We're proud to share this interview to Suzanne McKenzie, founder and CEO of Able Made, an active lifestyle brand that inspires healthy living and combines bold design with responsible manufacturing and giving back. Susan, is an award-winning creative director/designer by trade, she is passionate about using design and collaboration to make the world a better place. She also runs the Ucal McKenzie Breakaway Foundation, a nonprofit that gives city youth access top soccer and health education in collaboration with Whole Foods, MLS, CrossFit, We Got Soccer and WPS. Keep reading...
You’ve had quite a journey into the fashion world, from your roots in advertising and creative and design consulting to the designer and CEO you are today. Tell us how it all started…….
I have always connected my work in design with a passion for giving back and strengthening our communities. After losing my husband to sudden cardiac arrest when he was playing the game he loved, I founded a soccer foundation in his honor to outreach to city-youth and underserved communities––the work he was so gifted at doing as a Guidance Counselor, boys varsity soccer coach, and Boston-area youth mentor. Able Made was born as a creative way to help raise funds for our foundation, proceeds of every purchase fund the foundation.
How did you come up with the name of your company?
I worked with a writing partner, Lisa, who I’ve collaborated with for years. There were so many names we considered, but this one felt empowering and strong. The idea is that anyone is “able” to accomplish anything they put their mind to, and “made” speaks to the process of getting it all accomplished, whether your dreams, or even our responsible manufacturing process.
What inspired you to start a sustainable athleisure, purpose driven lifestyle brand?
I have 22 years of branding and design experience, and believe in the theory of design thinking–meaning every touchpoint of your brand means something, and serves as a communication tool for your brand or experience. I wanted ABLE MADE to have an impact at every touchpoint, not just helping donate proceeds of our sales. So our sustainable fabric qualities and responsible manufacturing process were non-negotiable standards from the beginning.
What’s the most challenging thing about running a sustainable business?
As an emerging brand, it’s challenging to have high standards because it impacts costs. Certified organic fabric is much more expensive than conventional fabrics or synthetics, for example. As we continue to grow, we will start to benefit from economies of scale. And customers love the super-soft hand feel and quality of our products, so the response has been amazing.
Is there someone who inspires you, and why?
I love Virgil Abloh for many reasons, but one is that he was not a “fashion designer”. He was a trained architect, but could apply his visual artist talents and drive to fashion, ascending to the role as Artistic Director of Louis Vutton Men’s. I am a trained graphic designer, but working in fashion medium has been a welcomed new challenge, and I see so many overlaps in the skills I’ve developed throughout my career in branding.
As consumers, what are the easiest ways we can all be more sustainable in our approach to fashion?
Now that sustainability is trending, it is important for consumers to look into the authenticity of the brands they support and buy from––there is a lot of greenwashing and what I call “good washing” because being a values-driven brand is fashionable. Buying select, quality items that will last years and years versus buying many apparel pieces that won’t last a season is something we are seeing from our consumers.
Can you give us any teasers on what might be the inspiration for the next collection ?
We will continue to be inspired by the beautiful game, soccer, because it’s part of our inspiration story. How we express that is going to come in many forms. I’m so excited for what’s next.