Chapter 57: Abi Lierheimer Thrives Against All Odds.

Silk dress, with polka dot flocked tulle, metallic woven custom trim puff jacket shot by Kristopher Dobbins..

Silk dress, with polka dot flocked tulle, metallic woven custom trim puff jacket shot by Kristopher Dobbins..

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.

From our first meeting in Eckberg. 

From our first meeting in Eckberg. 

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.”

Hangzhou Children’s Welfare Institute captured by Abi. 

Hangzhou Children’s Welfare Institute captured by Abi. 

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.

She held a baby for thirty minutes. “He could barely breathe. It sounded like…uh… a machine. It didn’t sound human.”

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.”



Chapter 56: Life Alert, I Have Fallen.

It's been a while since writing and I've discovered why. My usual encouraging tone of writing does not reflect my current state of mind. It would be dishonest of me to say that I'm happy to be a fashion student at this moment in time. At the same time, I believe it's so important to be open about these struggles because even the best designers struggle to understand their worth and value after days of bad critique and sleepless nights. 

Earlier this quarter I was told I had mono last fall and that I'd been battling symptoms of it since. Prior to hearing this information, I was in constant wonder of why I couldn't physically do as much as I could before. Little did I know that I was pushing my body to its absolute physical and mental limit. I had no option but to slow down. I stepped down as Editor-in-Chief of The Manor, reduced my class load, and quit my involvement with the SCAD fashion show. At first giving up these responsibilities made me feel incompetent- like I wasn't doing enough, but I began to realize it was the only way I could survive the rest of the year. 

My professor began the first day of class by showing us a video of an olympic athlete falling a foot before the finish line. He went on to explain how this scenario was directly relatable to ours- it would be a 10 week sprint. 


In five weeks I've designed over 150 looks, made two sketchbooks, designed four full collections, and made two garments. Every night the same group of us goes into the fashion building wondering if we'll actually finish the work that's due the next day. Most times even if we do finish, we're told it's not good enough and leave class feeling defeated and frustrated. I want to work harder and get better, but I can't always find the energy to work around the clock while living my life. This feeling is not specific to SCAD fashion students, it's specific to any creative person seeking education at design school.

We are juniors, now past the introductory level classes. We're expected to clearly communicate our thoughts. I realize that I fall back on comfortable practices and designs. I realize that in order to make extraordinary things I have to work efficiently, quickly, and around the clock because there will never be enough time. And with these revelations comes and even greater need for balance. Pulling multiple all nighters only damages my work ethic and kills my motivation. Deciding when to gift yourself with a good night of sleep is just as important as learning a new skill. 

I'm at a low point, there is no takeaway encouraging message this time. I'm searching for motivation and energy to finish the next five weeks strong. I'm aware that every artist/designer feels this way at some point but I'm seeking advice on how to curb the pessimism that weighs me down from day to day during this part of my life. 


Chapter 55: Christene Barberich and Piera Gelardi Refine Feminism.

Haven't we all heard that one person that begrudgingly reminds you in a somewhat whiney tone that men sucks and women should have more rights? Rather than initiating change, this person seems to stunt the growth of feminism and creates a noise that the general public chooses to ignore. Earlier this week I was graciously given the opportunity to hear from women who are actively pushing for women's equality in the most effective way possible.

Christene Barberich and Piera Gelardi, co-foudners and editors of Refinery29, a credited fashion and lifestyle site that is known for their strong political voice and active hand in the modern women's rights movement, paid a visit to the Savannah College of Art and Design. After hearing them give an overview of their upbringing and making of the company, it was evident that they wanted to give all women a platform to voice their successes, failures, ideas, and discoveries. When personally speaking to them in the privacy of a classroom visit, they further expanded on their mission. While they aim to place a focus on women, they never once mentioned, "taking down the male." 

Christine Barberich explains that she was raised by a mother that worked when her father lost his job. Barberich remembers working extremely hard for what she wanted knowing that her success directly correlated with her work ethic as her family. She put herself through college on scholarships and jobs and eventually achieved a spot at credited publications such as Condé Nast, the New Yorker, and Gourmet. Barberich explains that she was training to be a well rounded editor who truly knew how to lead a team. She laughs and says, "Even though right now you feel like you're going to have a stroke on the street every five minutes because of how stressed you are, it does get better!" 

