Ashley Biden — daughter of the former vice president, wife, social worker, activist, dolphin lover. Now add designer to her credentials.
She has designed hoodies selling on Gilt.com and at the Gilt shop inside Saks Off 5th on 57th Street in Manhattan, through Livelihood Inc., a new socially and ethically conscious apparel company she founded to help fund schools, vocational training programs and job placement services. Livelihood currently targets its efforts in Wilmington, Del.,where Biden grew up (and where her father Joe Biden now lives after leaving office), and Anacostia, District of Columbia, where she first worked as a social worker.
“I believe it’s the most comfortable, sleek hoodie on the market,” Biden said in an interview. “It’s all made in the U.S,” from the fabric sourcing, to the gunmetal zipper and the production. Features include pockets big enough to fit a cell phone; an arrow-shaped line on the right cuff that’s reflective, making it easier to hail a cab at night; extended sleeves with thumb holes; heavy-gauge draw cords and a motto, “Keep Your Hood Up” printed on the exterior neckline. The hoodies are available in black, slate gray, winter white, navy, emerald and blush, and retail for $79 to $99. One hundred percent of the net profits will support the Livelihood causes.
Biden said she loves wearing hoodies, though finding the one that’s just right for her has been a dilemma. “Wherever I shopped, it was either pink, printed with words I wouldn’t wear, or out of my price range.” So why not design one herself, for a good cause. “I chose a hoodie because it’s universal, was once ubiquitous with the labor movement and is currently symbolic of important social justice movements,” said Biden.
She didn’t discount the idea of creating a bona fide collection one day, to further the cause. “With the success of this first step, I hope to continue to produce collections through Livelihood which will continue to give back to communities in need. For now, it’s just the hoodie. But I have many, many ideas. I love a good blazer. My middle name is Blazer. There are definitely many things we could do.”
Her activism preceded her love of fashion. When she was eight years old, she lobbied in Washington alongside then-Rep. Barbara Boxer of California (who later became a senator) to save the dolphins being killed in tuna nets.
“I was a young activist,” Biden said. It started at age seven when she saw a program documenting how dolphins were getting caught in sweeping tuna fish nets. Her father connected Ashley with Boxer, and the two were on the floor of the House of Representatives, the young Biden brandishing her “Save the Dolphins” poster, lobbying to pass The Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act of 1990. “I was actually mentioned in the bill on the House floor,” Biden said.
While attending a Quaker school, she learned more about activism, civil rights and social justice. She has worked in educational day camps, foster care programs, juvenile detention centers, mental health centers and currently she runs the non-profit Delaware Center for Justice.
“A lot of our social ills are directly related to poverty, not that people of higher status don’t have problems, but they have resources,” Biden said. “It really comes down to access and quality…People all across the country do wonderful projects and initiatives and yet we are not sharing and collaborating often. I hope to make creative innovators, entrepreneurs, people in the helping professions more collaborative.”
Biden is living proof that social workers can be stylish. “I have always loved fashion. I always had my own style. I would say it’s easygoing, sleek and with a little edge. I like it clean. I’m more of a solid color kind of girl. Anyone who knows me knows I love to wear hoodies, and a great top. Most of my jewelry is vintage. I like to be comfortable. Being really comfortable in what you wear makes you feel like you’re you.”
Last year, then-Vice President Joe Biden was honored as a “Father of the Year” by The National Father’s Day Council. That’s when Ashley met Jonathan Greller, president of Gilt and Saks Off 5th and a board member of the Father’s Day Council, and the two decided to collaborate.
“Ashley said she wanted to be in fashion and that she wanted to connect fashion with philanthropy and I said, ‘Ashley, that’s exactly what Gilt does,” Greller told WWD. “Two weeks later, we put a deal together,” involving Gilt’s production, design and e-commerce, and Biden’s creative and social impulses.
“Ashley has been part of the process every step of the way,” Greller said. “She’s worked closely with our design team. This is not about politics. It’s about a good cause, helping communities in need, and bringing together fashion and philanthropy. Our customers crave these collaborations.”
Actress Aubrey Plaza, of the show “Parks and Recreation” and movies “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” and “Legion,” is supporting Livelihood. A Delaware native like Biden, Plaza is seen on Gilt.com wearing the hoodie.
“I believe Wilmington and surrounding communities in Delaware need help and I want to get involved,” Plaza said, adding that certain community programs in Wilmington influenced her as a child and helped get her where she is today, namely, the Wilmington Drama League community theater. “It’s places like these I want to support so they can change other people’s lives as well,” said Plaza.