Beautiful and Beneficial
Bené Scarves’ Michelle Blue and Sasha Matthews use fashion to make a difference
Finding thoughtfully made fashion can be challenging enough, but to discover a brand that’s using profits to make a real difference feels like a treasure. Bené Scarves, the brainchild of 26-year-old Michelle Blue and 25-year-old Sasha Matthews, who lives downtown, are 100% silk, oversized at 22 x 78-inches and printed with their own colorful designs.
The scarves, which sell for $150 apiece, also feature a quote by girls in Ghana whose education the company’s annual sales support. One such girl, Felicia Akparibo, says, “I don’t have to give up—all things are possible, in due time. My time has come.” It’s a beautiful sentiment for the enterprising, Atlanta-based lifelong friends who founded the company in 2013, the same year they graduated from college. Here, they share a bit about their journey to entrepreneurism and impact.
How did the idea for Bené Scarves come about?
MB: I was a student at the University of Georgia and studying marketing with a fashion merchandising minor. I went on a trip to Ghana in 2011 to study the textiles and culture, and one of the programs allowed me to meet some girls who were fighting for access to education. I was in awe of their spirit and wanted to be a part of providing a better life for them. I came home and told Sasha the story. We were going into our junior year. After graduation, we started the company.
Sasha, how did you catch the passion, having not been on the trip with Michelle?
SM: It was a natural connection for me because my family is from Jamaica, where you have to pay for everything related to school, including uniforms and transportation. Something as small as having a way to get to school can stop you from going. So I’d seen something similar first hand.
Tell us about the design.
MB: We work with a textile designer in New York, follow the trends and draw inspiration from all over. We pick out our silks and do the cut and sew production in Atlanta. Along the side of each scarf is a quote from one of the girls we support. The quote is the one thing she wants to put out into the world. We have five scarves in each collection and typically launch a new collection twice a year.
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs who want to make a difference?
SM: First, nothing is too small. We wanted to do so much, but after going to Ghana you realize that every life you touch is worth it. Second, just start. If you’re an entrepreneur, keep doing something, little by little, every day. Before you know it, you’ll look up and have something in hand.
It must be gratifying to know that you’re changing lives in Africa.
MB: Going back to Ghana [last] May to see the first class of girls [we supported] graduate was a highlight. We realized that a scarf is so much more than a scarf. Real lives are being changed. There’s a generational impact for the five girls, their families and communities. Now we’re supporting a new group of girls. We blog about them to keep people updated.
Atlanta’s not necessarily known for its fashion manufacturing, but the scarves are produced locally.
SM: The goal for the designs was to reflect the culture we were inspired by, but we wanted to create the products here because it allows us to be more involved in the process. We love to support Atlanta. It’s maybe not the first place people think of for fashion, but there are a lot of resources here. We love being a part of that supporting story.
What does “Bené” mean?
SM: We looked up words that represented what we wanted to be. We ran across benevolent, which means characterized by goodwill. So we cut it to “bene” which is a prefix that means “good.”
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STORY: Jennifer Bradley Franklin