The point is that Barberich did it. Never once did she talk about how hard it was to achieve her dreams as a female, she just went for it with full force. Likewise, Piera Gelardi, her trusted counterpart at Refinery29, has always had a wild imagination and fresh perspective on the pulsing culture she is immersed in.

When discussing their expansion from fashion to lifestyle, Gelardi explains, "Before this, magazines focused on what men wanted in sex, not what women wanted." 

Barberich and Gelardi are most passionate about shining light on women of all widths, lengths, and color. The 67% project, a campaign devoted to revealing the plus sized women who are currently underrepresented in media, has been one of Refinery29's biggest achievements. Barberich mentioned that their plus-sized editor keeps the informed of topics such as the unattainable beach bod that every woman strives for. 

"What the hell even is a beach body?" Barberich exclaims.

They are voicing a concern for 67% of women that never had a place to share their struggle. Again, this is an issue that has nothing to do with the male, but has everything to do with initiating body positivity among all women. 

The Refinery29 girls created a platform to talk about things that haven't been discussed. They built a network of people that can rely on one another to develop progressive ideas that empower women to achieve their goals. They are women that have lived through stress, trial, and great success. Barberich and Gelardi exemplify what it's like to live ambitiously while paving way for a fresh and effective take on feminism.

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Chapter 54

Once there was a girl studying fashion design who lost her mind on Monday, February 20th, 2017.

Now she's going to achieve the impossible.

She and her lost mind will be returning at the start of spring break. 

Chapter 53: The Cool Kids

There's nothing like all black ensembles completed by plastic Comme des Garçon totes, Christian Dior trench coats, and Gucci loafers. These, are the cool kids of the week. 

Chapter 51: Thank you, 2016.

I remember it so vividly as though January 1st, 2016 happened last week. 

The year started with anxiety and unrest; I allowed my work to invade every minute of my life including my time to rest. Breakdown after breakdown, crying on the floor, distance from my friends- I was at a loss and I absolutely hated fashion at the time. Through this period of my life I learned that a good challenge shapes a person in the most incredible way and it’s most often times temporary; the agony of stressful situations subsides. January and February made the rest of the year the best ones yet.

When March greeted me with open arms I hugged Anthony as we found out we’d be the Editor(s)-in-Chief of The Manor. As a team we aimed to elevate and perfect an existing idea while putting forth extreme effort to achieve the goals we set freshman year. The team I have the privileged of leading and working with everyday makes me a better person; they’ve taught me more than I could ever imagine. We get to do what we love everyday and nobody grades it.

I learned how to make things the right way. My classmates and I stayed up for multiple nights in a row to bring our 2D drawings to life. I understood the importance of my hands, and how gracious they are for allowing me to continue sewing after stabbing myself with pins. I slid my design on the dress form and took a deep breath- that was the vision, that was the intention, I loved fashion again. 

I turned 20 and went to Europe the next day. I was the first one in my family to ever travel to Europe and it was my first time leaving the States. This was another day I remember so clearly; the dutch buildings in Amsterdam had me in tears because I’d never seen something so beautiful. I lived in France for three months while studying and laughing with a group of one-of-a-kind girls. I made all the right mistakes to learn all the right lessons. The day after I came home I looked at plane tickets for next year. I’d fallen in love with being uncomfortable in foreign places. 

Sleeping became a necessity and a practice that could not be taken lightly. While in Europe I learned the value of rest and relaxation. It became very apparent that Americans extensively emphasize work; workaholism is something I’d never taken seriously until I stepped away from it and saw it from a new perspective. 

Beauty was appreciated in a new light when I traveled to Malaysia in December. I stayed there for two weeks with my best friends. I learned how to use a squatting toilet, I saw the jungle, and ate rice with chopsticks. We were exposed to every single good restaurant in Penang, Malaysia and ate close to six meals a day. I was taken aback by how different the culture was and how much I absolutely loved it; again I was uncomfortable and enjoying every minute of it. 

2016 was the year I learned how to be a responsible human being. The roommates and I dealt with a rat infestation. I left the country twice. I took an internship for 2017. I discovered Atlas Shrugged. I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. There was a hurricane that left a mark on my city. I got to meet Calvin Klein. I saw the Eiffel Tower sparkle at midnight. I learned the importance of giving second chances and I saw hard work pay off. I’m grateful for you, 2016. 2017 has much to live up to. 

