New York – Day 4 – Stevie and Jessica
Sarah Taylor, Program Coordinator, Global Ambassadors Program
Stevie Howell, founder of Stevie Howell LLC, began the week as, what her mentor called “an accidental apparel designer.” By Friday, Stevie and her mentor Jessica Abrahams, chair of the government contracts practice at Drinker Biddle & Reath, transformed her business to match her passions. We caught up with both of them to learn how.
Jessica Abrahams (left) and Stevie Howell (right) during a one-on-one mentoring session
What have you been working on this week?
It began on day one with Zoe’s talk because it brought me to the very heart of not only what I am doing with my business, but my life – what I care about, and who I am. I feel like this week has been as much of an MBA as it has been therapy… I was expecting to focus on strategic planning, and on raising money to help grow the business in a very specific way for fashion. I kind of realized it wasn’t what was truly me.
Stevie paints a picture of her family tree in Aaron Kisner’s storytelling workshop
So, what is next?
My mission and values will remain the same, but I am changing the messenger. Rather than apparel, I am going to focus on creating an environment – for example wallpaper, fabric by the yard and custom murals. I will still do what I have been doing with the robes and pajamas, because they have been successful, but I will not need to create three entirely new collections each year.
The heart of my business is the same, but I think this new iteration will really help to focus on and to elevate the art behind everything I create. It will be more about transporting people into a new environment, not just an outfit.
Jessica Abrahams during one of the Global Ambassadors Program training sessions
That (apparel and consumer goods) is a secondary business, but that could be spun off and licensed. The focus can now be on what matters to Stevie – art and being an artist.
Can you pinpoint an ‘a-ha’ moment from the week?
It was definitely a thought process. But there was one moment when Jessica was like, ‘well it seems like you’re an accidental apparel designer.’
One of the things we were talking about is this issue of money and cash flow. She had become, for lack of a better word, sort of a slave to the demands of the fashion industry. So I said okay, forget the money. Assume you have all the money in the world, what do you want this to look like? Let’s figure out what we need to do to get there. Let’s map and prioritize. That’s what started this whole thing.
Stevie learning to project her voice to the last row during Aaron Kisner’s master class in public speaking
Do you see yourself as a leader in the industry?
I do, yeah, I feel like I am not a typical leader by any means. I might have a non-traditional approach to leadership, but I can help people connect on a level where it means something. I demonstrate that I care about things – I care about people. There is resilience in caring about what you do and people around you.
Stevie and Jessica discuss their work together and how the business will change after GAP
I think that Stevie is really, quite frankly, a very caring and empathetic person. I think she is actually a very strong person and, in some ways, stronger than she thinks she is. When you (Stevie) talk about your brand and what you want to do and your art, it’s about really lifting people up. Not in some kind of way cliché sort of way but in a really sincere, earnest genuine kind of way, and that to me is how you express yourself as a leader.
How will you pay this experience forward?
This week really reminded me how important it is to be always be yourself. I want to make people feel good and my way of doing that is through my art and creating beauty in the world. Before was focusing on working with suppliers with eco-friendly manufacturing processes and practice fair and safe labor. I am still very proud of that and that will remain a part of my business. Now I am also excited to inspire people to be brave, bold and to push really push themselves. I am really honored to be part of the Vital Voices network and plan of continued involvement.
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Photography: David Hume Kennerly