By Kathleen Nicholson Webber
Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on September 10, 2012.
It is 8 AM, and Karen Giberson is conducting a phone interview during a rainstorm as she walks in New York from Penn Station to her office at 36th and Fifth. The president of the Accessories Council, she is scheduled to take the week off with family, but a last-minute call from Evie Evangelou to join Fashion 4 Development has brought her in from her home in Media to prepare for meetings and a speech at the United Nations in three days. The organization, which helps fashion designers in developing countries sustain themselves and market their wares, is just another place where she is happy to make a difference.
It is all part of her role as president of the Accessories Council, a nonprofit advocacy group representing 160 of the biggest brands in the industry, where she does everything from nurturing new designers and helping them get picked up by stores, to hosting events like the ACE awards, an industry black-tie gala held every November that has honored the likes of Lady Gaga and Kanye West, and draws fashion legends like Tom Ford, Alber Elbaz, and Michael Kors.
Her latest initiative, of which she is quite proud, may have a far-reaching economic impact. The USAMade jewelry initiative will keep accessory manufacturing stateside and will add jobs to the economy. “There is a huge potential to bring an industry that was here 25 years ago back to the US,” says Giberson. When a number of AC’s brands said it was getting more expensive to make things in Asia, Giberson wanted to help. She researched factories here, built databases, and helped create a logo and signage to promote the initiative. “We had 25 companies sign up right away, and others are converting production from offshore to stateside. We are working with factories to see if they can make things here at comparable prices.”
One such designer who will participate is John Wind of Maximal Art in Aston, Pennsylvania, who has been in business 26 years. Wind appreciates what Giberson has done for the industry and for his business. “Discovering that the voice of our industry was a ‘secret Philadelphian’ was an amazing moment,” he says. Giberson’s career started in college, when she was part of the prestigious Macy’s executive training program. She moved to three states in four years with the company, but longed to come back to her native Northeast Pennsylvania. In 1991 she joined a small start-up called QVC, where she spent seven years as a merchant before rising to director of accessories, footwear, and intimate apparel. But it was her Shoes on Sale program with the Fashion Footwear Association of New York, which launched in 1995 and has raised millions of dollars for women’s cancer research, that helped land her a position as director of event marketing at the company.
At about this time, the Accessories Council was formed, and Giberson served on the board in different positions. When president Sheila Block died of leukemia in 2005, Giberson was asked to take the post. “One of my first days at the job, I found her shoes under the desk. It was symbolic—they were big shoes to fill.”
Giberson is thankful to be in the industry now, as it continues to blossom. “This is an exciting time. In the ’90s accessories were not really seen on the runways. Now there is great stuff out there and because clothes are less embellished, accessories can be the star of the show.”
While she likes the frenetic pace of her days in New York, she loves living in Media, where she is raising a son and a daughter. Her daughter, who has come to events with her mother over the years, plans on studying fashion marketing at Philadelphia University this fall.
“I remind her that the day before an event, I can be found crawling on the floor stuffing gift bags, working on seating, or fielding a call from a concerned sponsor,” she says. But Giberson still loves it. “The highlight for me has been the people. I feel lucky to work with designers and top executives in this amazing business network.”