Chapter 50: Matthew & SCAD

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014, 3pm: all students receive an email from SCAD informing us that classes have been canceled for the rest of the week. A rush of adrenaline and excitement came over me because I had planned on staying back, riding out the storm and getting caught up on personal projects. My friends and I had agreed to make a decision about leaving by 12pm on Wednesday morning. As of Tuesday, the storm wasn't close enough to make a call about it's strength. Tuesday night was fun; we'd all gotten together for a little Hurrication kick off. At that point none of us knew what was coming. 

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016, 12pm: we decided to evacuate and head to North Carolina for the weekend. The storm swelled and many of our worried parents, who are scattered around the world, insisted we leave. Along with other students, we took advantage of the weekend to go explore a new place and have an adventure. 

Craig on our hike in Chapel Hill, NC. 

Craig on our hike in Chapel Hill, NC. 

Friday, October 7th, 2016, 2am: Hurricane Matthew struck Savannah after leaving devastating results in Haiti, the Bahamas, and parts of Florida. Our hearts were prepared for the worst but praying for the best as we went to sleep. We woke up and immediately turned on the news to see Tybee underwater, homeless people wading through the flooded roads, the beautiful live oak trees uprooted and fallen on peoples' homes. While viewing all of this on the news one can only wonder, "was my house a victim, will my power be on when I return, are my friends okay?" Millions of thoughts flooded through my mind after seeing my city look like a disaster zone; I had to get back as soon as possible. 

Sunday, October 9th, 2016, 10am: SCAD students were notified that classes will resume on Monday October 17th. Another week off from school, more make-up classes, and a lot of stress. 

Sunday night I made my way back to what appeared to be a post apocalyptic Savannah. My apartment was one of the few with running water and power; there was no damage. The things that made my life comfortable were in tact. The next day I ran through the park to see the destruction and saw every able body in the community cleaning up the mess. The same man that I pass each day on my way to class was cleaning up debris around his usual bench rather than sitting on it. He too wanted to see a beautiful Savannah again. 

Monday, October 10th, 2016, 3pm: all SCAD students receive the email, "Monday, Nov. 28, through Thursday, Dec. 1, is now the final week of Fall 2016 to accommodate for missed classes due to the hurricane."

My initial reaction was anger. Why would you punish us for a natural disaster? Myself, along with most of my peers, had purchased international and domestic plane tickets to go home for the holidays. How can you pull us away from our families for even longer? None of us deserve a failing grade if we don't have the luxury to afford the $200+ change ticket fee. My current reaction is understanding. I empathize with you SCAD; you need to devise a sensible plan that ensures all students get the most out of their academic quarter. I appreciate that you cherish our coursework and hold us to a high standard; that work ethic has gotten me many opportunities thus far. Although education is important to me, I do draw a line. 

Hurricane Matthew has made me reassess what is truly valuable in my life. When I left, I was not sure if I'd return "home". Work was the last thing on my mind, and it should have been the last thing on my mind. Thanksgiving for me is one of the only times I'm able to see my family. Shortly afterwards I'm going to Asia for two weeks to visit my best friend's family. Those experiences, those people, and that time is irreplaceable. My work can wait, my grades can suffer, my professors will be flexible. At the end of the day, what holds the most value? Extend my quarter, but I will not be attending. SCAD, I'm asking for flexibility through this: alternative solutions, or online submissions. I will put forth my best work until Thanksgiving and after that time is over I will walk away and go on to live out the things that bring me inspiration and happiness. 

Photo of the crew that made me grateful for adventure by Ymke Franssen. 

As many of us work through this frustration, it's crucial to remember that we are OK. This place many of us call home is able to function. Our work is valuable, but your presence and safety is more important right now and it will always be more important. We've got a week to prep for the race ahead. When all is said and done we will finish the quarter knowing we gave it everything we had given the current circumstances. 



Chapter 49: Trusting Your Independence

I did it! I left. I went to Europe only knowing a couple friends. I haven't talked on the phone with my parents in a long time, and I miss them more than they know. I'm an ocean away if something were to happen. College is at least in the same country, but my new home is many, many more miles farther away. All of that uncertainty made me so anxious and uncomfortable before leaving, and now I embrace it. The best decision I've ever made was leaving and I would encourage anybody to do the same thing: get a little anxious and go adventure. 

