HB: What is the inspiration behind your company?
AR:The inspiration behind A. Bernadette came more in a form of a calling or vision that took place over many years. I was already attending high school classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology and knew someday I would start my own line of clothing. After graduating with a degree in pattern making, as I like to say "I jumped ship" and when to Uganda as a volunteer. This event set my life on a completely different path. I saw tailors creating beautiful pieces with little training and knowledge of how to produce on a larger scale. I vowed to return to Uganda after completely my second degree in International Trade and Marketing, in order to help them manufacture in a more sustainable way and to fulfill my dream of creating my own line. In 2010, with my sister by my side, we returned to Uganda for 2 years where we developed our mission, vision, accessory line, and business plan for A. Bernadette.
HB: Has it been difficult launching a sustainable collection in Harlem?
AR: A. Bernadette is so much more than a sustainable fashion line. A. Bernadette is sustainable. Period. Our business is built on the frame work of the Triple Bottom Line, meaning the people we work with, the environment we effect and live in, as well as the profit we take in are equal in importance to us when making all decisions. This is sustainability, realizing the way I treat my partners directly effects my profit, being profitable is directly connected to my environmental footprint, and living in an eco-friendly environment brings great benefit to the people I work with. It is a closed loop. This idea of taking care of the community, the neighborhood we live in, and still being profit-minded resonates with the Harlem community.
HB: How long have you been in Harlem?
AR: I've been living in Harlem off and on since 2006. I've called Manhattan Avenue and 116th my home, Hamilton Terrace, 149th St and Broadway, Edgecome and 145th, and now have settled into 143rd and Broadway. I'm a bit of a nomad, splitting my time between Uganda and New York.
HB: What are some of your favorite pieces?
AR: My favorite pieces are our core items. These items emblem all that A. Bernadette stands for. Achiro's Strap Bag 2.0($40) is make from recycled packing straps that would normally be burned in an incinorator (shown in photo with Andrea). They are super durable, practically indestructible and will outlive us all. La Gulu's Kibu Bracelet($18) is made from plastic bags and grass that is grown by the Nile River. The artisans we work with use their traditional weaving techniques to create these bracelets. Agnes' Cookin' Bag($40) is by far my favorite. This heat retaining bag was created after we implemented a grant on solar cooking. Cook your rice for half the time, place it in the bag and 10 mins later you have perfectly cooked rice. Or place a ice pack at the bottom of the bag and any item you'd like to keep cool and you are ready for the beach or park. This bag is stuffed with recycled styrofoam allowing up to 8 hours of temperature retaining properties.
HB: What should shoppers expect from A:Bernadette for the fall season?
AR: This fall A. Bernadette is working with a number of different partners. Living in Uganda you meet a lot of like minded individuals who want to see women owned co-operative businesses succeed. A. Bernadette has teamed up with Kalulu Kids, The Little Blue Shed, and Project Have Hope, three organizations who work with women in Uganda. These companies make children's clothing, as well as bags and necklaces made from recycled paper. We believe in collaboration, not competition. Each one of our partnerships work at different capacities but all with the same goal of supporting small businesses.
HB: Is there anything you find unique about living in Harlem?
AR: The uniqueness in Harlem lays in it's diverse residence and landscape. Where I currently live, in Hamilton Heights, a vibrant, noisy, dynamic, and spacious environment is available. My days are spent working from my sunny spacious living room, strolling down 145th to either Riverside Park or Jackie Robinson Park to get a bit of nature, or trying out one of the many new restaurants.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
about 3 years since we last heard about any progress on the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute but now the $3.5 million project has broken ground this week. We especially like the adaptive reuse of the old Hook & Ladder 14 Firehouse just east of Park Avenue on 125th Street for what's a better way to celebrate history than having a museum in a historic building? More details on the new East Harlem Institution can be found here: LINK
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
The lower photo shows the block on the north side today right in front of Manhattanvillle Coffee at 142nd Street and Edgecombe. Archival photo courtesy the Museum of the City of New York