Avi Loren Fox was in the right place at the right time.
Five years after graduating from Temple, Fox found success in a most unusual way and in a business she never thought she would be involved in: hooded scarves.
“I think being a social entrepreneur is kind of like the new American dream,” Fox said. “I felt very encouraged by our time – I hit at the right time, being in a world that’s growing more and more environmentally conscious.”
The first “mantle” – the item Fox is now successfully selling – was crafted from one of Fox’s old sweaters. When people approached her and asked where the scarf came from, she seized the opportunity to turn her DIY project into a business called Wild Mantle.
Fox said she wanted to use the word mantle because – as a noun, the word means a sort of loose-fitting hood, but as a verb the word means to carry a sense of responsibility, a focus of the brand.
“My education at Temple definitely helped me to learn about all of the inequality in the world,” Fox said. “When you’re an environmental studies major you learn what we’re doing wrong, and when you graduate you think, ‘OK, how can I fix this?’”
Though Fox didn’t pursue a career in environmental studies, she is conscious of what she has learned about the environment and incorporated her knowledge into her brand.
All of the mantles are made in the U.S., with the newest line manufactured from alpaca fibers in Colorado. However, she has also partnered with MADE Philadelphia, a class series that focuses on fine tailoring, fashion design and sewing skills.
Rachel Ford, owner and founder of MADE Studio, said it was not easy to find people interested in sewing the scarves.
Ford discovered another group of women that she thought would potentially want to get involved.
“When I first got in touch with the Women’s Refugee Initiative it was sort of a health care initiative, but [we] asked the women what they were interested in and they said sewing – many of them are weavers by trade in their native countries,” Ford said. “I immediately saw this as the workforce [for the project].”
“So often these initiatives are like, ‘Oh, well we’re going to do this to save you,’ but this was very much what they wanted to do and focused on them,” she added.
Ford chose a group of seven Nepali-Bhutanese women to become the Women’s Refugee Textile Initiative, which is now an offshoot of MADE, and is continuing to work on Fox’s line of upcycled sweater mantles, called Janeys.
Each of the scarves is one-of-a-kind, making it difficult to produce on a large-scale, Ford said. But because Fox requested a batch of just 200, the initiative was able to take on the project.
“These women are rock stars,” Ford said. “What takes many people years they learned in about 16 weeks.
The hours most factory work require are difficult because many of the women also have families to care for at home.
Ford said MADE is able to take the women’s different experiences and situations into account, but it is still hard for some of the women to feel comfortable working full-time.
“They have children, they have elders living in their home that they have to take care of and their husbands are working,” Ford said. “Of course they’re grateful, but I think they’re nervous about how [a job] will impact their lives.”
Many of the women in the initiative lived in refugee camps in Bhutan for more than 20 years. Making the change from that life to living in a row home in Philadelphia is a challenge, Ford said. Though, she thinks it is an important step in helping the women feel more comfortable adjusting to a new country.
One of the women in the initiative worked as a lawyer before coming to the U.S., but when she arrived she found it difficult to find work anywhere, even being turned away at McDonald’s, Fox said.
Ford said though it is hard, the women are very grateful for the opportunity and learning quickly has instilled a sense of accomplishment in them.
The Janey line has sold so well that Fox has already dropped of another batch of sweaters to be turned into mantles, Ford said.
The line has also garnered attention from actress Kat Dennings who has taken to Twitter to show-off her own Janey.
“We grew up together,” Fox said. “It’s been really cool and she’s been a huge inspiration to me – I sort of watched her career. She even started the hashtag, ‘mantleselfie’.”
Though Fox has seen success thus far, she said she doesn’t want to stray too far from the roots of the brand in the future, even if she does continue to expand.
“I definitely want to explore and put my time in making the hooded scarves the best I can and being really thorough,” Fox said. “I’m already discovering things I want to add and discovering what our customers want. But it’s important to me that whatever I make is functional.”
Alexa Bricker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org