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Product, Service & Design Innovation
How Able Made’s Circular Products Are Fueling Healthier Communities

Able Made is a purpose-driven lifestyle brand created to help empower city youth and support nonprofits with its sustainably made apparel and accessories, and programming aimed at a creating healthier communities through the power of design and sport.

After losing her husband, Ucal — a high school guidance counselor, soccer coach and city-youth mentor — to sudden cardiac arrest while playing soccer in 2009, Suzanne McKenzie launched the Ucal McKenzie Breakaway Foundation (UMBF) in 2012 to continue his work empowering urban youth through soccer. The foundation uses a cross-cultural approach to teach kids about health, nutrition and other life skills; McKenzie’s sustainable lifestyle brand, Able Made, was created to help support the foundation’s work.

Image credit: Ucal Breakaway Foundation/Facebook

McKenzie, who teaches Design and Social Entrepreneurship at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, received a Sappi Ideas that Matter Grant in 2010 and was selected to attend President Obama’s Global Emerging Entrepreneurs event at the White House in 2015. Through Able Made and the UMBF, her vision is to raise and reset standards for sustainability with creatively crafted collections that support local jobs and create healthier communities.

UMBF partners with leading organizations such as Whole Foods, Boston Children’s Hospital, CrossFit and America Scores, to offer events and activities combined with soccer for city youth ages 8-18 in Boston, Hartford and Brooklyn that uniquely combine soccer, health, art and mentorship. Through its partnerships, the foundation encourages cross-cultural learning and communication and also provides heart health, CPR training, concussion and hydration education, and nutrition workshops, as well as arts activities.

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All of Able Made’s products are manufactured responsibly in the United States, which she said was an advantage during the pandemic. The company was able to keep factories open and save jobs by, for example, having its sock manufacturers produce face masks. Although the cost of domestic, responsible manufacturing is higher than offshoring, the brand carefully balances price points so that it’s able to direct between up to 25 percent of its revenue toward the UMBF and other nonprofits.

Image credit: Able Made/Facebook

"We have successfully helped raise funds for UMBF, which is now in its 12th year; I’m most proud of that achievement," McKenzie told Sustainable Brands™. "I participate in the camps and have an opportunity to talk with the families and kids, which drives me and the work I do on the fashion side."

Collaboration has been the key for Able Made to grow, raise awareness and help fund its causes of choice. Puma has been a sponsor and provider of equipment and content for the UMBF’s camps, which led to collaborating on a capsule collection. Another collaboration was with Threadless — a global design challenge where artists from around the world donated artwork and raised money for the VH1 Save the Music Foundation. Other collaborations — with organizations including S’well, Friends of the High Line, and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum — have supported nonprofits such as the American Heart Association, CFDA Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, Pencils of Promise and more.

Along with fueling positive impacts externally, McKenzie took care to ensure that Able Made’s products are low-impact, as well — the brand incorporates alternative fabrics including fruit-fiber leather, cruelty-free wool, organic cotton, and upcycled and deadstock materials. The use of agriculture byproducts — which McKenzie said will feature more heavily in the future — also creates an income stream for farming communities.

Image credit: Able Made/Facebook

Able Made’s current line includes bags made from apple leather, pineapple leaves and recycled nylon; recycled metal jewelry, and organic cotton socks and masks.

“I love the idea of giving new life to existing materials, versus creating waste,” McKenzie said. “And the use of fruit connects back to our nutrition education that we provide to kids through the foundation’s camps and events.”

McKenzie says Able Made’s products are becoming much more sports-inspired to celebrate the heritage of the brand. She is hoping to cultivate more strategic partnerships to reinforce that point of view.

“My goal is to become a leading athluxury brand, and be used as a case for setting standards high so we can all thrive,” she says. “I want to demonstrate the power of design thinking and show how many problems we can solve using strong design — whether it’s creating a more sustainable world; or fostering a healthier, more connected and empowered community.”

Able Made’s products are available on its website, retail locations in NYC, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Sante Fe, NM; and through an exclusive collection for the Guggenheim Museum in New York.