Abi Lierheimer’s senior thesis collection, “Thrive”, is a blend of American luxury and sport with Asian influence. It includes a custom trim metallic puff jacket, flocked polka dot tulle overlay, Chinese silk, and neon reflective heat seal tape, provided by Bemis International sponsorship. “Thrive” is inspired by women who thrive against all odds. Women like Abi.
Each year, the Savannah College of Art and Design hosts a fashion show to exhibit exceptional senior thesis collections. There are approximately 150 seniors across SCAD Savannah, Hong Kong, and Atlanta who work tirelessly year-round to produce a six-look collection based on their chosen concept. Though all work hard, only roughly forty seniors and three of their six looks make it to the fashion show in May. With guests like Anna Wintour and Carolina Herrera, the SCAD fashion show aids students in landing their dream jobs after graduation.
I got to know Abi while working with her a few years back on a fashion photo shoot. After realizing that we had similar work ethics, we automatically teamed up to market her senior collection.
Adopted at just nine months old from a bleak Chinese orphanage, Abi grew up in Evergreen, Colorado and came to SCAD with a fierce determination to tell her story through clothing. While she is devoted to her trade, Lierheimer holds a spot on the inaugural SCAD Varsity Cycling Team which competes in the South Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference (SECCC). Cycling is a huge time commitment, with practice every day and races that take up her three-day weekends. Abi also heads up the SCAD Colleges Against Cancer Club where she hosts fundraisers for the American Cancer Society. Over the past two years, she's held down internships at 3.1 Phillip Lim in New York City, and Under Armour World Headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.
On the side, at the beginning of her senior year, Lierheimer has also started a design brand, called Minou, with a fashion marketing student, Patrick Meynard. Together, they have produced a brand designed to be a tangible representation of themselves. Their first collection included oversized hoodies, luxe t-shirts, and pocketed joggers. Minou focuses on uniting their voices and backgrounds to create fashion that speaks true to themselves. Clothing is Lierheimer’s way of capturing moments in time. Abi somehow seems to do it all, taking every opportunity that comes her way.
Abi first revealed her concept to me when we sat down in a quiet studio in Eckberg Hall, the SCAD fashion building, surrounded by student drawings and blank easels. I turned the pages of her process book to find textiles sourced from Hong Kong, Cambodia, and China, intertwined with photos of people, landscapes, and buildings she shot during her travels through Asia. Her sketchbook exploded with color and personality. It told her story through collaging, quick notes, illustrations, and exotic textures. Because Abi grew up skiing, cycling, and playing a variety of sports, she combines elements of sport, such as heat sealing tape, with oriental silks. By merging every important event in her life, from her adoption to her process of self-discovery at SCAD, she has developed a wearable, yet luxurious collection.
After her first senior critique, Abi and I met in her townhome. Her senior professors and Michael Fink, Dean of Fashion, responded positively to the collection. They saw obvious potential. We heated up edamame and munched on fresh cantaloupe while discussing her work that filled floor-to-ceiling sized foam boards in her living room. Muslin prototypes hung neatly on a rack, and for the first time it all came together. The vision revealed in her process book gained impact in the third dimension. As the conversation progressed, Abi opened up about her past.
Abi Lierheimer’s story started in 1994 at a cloudy lake in Hangzhou, China. There she was found as a baby and taken to the Hangzhou Children’s Welfare Institute. This institution was government funded and government run, housing only disabled orphans. The “healthy” children went to work in the factories at age five while the disabled usually passed away before then due to lack medical care to treat their disorders. Abi was considered disabled because she was lactose intolerant. She was adopted from the Hangzhou Children’s Welfare Institute at nine months old, and grew out of her lactose intolerance when she was seven.
Now twenty-two years old, Abi traveled back to Hangzhou after studying abroad in Hong Kong in 2016. Abi traveled with her mom, Victoria Lierheimer, and older brother, Chris Lierheimer Jr. On her first day back, she visited the orphanage where she’d lived as an infant.
“Going back it was dark. All of the lighting was florescent.” The thick smog filled her lungs and the little light that existed was diffused by pollution. Abi described it as, “four days of depression.” She made her way through the orphanage explaining that it looked like an elementary school- a huge brick building, now mostly empty. The building was, “cold, dark, and large with linoleum floors.”
Among the rows of empty rooms Abi spotted one that was occupied- filled with toddlers. She held a baby for thirty minutes. “He could barely breathe. It sounded like…uh… a machine. It didn’t sound human.” She recalled, “Whatever surgery the baby needed, they didn’t have enough money to perform. He probably won’t live very long.
Abi thought, “I’m going to come back here, and not just give money. I must do something to give back, even if I come back and am cleaning the toilets. But I wouldn’t even know how to start that process.”
Abi has never dreamed of making millions, or owning the most glamorous flat in New York City. Her wildest dreams center around giving back and helping others, specifically children, find opportunities despite their obstacles. Hard working, stoic, no-bullshit Abi shed her shell while her book laid open on the table.
Later, we met in the comfort of Savannah, Georgia’s most loved coffee shop, Foxy Loxy, to further discuss the marketing plan which we would pursue. Abi came with a sketchbook filled with highlighted, emphasized, and underlined words. Over and over Abi scribbled, “Thrive,” alluding to her goal of giving people the opportunity to thrive under any circumstance.
With each meeting, the plan expanded. Abi discussed the logistics of her photoshoots, marketing ideas, and processes as if we were planning for New York Fashion Week. She explained that, if she were to have her own show, there would be an entrance fee to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
This drove her to reveal another daunting part of her life. Abi folded her hands nervously in her lap, looked up and then back at me. On the day before her 16th birthday, Abi’s father passed away from stage IV colon cancer. “I want to dedicate the collection to him,” she said. “I also am using it to write a love letter to my [now] single mom, who has given me everything I have in life.”
“Thrive” is a collection of bright pinks, yellows, and blues. It is a collection of textiles sourced from her birth country, inspiration pulled from her travels, and sport elements inspired by her upbringing in Colorado. It’s a collection in memory of Chris Lierheimer, her father. The man that picked up Abi in the Hangzhou Children’s Welfare Institute for the first time, the man that encouraged her to live with grace in mind. A collection that celebrates Victoria Lierheimer, a woman that exemplifies strength, resilience, and perseverance. “Thrive,” voices Abi’s untold story made to inspire success in all people no matter what obstacles they are presented with. Fashion is Abi’s outlet, Abi’s story, and Abi’s treasure. “Fashion is storytelling,” says Lierheimer, “and design is innovation. Never underestimate the virtue of true love, and never underestimate your ability to thrive.”