Nestled on Centennial Boulevard in Nashville, Tennessee, where once a stocking factory stood is a boutique by the name of ABLE. As you open the door, you are greeted with friendly smiles and a modern whiff of fashion. What you may not know when you walk through those doors is that not only does the store supply apparel for women, but it also serves as the corporate headquarters of a brand on a mission.
Local and now global, ABLE has a strong identity with a stronger mission – ending generational poverty by providing sustainable employment to women, as well as advocating for fare wages and working conditions across the retail industry. Currently, ABLE is responsible for helping to employ over 1000 women worldwide with their global partnerships, and 83 women at their local site.
Sharing Audi’s vision on driving progress, transparency, and progressive values, ABLE strives to move people by purpose and equal opportunity.
In 2010 CEO Barret Ward was living in Ethiopia, running a rehab nonprofit program for women coming out of the commercial sex space. It wasn’t long before he witnessed how much dignity the women in the program had in supporting their family, but had no other option than commercial sex. That’s when Barret realized a potential opportunity to create a more dignified and empowering approach for these women to earn a living. The idea became a mission to end generational poverty one job at a time.
“We found that when women have the opportunity to change a situation that they want to get out of, there is no one more motivated,” said Jen Milam, director of merchandising at ABLE.
Starting with scarves, which sold out rapidly, ABLE quickly branched out into its own label and fashion entity.
The jewelry studio
Among the many facets of the ABLE flagship store in Nashville lies a jewelry studio tucked in the back. What makes this jewelry studio so special, other than the fact that each piece is handmade, is that women with inspiring stories hand-make each piece daily.
These women were employed by ABLE with no required expertise in the art of jewelry making. All that was required from them was their determination to make a living for themselves. Supporting and teaching each other the craft, these women come from all ages and backgrounds. Some are cancer survivors, while others escaped domestic abuse. Though their stories differ, when they are between the bright spaces of the studio, they all share the same goal – to be independent and fearless women who want a better life for themselves and their families.
At Audi, we're motivated to create opportunities to empower society as a whole, and one of the ways we do it is through the driving progress, which serves to empower and promote a culture that is designed to allow everyone to reach their highest potential.
Women play a huge role in that space at ABLE. According to findings from She-economy in 2018, to some estimates, women control approximately 85 percent of all consumer spending in the U.S. and women make 70 percent of the major financial decisions for their families. And that’s just in the U.S.
Since the start of ABLE, women globally have been given the resources to stand on their own two feet in a dignified way. Today, ABLE is all over the world, in six countries.
From producing hand-woven scarves, ABLE has evolved into to a one-stop shop for ethical fashion, offering leather goods, handmade jewelry, denim, clothing and footwear. No matter the type of purchase, you can be assured that a woman was behind the production and handling of the item.
“We outfit the whole woman head-to-toe, which was always a dream for us when we started,” Jen said. I remember very distinctly when I realized I had an outfit on head-to-toe and it was unconscious and I looked at myself and thought, wow we did it.”
The company partners with local businesses in Ethiopia that are encouraged to hire women and go through a vendor auditing program called ‘Accountable’. ‘Accountable’ consists of three focus areas in the workplace: equality, wages and benefits and safety. The audit is sent to interview employees, look at the bank statements and payroll of the company. Through the audits, the need for opportunity is assessed and then disbursed in each focus area.
As a result, ABLE became the first company to publish their wages – and not the average wage. Instead, they publish the lowest wages of the workers. This method serves to empower consumers to have a “quick and easy way to demand change.”
Through ABLE’s transparency, representatives around the world have joined the brand by witnessing how impactful their business model was.
“We believe strongly that when we are trying to make a difference in a community, the people that own the manufacturing business should be members of that community,” Jen added.
Driving progress in gender equality, ABLE allows for an opportunity that may not have existed before to women seeking options. Along with driving progress, ABLE makes possible another opportunity for its team, and that opportunity is mobility.
“We asked our employees to reflect on the last year and what they were 'ABLE' to do as a result of being employed here - some said they were able to gain financial freedom for the first time, but the most frequent response was that they were able to purchase a car for the first time,” said Public Relations Director, Amber Pietrobono. “What mobility means to a person is huge.”
ABLE continues to serve their mission to empower individuals to purchase with purpose in mind and know that when they do, they are making a global impact that could change the future of generational poverty and the lives of people, especially in this case, women around the world.
*Photos supplied by ABLE