Northsiders to Know: Dana Spinola
Giving Back in Style
written by COLLEEN ANN MCNALLY | photography courtesy of DANA SPINOLA
DANA SPINOLA is the type of girlfriend whose closet any woman would love to raid. Even before becoming the founder and CEO of fab’rik, a leading fashion franchise, it’s easy to suspect she was the go-to gal for that feel-good outfit we always need for an interview, for a date night or when those hopes didn’t pan out and a dose of retail therapy was in order.
In a way, I feel like I’ve already done that, considering I’m among the shopping “addicts” who have frequented one of her boutiques since opening in 2002. Yet, as I sat across from the CEO in the company’s Buckhead office, I learned that yes, people must turn to her often, but more so because her heart is at least two sizes bigger than her closet.
Now with 41 stores in 14 states – and counting – the fab’rik team has outgrown the command center along East Shadlowlawn Avenue and is in the process of moving. The new, larger space will also serve as a permanent home to free fab’rik, the nonprofit Spinola co-founded in 2009. Her mission? To provide free shopping sprees that restore dignity, confidence and hope to young ladies who have lost their own.
To understand the concept, first it’s important to note that Spinola believes clothes can change lives. They certainly have changed hers.
“[There are] moments in life when you remember what you had on … it attaches to that time. It makes you feel special,” she said, recalling the dress she had on the day she met her husband. In a story that rivals blockbuster romantic comedies, she approached him as a total stranger. It happened to be the same day she launched the company, and her first words to him were a declaration that they were going to get married.
“If you want to know my personality, that’s my personality,” Spinola said. Flash-forward 14 years, they have three boys together as well as a daughter they adopted from Ethiopia.
“I used to tell my story so differently, I guess more of my résumé story,” she said. Spinola graduated from the University of Georgia and began a lucrative career with Deloitte. “My real story is that I grew up in Roswell and had the most amazing parents in the world, but they were two hippie artists and we didn’t have any money. They didn’t go to college and they were just living their passion painting. My mom made all of my clothing.”
Spinola said it never occurred to her as a child that she was poor. Her homemade clothing made her feel like the best-dressed person in the world, but she remembers seeing the movie “Pretty Woman” and relating to the perception of not feeling rich enough to shop in high-end stores.
“I had never stepped foot in a boutique,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘I wonder if I can create that kind of place where you get a glass of Champagne, where they are like ‘Mrs. Spinola, I’m so glad you’re here and we pulled some things we think you’ll love’ and walk your bag around, umbrella to the car and all that for a $40 shirt.”
So, the idea for fab’rik – “high style with heart, without the sticker shock or attitude” – was born, but it took many bank rejections and business plan revisions before the first store became a reality.
“I realized there are no rules. You don’t have to be at Neiman Marcus for someone to offer you a glass of Champagne.”
At first, customers were shocked, assuming price tags were missing a zero. Spinola was surprised, too, as the brand’s success grew beyond herself. “I kept waiting for a place where I’d have to sacrifice something,” she said. Instead, she continues to give.
Plenty of Northsiders have been wowed by that experience, but most are still learning the impact their purchases can have. fab’rik recently launched a special line named for Spinola’s daughter, Asher. These styles benefit Project 82 Kenya, an organization that rescues abandoned children and gives them a home and a family of their own. Sales help to provide a child with basic needs, healthcare and developmental therapy.
Back in Atlanta, free fab’rik is working hard to bring feelings of confidence and faith to women who’ve endured the most challenging of circumstances. Through their weekly free sprees and a mobile boutique that travels to safe houses, they are giving deserving ladies (some escaped victims of sex trafficking, others that have recently lost their jobs), the chance to have their own “Pretty Woman” experience for a $0 price tag.
free fab’rik has been overwhelmed by donations of gently used clothing and volunteer hours, and Spinola has countless stories of change as a result. An example was when one girl asked Spinola, “Is this what [beautiful] feels like?”
“As you get older, the definition of beauty changes,” Spinola said. “I remember when I was younger, feeling beautiful after I finished a race. I was a marathon runner, and it was that feeling of personal exhaustion – I gave everything.”
Her go-to uniform is distressed jeans, an awesome printed top and Moto jacket, and while she’s a firm believer in the power of high, high heels, she said even an amazing dress is no longer enough to pull off the feeling without passion and purpose behind it.
“When I serve, I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and I feel that inside beauty, like I have a beautiful soul.” These emotions came to her when she traveled to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and reoccur during trips to Africa every year, where there’s no makeup, but plenty of bugs, sweat and moments of awe.
Another popular topic of conversation at dinner parties is Spinola’s 20 chickens that live in a coop in her Buckhead back yard.
It’s hard to picture her gathering fresh eggs in heels, but she admittedly has done so while on a conference call.
“You only live one time, and I want to get it all done,” she said with a glowing smile. That’s a look that never goes out of style.