The story of Roberto Vascon – the fashion mogul who designs purses for the most glorified women in the world – sounds a lot like a movie script. He was born in extreme poverty, became rich, sold everything, fell back into poverty, then became wealthy once more.
Originally born to a very poor family in Raposos, a small city in the country side of Minas Gerais, Brazil, Roberto never had access to formal education. Since his father was an alcoholic, he started working when he was very young so he could help support his family.
Even though he was washing cars in order to survive, Mr. Vascon says he was starving for the several months he lived in Rio. When the designer saved enough money, he moved to New York City and slept on Central Park benches for four months, using newspapers for heat and learning English from the homeless community.
Far from home and in a worse situation than he was in Brazil, Roberto felt like he was at the bottom of the barrel.
“In Brazil, I had to deal with the same level of poverty I dealt with in NYC – but in America, it is a lot colder and it snows so my situation got substantially worse,” says Roberto in a Portuguese interview. “I was hungry, tired, homesick, freezing, and I asked God to take me back to Brazil. I told God if he helped me to survive I would help a lot of people.”
That night, Roberto had a strange dream that would change his life forever.
Vascon explains there were thousands of birds landing tree branches that were dropping purses to the ground. The following day, he gathered a load of cans, sold them for $80, bought leather and sewing materials, and proceeded to create 12 purses that were very similar to the ones he saw in his dream.
He was displaying the purses in Central Park when his first customer asked if the purses were from Italy. Little did he know that the woman was Nancy H., the fashion editor for the New York Times. In the midst of their chatting, Roberto told the editor that he needed to focus on sales because he was starving.
The journalist asked him if he would spend more time with her if she bought the 12 purses. She ended up writing about Roberto’s purses, saying that they had a different energy about them than other brand products.
Roberto Vascon’s because an instant success, making him one of the most famous purse designers in the world.
The entrepreneur made his dream come true when he returned to Brazil and bought his mother a house. Then he opened seven stores in America plus a few others in Japan and Brazil.
“Remember that night I told you I would return everything? I guess now is the time.”
So he sold everything and traveled to 128 countries, learning about cultures that were not his own and helping people in whatever ways he could; feeding the poor and paying the college tuition of less fortunate students. He gave away everything he owned.
Roberto says Brazil didn’t welcome him back. When he sold his last possession – a Cartier ring – he traveled to the United States and found himself on the benches of Central Park again.
A few days later, a woman stopped by and asked if he was Roberto Vascon, the famous purse designer.
“I confirmed that it was me and told her what I had done, and I labeled myself ‘the most educated homeless of Central Park’ and she laughed.”
Again, he didn’t know that the lady was a journalist – she sold the story of the homeless designer to the New York Times and two days later, he was invited to partner with a store and restarted his career. Today, he is rich and famous once more and continuous to help others anonymously.
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