Ag Apparel designer Jordan Silver is breaking ground
At just 28, Indiana University alumna Jordan Silver has already launched a successful special-needs clothing line and been featured in "O, the Oprah Magazine."
Silver's line of clothing, The Element of Ag Apparel, debuted at the Abilities Expo in New Jersey in spring of 2008. Last June, she was one of 80 women (chosen out of over 3,000) to attend Oprah's women's leadership conference in New York City. At the conference, Silver was spotlighted for her unique approach to fashion -- adaptive apparel for women with physical challenges -- and had the "motivating and inspiring" opportunity to spend time with a coaching consultant, attend workshops and practice speaking about her clothing line before a group.
She herself is not disabled; Silver's inspiration for the line was her late aunt Janet, who had Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." ALS affects motor neurons causing muscle weakness, twitching and speech impairment among other symptoms. Her designs are made to be comfortable, stylish and easy to put on, using uncomplicated closures such as zippers and elastic waistbands.
Silver came to IU Bloomington in 1999 after visiting and applying to schools across the country. Growing up in a town near the beach, she was hesitant to move to the landlocked Midwest, but any doubts quickly left her mind when she set foot on IU's beautiful campus. During her undergraduate career, she witnessed legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight in his heyday and watched the men's basketball team make it all the way to the NCAA finals.
Silver describes herself as one of those kids whose childhood dreams lasted throughout adolescence and into adulthood. "When I was six, I tried to get our brownie troop to change the uniforms from all brown to denim!" she said.
When she graduated from IU with a bachelor's degree in general studies, Silver moved to New York and took a position as an unpaid intern with a small jewelry designer. Although the position was "somewhat of a nightmare" in some ways, there were aspects of the job she loved -- including having the chance to gain experience running a small business.
"Being fresh out of college, I expected the industry to be glamorous, a melting pot of opportunity," Silver said. "I knew it was very competitive and required a lot of work, but I was not expecting the superficiality and darker side of some people's personalities."
After her internship, Silver said she had no idea exactly what to do with her life, but did know she wanted to start her own business. She joined the New York City networking group "Ladies Who Launch," which helped her gain the confidence she needed to start Ag Apparel.
Seeing the hardships her aunt overcame and talking about clothing with other women in the group were Silver's inspirations. "It just clicked," she said. "Fashionable adaptive apparel was an industry I never knew of until my aunt had ALS, and I believe it has been overlooked for too long. After noticing the void in the market, I couldn't turn away."
In the beginning, Silver struggled with designs and money issues, but one day she got what she calls the "final signs" that she was on the right path: She was cleaning her attic and found her sample book from her IU design class and other class projects, which helped generate new ideas. Then she came across an e-mail from her aunt, who at this point had passed away. The e-mail said, "Most of all, the clothes must look attractive and stylish."
"I read it, pulled my sewing machine out and never looked back," said Silver.
With determination, self-discipline -- and yes, some mistakes -- Silver created her line, the Element of Ag Apparel. Knowing she could help women with disabilities dress with ease and gain confidence from feeling stylish helped her stay on course.
"Some people say they just wear whatever is in their closet or that clothing is superficial. What they don't say is that every piece of clothing in their wardrobe is there because they put it there," said Silver. "Everyone has a style or uniqueness about them that is reflected through their image. What if the clothing in your closet wasn't there because you wanted it but because it was easy?"
Getting to where she is now has not been easy. Aside from financial issues, Silver dealt with other people's negative reactions to her business plan, from rolling their eyes to looking at her like she was crazy. Silver says she was also naïve in the beginning, falling victim to a scam and grant promises that never transpired.
"I have learned that it is OK to be a little skeptical of people, just as long as you stay open to ideas and give those the benefit of doubt."
Silver has been pleasantly surprised with the encouraging reactions from the public. From vendors to buyers, to both abled and disabled women, the overall response to Ag Apparel has been overwhelmingly positive. Silver has received "inspiring," "unbelievable" e-mails and calls from women telling her how her clothing changed their lives.
The accolades don't stop with her buyers. Aside from being recognized by Oprah, an experience Silver calls surreal, she was also invited to speak at the Independence Expo in Kissimmee, Fla., by United Spinal Association at the "I'm Every Woman II Conference."
Perhaps the most important goal in Silver's mind is for people to see those with disabilities as people first, not as defined entirely by their disability. "I know stereotypes exist in all areas, but we need to look past a disability -- because their abilities are outstanding," said Silver, who is also working toward helping eliminate the negative stigma still attached to the word "disabled."
Silver admires Coco Chanel and Diane Von Furstenberg, designers who have paved the path for women in her eyes. "I try to follow it -- while making sure I leave my own footprints."
For more information about The Element of Ag Apparel, see http://www.agapparel.com/shop.aspx.