Accessories designer Elisabeth Weinstock on her unconventional hiring choices
It’s not about taking chances—it’s about giving them.
Accessories designer Elisabeth Weinstock operates a rare business model. Instead of filtering through resumes of qualified artists, the openly sober businesswoman prefers to help others by providing opportunities and guidance to those who wouldn’t otherwise be working.
“I got sober 30 years ago after being a hard core drug addict,” says Weinstock. After noticing she had a knack for talking to kids, her son’s therapist encouraged her to get involved with underprivileged youth. Weinstock says, “I ended up falling in with a crowd of gang members and starting some programs for them.” After leading a class called Life for the struggling teens and teaching them how to shake hands, make eye contact and open bank accounts, Weinstock says her bond with the gang community still remains strong.
When the time came for Weinstock to hire employees for her eponymous line, she knew she wanted to work with some of the people she encountered over the years—gang members and drug addicts.
Lucy Cooper, a 21 year-old self-taught artist who had never been employed until she started working for Weinstock says she was a drug addict suffering from depression until her hobby became a paying gig. “I can’t go a day without doing something artistic, but I never thought I’d get paid to paint,” she says. When she’s working, she tries not to think about the fact that her designs are selling for two thousand bucks a pop. “It gets overwhelming and I’d rather not cry while I’m at work, even if I’m crying tears of joy,” Lucy explains.
Much like her boss, Lucy feels a sense of responsibility when it comes to rooting for the underdog. “I’ve never met anyone who helps as many people on this large of a scale, but Elisabeth has definitely inspired me to help others. My life and my sobriety depend on it,” she says.
Another fixture at Weinstock’s company is graphic designer Josh Grunfeld—a former addict and father who attributes his newfound life to his boss and steady job. “When I came in to meet Elisabeth, I had no idea I would end up working for her or that my dream job would become a reality. I don’t remember much from that initial meeting because I was still using but something she said struck a chord with me,” he says.
The first thing Weinstock asked Grunfeld to paint was a mushroom for her SS17 collection. He was pretty confident that he could handle the task even though he’d never painted with acrylic leather paint on snakeskin. “People aren’t perfect, but you have to be pretty precise with these pieces,” he says.
Having never worked professionally, let alone as an artist, Grunfeld has spent the last eight months mastering Photoshop. “I’m really into the designing aspect and I’d love to do my own thing one day, but I’ll stay by Elisabeth’s side as long as she’ll have me—she’s a shining star and she inspires me every day,” says Grunfeld.
With handbags ranging from $830 to $2500, most shoppers probably don’t realize that these pricey prized possessions bear such depth or that their dollars are helping a designer dole out second chances.
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