Michelle Hébert cuts from a large roll of paper on a table in her fashion design studio.
Designer Michelle Hébert cuts a pattern for a new gown for the luxury clothing brand she’s building in the garage of her childhood home.
Small Business
December 19, 2019

Fashion with a purpose

A Wells Fargo-sponsored fashion show and pop-up boutique in Los Angeles increases economic opportunities for female small business owners.

Designer Michelle Hébert watched the models walking the runway during a Los Angeles fashion show. They were a diverse group, but they had one thing in common — they were all wearing apparel created by up-and-coming designers, which were for sale at an accompanying pop-up boutique. It was a unique business opportunity for Hébert, who designs the pieces for her luxury brand from the garage of her childhood home. The fashion show and pop-up boutique were part of a fall event celebrating female and Hispanic heritage, called “Women, Wisdom, and Wealth: Celebrating Our Passions.” The show and boutique featured clothing, handbags, jewelry, and other accessories created by Hébert and 19 other female small business owners.

The event gave clients and potential clients the opportunity to support Latina- and female-owned small businesses, family, fashion, food, and philanthropy. Sponsored by the Diversity and Inclusion Council of Wealth & Investment Management at Wells Fargo, it was organized by Vanessa Di Palma Wright, owner of the fashion consulting company, Farasha.

Unwilling to let housing costs sidetrack her dreams, LA-based gown designer Michelle Hébert converted her parent’s garage into a design studio to keep growing her luxury clothing brand. (2:24)
“The biggest challenge emerging global designers have, whether it’s Colombia or Ethiopia or Michelle in Los Angeles — especially today in an oversaturated fashion market — is finding the right audience, because if there are no sales, the business doesn’t thrive and succeed.” — Vanessa di Palma Wright

Based in Park City, Utah, and founded in 2009, Farasha finds and connects emerging designers around the globe like Hébert with affluent customers by hosting pop-up boutiques.

“The biggest challenge emerging global designers have, whether it’s Columbia or Ethiopia or Michelle in Los Angeles — especially today in an oversaturated fashion market — is finding the right audience, because if there are no sales, the business doesn’t thrive and succeed,” Wright said.

“Wells Fargo has been a huge support in giving us their trust in producing a show like this, to celebrate the designers and present their work to their clients. It truly has been a full-circle women’s empowerment initiative.”

Jon Weiss, head of Wealth & Investment Management for Wells Fargo, said the event and others like it show how wealth and investment managers are transforming to serve their increasingly diverse clients and communities.

“One of the ways we do that is by efforts like this, focusing on our clients’ passions and interests and finding ways to connect with them in new ways,” he said. “In this case, it was fashion and Latinas in Los Angeles, a desire to help them start and grow small businesses, and a fashion show and sale our clients could themselves support to advance this mission in Los Angeles and beyond.”

Photo of hands directing material on a sewing machine. A quote from Michelle Hébert, in white text on a black background at right of the photo, says: From the age of 10, I’ve been committed to becoming a fashion designer.

Weiss said 15% of the proceeds from boutique sales went to two nonprofits helping female entrepreneurs. The first was Pro Mujer, a nonprofit he also served as a board member of that helps women in Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru start businesses to become more financially independent.

The other nonprofit benefitting from the boutique was the Eva Longoria Foundation, founded by actress and activist Eva Longoria to provide college scholarships, business training, and other assistance to help Latinas in the United States and Mexico build better futures for themselves and their families.

‘Inching closer’ toward her dream

As a mixed-race child of African, European, and Asian ancestry growing up in a working-class family, Hébert said she sometimes felt like an outsider, and can relate to these aspiring entrepreneurs. She traces the start of her own small business to her childhood, when she discovered her passion for design while drawing comics. Her character’s outfits had to change from scene to scene, and she created new wardrobes to match the action.

“From the age of 10, I’ve been committed to becoming a fashion designer,” she said.

That decision would lead Hébert to study fashion, earn a degree from Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, California, and move to Los Angeles, where her work eventually caught the eye of A-listers who began wearing her clothes.

Designer Michelle Hébert stands next to a gown on a mannequin.
Hébert and an assistant review designs on an iPad with a customer at the pop-up boutique.
Michelle Hébert drapes fabric on a mannequin.
Michelle Hébert sits at serger sewing machine, working on a design.
Michelle Hébert uses manila slopers to trace out a basic pattern foundation.
Photo of Michelle Hébert’s hands as she sketches designs.
Michelle Hébert was one of 20 up-and-coming designers showcased in a fall 2019 fashion show and pop-up boutique held as part of a Wells Fargo Wealth & Investment Management event in Los Angeles celebrating female and Hispanic heritage.
Hébert and an assistant use an iPad to share designs with a boutique customer.
Before the event, Hébert drapes fabric for a design on a dress from her garage-turned-studio.
At a serger sewing machine, Hébert finishes a design by creating a straight, sewn seam.
Using manila slopers, Hébert traces out a foundation for a new dress pattern.
Hébert sketches out some new designs to add to her collection.

“Every year, I realize that I am inching closer toward my dream,” Hébert said. “I’m working with bigger celebrities. I’m receiving more emails from showrooms and stylists and photographers who want to use my pieces, and I’m partnering with people like Vanessa, who can help me really achieve my dreams at the scale and level that I’ve always imagined as a little child in my bedroom.

“The future looks bright, and I’m excited.”