Alumna’s Award-winning Studio 189 Focuses on Fashion Sustainability

Coming hot off of a successful New York Fashion Week (NYFW) production, alumna Abrima Erwiah (Stern BS ‘04) is gleaming with optimism and excitement for the future. Abrima’s startup, Studio One Eighty Nine, was born in the desire to enact change with fashion rooted in deep culture, history and tradition.

Since its beginning in 2013, the fashion start up has received global accolades and support as it creates a movement to fashionalize our society and give new meaning to socioeconomic and political transformation.

We had the opportunity to catch up with Erwiah to learn more about the origin of Studio One Eighty Nine and the future.

Tiffaine Stephens: Abrima, thanks again for catching up with us. I know it’s been a busy season for you.

Abrima Erwiah: Of course.

TS: So, tell us what’s been going on with Studio One Eighty Nine since the last time Stern had the chance to speak with you.

AE: We just wrapped up our NYFW show, and got a lot of positive feedback so that was exciting! Things have been moving pretty rapidly. Right now, we’re focused on scaling the business by introducing tech to innovate the value chain process. Earlier this year, we were awarded the CFDA x Lexus Award for our focus on fashion sustainability, and it allowed us to take our ideas to another level. We’re looking forward to more collaborations and special projects in the upcoming year.

TS: Are you following the fashion show trail?

AE: Definitely. We have shows scheduled for Accra, Ghana and Lagos, Nigeria. We’ll also be receiving the Hank Award in the UK in November and one at the National Museum of History in New York in October.

TS: So tell us how Studio One Eighty Nine started. What was the spark?

AE: I always had an interest in heritage and craftsmanship, specifically in the fashion industry. After Stern, I started my career in fashion marketing and continued to grow within the field. Before the founding of Studio One Eighty Nine, I oversaw marketing for brands like Bottega Veneta and worked as a marketing mentor for the Afripads/Kering Foundation. This opportunity taught me about social enterprise.

I was invited by Rosario Dawson to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to observe micro-economies throughout the country. The point was to listen, watch and learn, and use the platform that already exists to further help people within marginalized communities. It all started as a volunteer project, but I started to feel like it wasn’t enough. In 2013, we launched the first collection in honor of One Billion Rising, a movement and call-to-action to end violence against women.

TS: How would you define the Studio One Eighty Nine brand and how is it evolving?

AE: We are a fashion for social change brand that provides a farm-to-consumer, handmade product. We are continuing to show that fashion is not just “fluffy.” It can be an agent of change because it’s social, economic and political. This is why the show was so successful because the future needs to be rooted in humans again. I like to call it “fashionalizing,” rising for change.

TS: Why did you decide to start the business in Ghana?

AE: There were a number of reasons we focused on Ghana. For one, my heritage is Ghanaian. At the time of business inception, it was [ranked] seven out of the top 10 fastest growing countries in the world when using GDP as a measurement. It was safe and served as a base for other countries nearby. From a financial standpoint, the technology and creative industries were growing and contributing to the economic growth of the country. We wanted to contribute to the growth, while changing the way people think of a product coming from a specific country.

TS: How did Stern prepare you for this venture? What should other students take advantage of during their time here in business school?

AE: Take advantage of the network! People at Stern are innovative, hard working, and clever, and I learned from that. Through cultivated relationships at Stern and afterwards, I was able to contribute more to the business. [For undergraduates,] I would recommend Stern International Volunteers, which encourages future business leaders to go to developing economies to learn about other cultures and to apply their business sense in that area.

Stay up to date on Studio One Eighty Nine by following the brand’s Instagram @studiooneeightynine and sign up to be notified on the website relaunch at www.studiooneeightynine.com. 

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