We had the good fortune of connecting with Vicki Bowen Hewes and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Vicki, have you ever found yourself in a spot where you had to decide whether to give up or keep going? How did you make the choice?
This is a really great question, because I believe the answer is to never give up! The way you proceed with something might change, your level of engagement might be different, but I am a firm believer in never giving up in anything you start. My most recent and profound example is the social enterprise I started, Fashion Forward (www.fashionforwardonline.com).

I full heartedly believed in my vision prior to launch — uniting consigners and shoppers to empower women through style — and still do. Through the process of building the business, I learned so much about e-commerce, shipping and receiving, social media analytics, hidden costs and much more; these are all aspects that I’d studied and taken into account prior to launch, however the hands-on experience provided an entirely different understanding, as each business is entirely unique.

I also knew more about what questions to ask and how to prioritize the million+ responsibilities of any entrepreneur. And in that exploration I learned that what I wanted most — to support nonprofits empowering women through fashion resale — would be more efficiently executed AND have a more immediate impact for organizations if the operation was led by a company/platform that was already doing e-commerce resale and had millions of customers already viewing and shopping on their site.

Of course, my pride wanted to maintain the business and lead it forward, but when I truly understood my hearts mission would be fulfilled by paying it forward, it was easy to transition. My conundrum was convincing the ‘big player’ to add a philanthropic option to their offerings when they were already had the marketshare and no one was encouraging them to look at philanthropy in a new way — no one except me 😉 After many conversations, emails and texts, they agreed to pilot the initiative, takeover current inventory and see where it led, which is currently active and under evaluation.

Although my initial vision is completely transformed, I do not view this as giving up — I actually see it as lifting up! I created something new, I saw how it would be better, I had the courage to let my pride take a hit, knowing that my overall goal would be achieved, and I actively stay involved in a completely different capacity. I now share how people can make a difference for organizations empowering women through the new channel, and the impact is much more immediate and inspirational.

My advice would be to look at all the options — look at what you’ve built and understand the value in that. Consider the pros, cons and potential pivots. There are so many ways to collaborate, create and explore new ways to fulfill your dream — it might take on an entirely new form, and that’s the beauty of staying the course, enjoying the adventure, and keeping your purpose at hearts center.

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in what would be considered a ‘traditional’ middle-class family — Dad worked in construction, Mom stayed at home with 2 kids (my brother and me) and our dog. Life was easy, good and for the most part, fun.

My first serious boyfriend in high school was physically and emotionally abusive, and that experience formed my opinion of myself as a woman — worthless. I stuffed this down, told no one because I was so ashamed. I went through years of failed relationships because I kept repeating toxic behaviors (I never knew anything different) and found solace in my work. My workplaces didn’t know I was worthless, and because of the hard work ethic I learned from my family I built a thriving career — I was living with some duality, successful at work and without much confidence in my personal life. You wouldn’t have known it from the outside looking in. I had lots of friends, traveled, lived in several states and overseas; my life was totally IG fabulous — and this was long before instagram! But the voice I always heard was ‘you know you don’t deserve this happiness, right? you know everyone’s going to find out you’re worthless, right?’ On the daily I embraced imposter syndrome.

I decided to volunteer with an organization that empowered women who were coming from disadvantaged circumstances because I’d achieved professional success. And the universe had a surprise in store for me. The first woman I was paired with to support and mentor was living in a homeless shelter. She said to me “I am sorry if I smell. I haven’t had the chance to take a shower in a few days. I’m escaping from my boyfriend who beats me up daily — my kids are with children’s services and I have to get them back. I have a job interview on Friday and as soon as I’m working, I’m going to build a new life for me and my kids, outside of the abuse.” I was breathless. Here was a woman whom I’d just met a few minutes ago — she didn’t have any hesitation telling me, nearly a stranger, what she’d endured. My years of shame and pain came to the surface. I shared my personal story with her, told her she was going to be great and that she had actually changed my life. I had come to volunteer and help someone, and I was actually the one that was transformed from the help she’d so graciously given to me, her authenticity, vulnerability, trust.

From that point forward I owned my experience as a gift, as strange as that sounds. Had I not been through horrific circumstances I would not have had the compassion, empathy and strength to understand and help heal myself and others.

The power of authentic connection is life changing. When we are willing to arrive at whatever we do with our full selves, the experience for everyone is empowering, rich with whole-hearted joy. My brokenness makes me beautiful. When you allow yourself to see beauty in multiple forms — not what social media or society might maintain as the measuring stick — you live in fullness and truth and others are empowered to do the same.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
As I’m writing this we’re in the throughs of Covid19, so my best friends are visiting via zoom! I enjoy doing virtual happy hours, grabbing a bottle of wine from Weilands Market in Clintonville, some delicious charcuterie from Carfagna’s and flowers from Steven Cox flowers. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I have a 2-year degree from a local college. My husband, Ken Hewes, has an undergrad from Yale and Wharton MBA — he’s one of the smartest people I know. He’s been a continual point of inspiration for me to continue my purpose-driven path and regularly says to me ‘You’re brilliant.’. This is wonderful, but also daunting — it actually pushes me to dig deeper, try harder and embrace authenticity and I’ve learned to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable, pushing myself out of zones that are easy and diving into challenges. Also, my Fashion Forward Advisory Board is remarkable — a group of incredible, immensely talented women who dedicated their time, talent and resources to a venture that was completely grassroots and bootstrapped. Cristina Angeli, Meredith Rollins, Adiya Dixon and Alison Goldstein are forever sisters in empowerment and strength!

Website: www.vickibowenhewes.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/vbhlife/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vickibowenhewes/

Twitter: I don’t tweet

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vicki.bowenhewes/

Image Credits
On studio shot, Jehan Daugherty

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