From a young age I was taught that if I wanted to make something happen it was on me. To get to Lacoste, I worked 70 hour weeks last summer, and worked two jobs during the school year. It wasn't that my parents weren't willing to help me, it's that I wanted to help them and prove that I could handle the responsibilities of studying abroad. Naturally, when you decide to take on more responsibility, maturity and independence are required whether you like it or not. 

My parents have never traveled outside of the country so every step of this process has been filled with, "figure it out" moments. Here's what I've learned: there are so many people that will help you, and there are so many times when those people will not be there to help you. My phone didn't work for the first three weeks of my adventure over to Europe. If I had an emergency, I had to find wifi and hope my messaging would work. Not having Google Maps readily available forced me how to read an actual map- imagine that, they actually work! I got lost in every city I visited at least once if not multiple times, but I always seemed to find my way back. Going to a big city in a place with people that don't speak your language requires a lot of thinking. Public transportation is confusing and you might hop on the wrong metro, but that's how you learn, (and save money). You have to think on your toes and be willing to figure it out if you're in a rut. 

Paris was big and it was hard not to get lost and freak out at first. But, it was the most beautiful place I've ever seen and worth every bit of stress. It was amazing to stand in front of the Eiffel Tour and know I got there because I worked hard to earn that beautiful view. 

Leaving your comfort zone brings a lot of fear and anxiety. I can guarantee that things will be scary at times and your picture perfect dream of a city will be clouded in some way once you get there, but the beauty of it outweighs any of those fears. I've learned that I am able to function as a human being, as an adult, as a responsible yet fun student by myself with almost no help. I can have fun, I can make mistakes, but I can also pull myself together and find my own way. Nobody is going to tell you what to do and what not to do. You have to trust in yourself to make wise decisions so that you can have the best possible experience. You shouldn't plan on relying on others to make your plans and figure out your transportation; believe in your ability to do it all. I've learned how to indicate when I feel uncomfortable with something. I've learned how to deal with the, (good and bad) consequences that come with some of my decisions. I've learned how to appreciate cultural differences that sometimes make me a bit angry, or really happy. I've seen things that I will never ever let go of because I learned how to be independent. Expect to learn a lot and be uncomfortable for a little bit, but I cannot stress how much I've gained by moving past those initial fears. A person's independence is a valuable and powerful entity that will guide you to unimaginable places.  



Chapter 47: Adventure Three

I leave for Europe in approximately 4 days and 2 hours. I will be gone for 11 weeks.

As the departure nears my excitement is ever growing, but the anxiety felt about leaving is slowly setting in. Since I was young it’s been a dream of mine to study in France; learning the language, interacting with people, identifying with a new culture, ect. The adventures that await are beyond my imagination, but this wild experience is bound to bring a mix of emotions.

I think back to those other times when I’ve risked by comfort for experiential gain.

I’ve lived in Wisconsin since day one; the life I knew was comfortable and safe. The first time I went to SCAD I felt like I was going to vomit for a full 24 hours before I moved in. I was leaving my safe haven and stepping into a completely different world. I would soon find out that breaking out of my safety net was the best thing I’ve ever done. It forced me to figure out who I wanted to become and I found friendships based off of my own interests. The feeling of anxiety quickly vanished, I didn’t vomit, and I made my best friends within the first 24 hours of moving in. That’s a rare situation, but it showed me that swift transitions aren't impossible.

The next big adventure was the summer following my freshman year- moving up to Door County, Wisconsin with my best friend and a just a few bags. We took up odd jobs and worked 70 hours a week to make money for school. The first month was complete hell, working under a boss that treated us terribly and having no social life. We had no idea if we’d end up back home or if we’d stick it out. By the end of summer we checked all 15 tasks off of our bucket list, made lifelong friends, and walked away with unforgettable experiences. This proved that some transitions really suck, but we have to make the most of the opportunities we are handed and find peace in any situation.

Both adventures: I cried. I laughed. I gained friendships. I missed my dog and family. I missed my comfortable house. I worked really hard. I saw the world differently afterwards. I was by no means comfortable at any moment. AND IT WAS SO FUN! 

I’ve been given the opportunity to leave my safe zone again, this time by myself. This time I’d be an ocean away from my parents. My safety is out of their control. There are fears entering the journey, and there is unmeasurable excitement. We are not living our lives to the fullest when we stay within the realms of our personal comfort. 

So now on to the third adventure: living in Europe!