.
Statuesque moms with "real woman" figures, Jordan and Brown were stunning in micro-knit dresses that could be wrapped and worn five ways, from an Audrey-Hepburn-like blouson with pencil skirt to full-length "Jessica Rabbit" red-carpet glamour.
"This is more comfortable than wearing nothing," said Jordan, while Brown looked regal in a gown that Abi twisted and draped to fit as if custom made: Freedom indeed!
Like all of Abi's garments, these featured the designer's signature buttons, hand carved by women rescued from the Asian sex trade. And that is key to Abi Ferrin's business model: Her commitment to dress and empower real women, including herself, for Abi suffered the loss of her early California success when she also experienced an oppressive relationship.
Working in finance at Paramount, Abi was often invited to trendy industry parties. One evening, she was wearing a design she had made, when Extra host Dayna Devon noticed.
"Where did you get that top? I love it," she said.
Abi smiled and replied, "I made it. I'm a designer."
Devon said she had to have it, and Abi launched her business with her sewing machine. Soon, Extra featured the new designer's clothes, she was getting personal requests from celebrities such as Molly Sims and Rosalyn Sanchez, photos of her designs were splashed across the weekly magazines and she was able to design full time.
"I was sewing and making clothes and pursuing the dream. I had perfect credit," she said. "My boyfriend came along and derailed the path and dream. He belittled what I was doing and called me a 'a crafty homemaker.'"
The boyfriend's behavior progressed from verbal to physical abuse. He "stole everything" and racked up $50,000 in debt on Abi's credit cards. "I left the relationship with less than nothing," she said.
Abi had to "figure out how to make it with this debt and no formal stream of income, or go back home (to Wyoming). I decided to do everything I could to make this dream happen."
At the same time, her sister Kelly was dedicating her life to humanitarian efforts, focusing primarily on persecuted women and children. Kelly had been to Cambodia and Nepal and told Abi, "You need to check out these women."
A group in Nepal was making bracelets that Kelly wanted Abi to sell. "They were not exactly my aesthetic, but I thought, if they could craft these intricate things, they can do whatever I want. These girls were sold into the sex trade by their parents and were people with problems bigger than mine."
This helped Abi turn her focus outward. "I got a new perspective and goal, to get out of this hole. It has taken everything out of me, night and day," she said. "I have this quote: 'Perseverance beyond what seems reasonable.'"
Additional encouragement came from family, when a cousin in Texas invited Abi to visit. "She said, 'I will help you get this going. You can set up shop in my garage. You aren't giving up.' I came for a week and fell in love with Dallas. I moved to Texas in 2006. It was a life-changing move."
Abi's loyal following starts in Dallas and comprises an affluent crowd of the city's movers and shakers.
"They are amazingly vocal and supportive about my brand and spreading it globally," she said. "They refer it to their friends in other cities. Dallas is a city that supports anything with heart. It's not just about making money, but also about supporting charities. I think that has been a huge reason for the favor I have had."
Also in 2006, she started the Freedom Project, sending sketches with shapes of buttons and dimensions to women in Nepal, who carved them for her. "I had my own experience of being oppressed," she said. "It opened my mind to give me that heart for women in similar or worse positions." It also gave her a motto: "Fashion with Freedom and Purpose."
Clutches made by the women of Sak Saum
Collaborating with nonprofits - Cambodia's Sak Saum ("dignity" in Cambodian) and Nepal's Guardian Village Handcrafts - the Freedom Project provides rescued women with training, fair pay, food and shelter, and engenders micro-businesses. These in turn fund foster care and quality education for children freed from slavery and for women and children rescued from prostitution and other abusive situations.
"I was living with my cousin, buried in debt, having a really hard year, but I sent $2,200 to Nepal. At the end of the year, I asked what impact that had made," Abi said.
The answer: The Freedom Project had supported seven women for a year. "I had been feeling sorry for myself," she said. "Now I asked myself how I could help them more. I decided that if I put one button in every garment, then I could use the buttons and also tell this story. Every garment sold supports them, so I am constantly reordering."
Today, her loyal customers have collections of the distinctive wooden buttons. "Some of them are starting to make bracelets and things," she said.
Read Part II of Abi's story here.
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.)
Visit www.abiferrin.com and 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
Source: Good News Girlz