Styled for success

Styled for success

Local fashion designer Abbey Thurston is succeeding despite these fashion-challenged times.
Published: April 17, 2020 | Updated: May 1st, 2020 at 2:22 am

Abeille totes photo by Abbey Thurston
Abeille tote bags.

Abbey Thurston had scheduled a pop-up shop for her fashion design label, Abeille, on March 19. It was going to be held at Sakran and Shaw’s new boutique in Skaneateles. To prepare, she had placed a 62-piece order consisting of totes, T-shirts, and sweatshirts, double what she typically stocks.

But, Sakran and Shaw closed their store due to the coronavirus on March 16, the same day her order arrived. So, the pop-up was abandoned.

Abeille was started last April, more or less by accident. Thurston was a fashion design student at Cazenovia College. Until November, Abeille was just a side hustle. But it became an official business after Thurston reached a point where she either had to stop selling clothing or file the paperwork to become official.

“I’ve always wanted to start my own brand, but I didn’t want to unless I could devote 100 percent of my time to it and have experience in the industry,” she says. “But it kind of just, it happened when it happened, and I’m blessed.”

Abeille hoodie and sweatshirt
Abeille hoodie and sweatshirt.

Thurston’s label includes clothing and jewelry made in the U.S. that incorporates textiles and prints that Thurston designs. In addition to operating her own business, Thurston worked as a manager at a small boutique, Imagine, in Skaneateles. Having an income separate from her label was stabilizing since she was just getting started. But the day before Thurston learned that the pop up was cancelled, she was laid off. “It scared me that I just bought a whole bunch of merchandise and I had invested all this money into this business,” Thurston says.

Despite her fear, Thurston, rather than send the order back, paid for it and picked it up. She said she was sympathetic to her supplier, Dreissig Apparel, which was also a small business trying to make ends meet.

It worked out. Her customer orders have tripled what she normally receives. “I was just absolutely blown away by the amount of people that were buying from small business through this tragic pandemic,” Thurston says. With the uptick in orders and the state of small fashion and retail businesses, Thurston knew she wanted to help others who might need the exposure and support.

She considers herself lucky. She works out of her house and, besides the occasional pop-up, her label is based online. That puts her in a better position than some of her peers in fashion and retail. So, she decided that for every sale she made she would purchase something from another small business. She calls it “giveback” and she posted the plan on her Instagram (see bottom of page). It’s nothing formal, it’s just something she is doing to try and help out. “I really just want to spend that profit and support somebody who has rent to pay and is really stressed out about these economic times and needs4 to make ends meet,” she says.

Alternative Text
Abeille baseball caps.

In 2018, Thurston developed her main textile, the bee, while a student at Cazenovia College. The textile had been created for a project in her computerized design course and the bee was designed in photoshop. Using the textile and 2D clothing design software, Optitex, she created a denim jacket and a pair of sweatpants out of fabric imprinted with the bee textile.

When she posted that first design on Instagram, people started asking if she was selling it. Initially, Thurston said no because she was still in school. But one night she was browsing for personal business cards and saw that she could do a digital mockup of products by adding in a graphic.  “It’s like one in the morning, and I’m playing around with it,” she says. “So, I started with T-shirts just to see what they would look like and I tried adding [the bee] to a baseball cap. I just really kind of liked the way it looked.”

So did her Instagram followers. Once she posted the images of the caps to see if there was any interest, she received 20 orders before she even knew how to get the product. So, she reached out to Dreissig, where she had interned in 2017. Dreissig made 30 caps for the first order and they’ve been producing her designs ever since.

Abeille’s current collection are either merch inspired designs printed or embroidered with her original textiles. Something Thurston prides herself on is that almost all of her products are made in the U.S. “I have just such an appreciation for American-made goods, and the quality of the products and just the idea of creating American jobs,” she says.

Original bee textile design on denim jacket
The original bee textile design on a denim jacket.

Thurston was first inspired by bees because of her name, Abbey. But the meaning of the bee goes beyond just that. “It was more intriguing to me how it’s a species completely ruled by a matriarch,” she says.

