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Changing Lives One Stitch at a Time

Shari Harmon Ashkar leaning against a pole posing in front of a pool

“A college degree is life-changing,” Shari Harmon Ashkar (HHS’75) says. “We’re so lucky to have a world-renowned university in Indiana that offers not only a wonderful education but also wonderful opportunities
as you’re studying. I’m very proud to join with Purdue and help someone get a head start on a better life.”

Ashkar endowed a scholarship to support students in the College of Health and Human Sciences, particularly children of first responders or military veterans. “I just want to honor people who have made our country better and who serve others,” she shares.

After earning her degree in vocational home economics education, Ashkar taught school for one year. A back-to-back state fair champion in the adult dress review, she was hired to be a national home economist for the White and Elna sewing machine companies. After training in Switzerland, she traveled the United States, presenting educational seminars for countless home-sewing enthusiasts and dealers.

A chance encounter seven years ago led Ashkar on a new career path. While wearing a hand-embroidered Mexican top at a church function, she was approached by a woman named Laura Giraud who sold similar tops and had grown up working in her mother’s clothing boutique in Mexico City.

“I had always wanted to design embroidered apparel, and our discussion evolved into a business partnership,” Ashkar says. “We import our tops and dresses from Oaxaca, where we work in person with our vendors. We marry their beautiful artistry with fashion-forward styles that fit, flatter, and have features—such as pockets—that our clients love.”

The duo named their company Bella Sofia Studio, referencing the Spanish words for “beautiful wisdom.” Ashkar and Giraud’s business not only adds unique clothing items to their clients’ closets, but it also provides job opportunities for local Oaxaca families. Sewing and embroidery are important parts of the economy in the small villages Ashkar and Giraud visit. Their partnership helps empower women and gives them opportunities to earn a living to feed their families.

Ashkar and Giraud took a leap of faith, and now Bella Sofia Studio has an extensive collection and large community of artisans. Looking back, Ashkar feels blessed by the opportunity.

“I want to encourage Purdue students to try an idea if they think people would benefit from it,” Ashkar says. “I’m 71 years old. I could be sitting back. Instead, some days I’m doing alterations, and I’m so glad I can use this little talent I was able to nurture at Purdue.”

Ashkar doesn’t plan to put down her sewing anytime soon, and she is excited to see what the future holds. “I may be in the ‘fourth quarter’ of my life, but I like to remember that it’s typically the fourth quarter when the game gets good!”

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Purdue for Life Foundation