Darbie Angell | Cru Dinnerware CEO & Designer
Darbie Angell didn't wish upon a star. It took hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit to make her dreams come true. But come true they have - and in a big way.
Angell's company, CRU Dinnerware, recently entered into a lucrative partnership with Disney that has swept her into a magical world of creating designs for the global entertainment giant.
The Georgetown native, whose passion for art was kindled at ACU, launched her company in 2008 when she was put on bed rest during a pregnancy. In the four years since, her dinnerware collections have been picked up by such major retailers as Dillard's, Macy's, Bed Bath & Beyond - and now Disney.
A touch of whimsy
Her elegant, sometimes whimsical designs are featured in a number of magazines, including Veranda, Bridal Guide, Elle Décor and, most recently, the September issue of Martha Stewart Weddings. Her pieces also have found their way onto some famous tabletops, including those of film star Leonardo DiCaprio, NFL football player Andre Gurode and President Barack Obama - not bad for a stay-at-home mom turned entrepreneur.
The rising design star's newest creations will be sold under the Walt Disney brand. Her Just After Midnight collection features bands of platinum on a pale blue background mirroring the simple elegance she attributes to Princess Cinderella. Her Bubbles from the Grotto line radiates clusters of bubbles you might find under the sea and is inspired by the Magic Kingdom's Princess Ariel. Additions to the Princess line are planned for production in 2013.
Angell's fairy-tale partnership with Disney began with a phone call out of the blue in November 2011.
"I felt as if they were under the impression that they needed to persuade me to design and co-brand with them," she recalls. "Boy, were they ever wrong. This was truly my dream come true."
Robert Oberschelp, head executive of Disney Collections, was part of that first conference call. "He wanted to fly us out immediately and compared us to top designers such as Hermes, which was clearly his way of sweet-talking us to get us there quickly," Angell says with a laugh. "My brother, who has been a huge part of CRU and is my right-hand guy, was just as eager to get there. So we flew out and met with the most creative, ingenious group of people I have ever met."
The CRU team met with Oberschelp; Debbie Chang, senior manager of Disney Products; Karen Torpey, senior manager of Disney Global; and Jason Stewart, Disney's executive creative director.
Dishing up Disney
"Going into that first meeting was a dream," Angell says. "The office walls were turned into floor-to-ceiling inspiration boards. You would see flat-screen TVs showing deleted scenes from movies such as 'Bambi,' and the stairwells were turned into Alice falling down the hole in 'Alice in Wonderland.'
"I still could not wrap my mind around the fact that they wanted me and felt that I needed to impress them. We had our normal setup with lavish treats and drinks for them, only to have a lady come in and ask us if we would like espresso and to take our orders from their list of lavish treats. The rest of the meeting continued the same way, with both groups going back and forth trying to woo each other."
The result of the meeting was an agreement for Angell to design dinnerware for two Disney groups: the Fairytale Wedding and Princess teams.
Inspired by ACU's art program
Angell, who attended ACU until 2004, is still amazed by how far her art and design education has taken her.
"Looking back on where I started in Jack Maxwell's art class, afraid of drawing a leaf and getting to this point to have the confidence to share my thoughts and designs with the most creative people in the world, is nothing short of God truly being at work in all of this," she says.
Like any successful entrepreneur, Angell hopes her company will continue to flourish. But her dreams go beyond commercial success. She also wants to make the world a better place.
The sales of some of her products support orphanages in South America, and her plates are made at a factory in Bangladesh that feeds its employees three meals daily. The story of a 14-year-old leukemia victim prompted Angell to design a collection named after the victim and donate a portion of the sales to pediatric cancer research. She partners with UNICEF to dig water wells in third-world countries. She invites visitors to her website to suggest other worthy causes her company might support.
She believes her time at ACU helped shape her into the entrepreneur and person she is today.
"I think ACU gave me something that is not in a class: strength that is needed to make it over obstacles that look impassable, the drive to make a difference in the world and, most importantly, amazing Christian friends who support me and also keep me in line," she says.
That might be as good a "happily ever after" as any fairy tale ever knew.
Angell's collections can be viewed on her website cru-intl.com/
Watch a video about CRU International’s efforts to make a difference in the world.
"Like" the CRU Dinnerware Facebook page to keep up with news of Angell's latest creations.
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