Thurston donates two percent of the profits from Abeille, which is French for honeybee, to Stones Throw Farm, a local farm and beekeeper. “I love their sustainable values, and that they are organic, and community connected through their crop share program,” Thurston says. “I just felt they were the perfect place to donate to.”

To keep up with the demand, Thurston placed another product order with Dreissig. Dreissig Apparel has been deemed an essential business because they supply corporate uniforms on the apparel side and items like hand sanitizer, masks, and medical gowns on their Dreissig Corporate side. Their three main distributors have warehouses across the U.S., so even though some of their warehouses are shut down, they are able to keep supplying clients.

Abbey Thurston wearing an Abeille bodysuit
Abbey Thurston sporting an Abeille bodysuit.

The company’s marketing coordinator, Hannah Fitzgerald, said that Dreissig doesn’t typically supply independent brands like Abeille but since she receives a relatively high demand, they make an exception.  “Working with Abbey has been great because she does have a very consistent audience,” Fitzgerald says. “Which is really great, because I know her stuff is for a great cause as well.”

Despite the pandemic-caused reduced sales in fashion items,  Abeille continues to grow. New designs are being added regularly and selling out within weeks of being posted to the website. Thurston says she owes her success to her family and friends.  “It’s just amazing to see the people who are who are spreading the word for me and getting my name out there, and it’s returning back to me for orders,” Thurston says. “It’s just an amazing feeling.”

Abbey Thurston’s “Giveback” Helps Small Businesses
April 17, 2020 6:00 am

On the same day she would have had her pop-up, Abbey Thurston asked followers on Abeille’s Instagram which small businesses she (and others) should support.  She posted the suggestions to Abeille’s Instagram stories and saved them under “giveback”. At this writing, her list is over 30 and growing fast. “It’s really given me a lot of joy to be able to have other small businesses contact me and say like, this is amazing, ‘thank you’ and see how they want to spread the support,” Thurston says. Each purchase she makes is posted to her Instagram story with the business’s social media handle.

Abeille's Instagram story with giveback list
Abeille's Instagram story of her "giveback" list.

The first business Thurston supported was Emma and James, a small boutique in Skaneateles. Owner Lisa Dietz appreciates that people like Thurston are using this opportunity to help support local businesses. “It’s just such a brilliant idea,” she says. “If Abbey’s in a place where she can do something so great like that, I just think it’s amazing.”

Dietz is trying her best to support local business as well. With each purchase, customers are entered into a $150 gift card raffle to any small business of their choice. The raffle will end when stores are able to reopen. “It’ll be like a fun treat for the business,” Dietz says. “Also, the customers that are supporting us have been sitting in their homes for so long, so I’m sure once they are able to get out, they’re gonna want to do something they really love.”

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Posted by Emma + James on Thursday, March 19, 2020

Like Abeille, Emma and James has experienced a surge in sales as people try to support local businesses. Dietz said she’s received upwards of 12 orders a day, something that isn’t normal for their small boutique, which usually relies on in-store sales. “I’ve literally cried in the middle of a grocery store because of the amount of orders that I’ve been getting,” Dietz says. “So, the support is just, it’s crazy.” That support goes beyond sales. Dietz has noticed an increase of likes and shares on social media as well. What she finds the most inspiring is how small businesses have been supporting one another through shares on social media.

Anna Zarlinga, the owner of Hellbent, one of the businesses Thurston supports, has also noticed more sales recently. “I feel like people are stepping up for small businesses and I have definitely noticed a surge of more sales,” she says. “It’s really cool that even if people can’t buy right now, they’re sharing and they’re talking about [the businesses].”

Thurston said that the giveback was a way to help out her community. “This giveback was something I wanted to do as a thank you to my customers,” she says, “and to spread the support to other businesses.”

Fermata: Arts & Culture in the Time of Coronavirus
This article is part of the Fermata: Arts and Culture in the Time of Coronavirus series reported by students in the Critical Writing course at the Newhouse School. Fermata features stories on the impact of the pandemic on a wide range of artists and cultural figures, from musicians and comedians to restaurateurs and boutique owners.