Barbara Hearst is ironing out a stimulus package for entrepreneurial women in South Carolina.
Well aware the state has the second highest unemployment rate in the country, Hearst established the clothing label B. Hearst Designs last year to help advance a few careers with micro loan grants. The first two $1,500 grants will be presented Friday at Charleston’s Center for Women. After-tax profits from B. Hearst Designs go to the Good4Women Foundation, which Hearst set up to hand out the micro loans.
During an interview last week in New York, she said many banks have clamped down on loaning money to small businesses. But G4W should remove that financial roadblock for some.
Hearst said the concept for her company stemmed from two ideas. First, Jennet Alterman, executive director of the Center for Women in Charleston, approached Hearst about setting up micro loans for local female entrepreneurs modeled after the work of Nobel Laureate and Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus. He initiated the concept with impoverished women in India, and more recently with low-income women in Queens. Another impetus was far more happenstance. In search of a middle-of-the-road outfit for a muggy day, she realized that most of the clothing in her closet would make her look too overdressed or underdressed.
This year, Hearst expects to sell 3,000 to 4,000 units of the brand’s knitted tops, which wholesale for $31.50. The G4W insignia is discreetly embroidered on the lower left sleeve of each top. Jackets and other items may be added to the domestically made collection in the coming months. “I’m just doing basic things. I’m not pretending to be a fashion designer,” she said.
While well practiced at philanthropy — she helped raise enough money to build a school in Tanzania in the late Nineties — running a fashion business is a new quest for Hearst, whose financial know-how is more commonly associated with her contentious divorce from John Randolph “Bunky” Hearst. That much-publicized subject was one she preferred not to discuss last week.
Hearst is not entirely a newcomer to the apparel business. Aside from working in marketing at Celanese decades ago, she used to work as a stylist for print advertising and later as a personal shopper. Unable to find a suitable factory in the Carolinas to make the new label, she decided on one in New Jersey that also manufactures clothes for The Walt Disney Co.
Hearst said she was intent on finding a U.S. factory that pays fair wages and adheres to good labor practices. Several workers in the one she uses have been there 20-plus years, she noted. “I couldn’t help women on one end and then hurt them on the other,” Hearst said. To try to further G4W’s reach, Hearst is going salary-free. “I am not taking a paycheck, but I would like the business to be revenue neutral,” she said.