With the help of Bristol, Va., businessman Bobby Griffin, speaker and author Ruth Graham - daughter of evangelist Billy Graham - is promoting her apron without strings. Contributed photo.
Author and speaker Ruth Graham travels across the country ministering to the marginalized and the downtrodden, and is a frequent guest on television programs such as “Fox and Friends” and “The 700 Club.”
But Graham, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham, admits she was nervous about approaching Bristol, Va., businessman Bobby Griffin about her idea to manufacture and market an apron without strings.
“Two years ago I called him and said, ‘Bobby I have an idea I’d like to run by you,’ and he said, ‘You and 500 other people,’” Graham recalled, laughing. “He said, ‘I’m going to be at the Mistletoe Market and you can come see me there,’ so I went to see him. He showed me around the market and introduced me to his daughter-in-law, and he said, ‘Come over here and let me take a look at your idea.’ I was so nervous. I showed him the apron and he said, ‘You just sit right here a minute.’ He put it on himself and walked around the market and everybody stopped him and said where did you get it? ‘If it meets a need it will fly,’ he said, ‘and this is going to meet a need.’”
Graham’s prototype was an apron her late mother, Ruth Bell Graham, bought nearly 50 years ago at a shop in Switzerland.
The laminated fabric apron, which never needed washing, just wiping down, had no strings to fuss with. Instead of having to tie it around their neck or slip it over their head and risk mussing up their hair, women simply snapped the form-fitting apron around their waist.
“In 1960, my father was holding a series of meetings in Europe and a very generous person invited the whole family to come to Switzerland for the summer, so we went, and while we were there, my mother visited this shop and found this apron. She just loved it, and she wore it all summer,” Graham said. “When it was time to go back to the States, she bought a bunch of them to give as gifts, and everybody loved them. The next time she went to Europe she bought more and gave those as gifts, and this went on for years. Then she went back one year and the store wasn’t there anymore. We looked inside (the apron) for the tag name and looked up the factory, and that had closed, so we were at a dead end. No aprons.”
That’s when Graham decided to take matters into her own hands. After trying to sew the aprons herself — and discovering her sewing machine was woefully inadequate for the job — she enlisted the help of Home Interiors founder Mary Crowley.
“She wasn’t very encouraging at all,” Graham said.
Years passed, and Graham continued to tinker away at her idea but could never find the missing piece to the puzzle — the memory wire in the snug-fitting apron’s waist.
“I sort of gave up on it, but the idea never left me,” she said.
In 2011, Graham decided to run her idea by Griffin, with whom she struck up a friendship after he invited her to speak at a Rotary meeting in Bristol several years ago. Griffin knows a thing or two about inventions, having developed and patented the concept of disposable auto floor mats.
Griffin agreed that Graham’s idea had real potential, and the two set about recreating Graham’s late mother’s beloved apron.
“We went to New York, we went to Washington, but we couldn’t find that one component,” Graham said. “We were at a dead end. Then about six months ago, (Bobby) called and said he couldn’t do it, his wife needed him, and I respected that. But then he called me again about three months ago and said the Lord woke him up in the middle of the night and that he was to help me with my aprons and that he wanted to do it at the Mistletoe Market. I said we really have to get ourselves in gear. We still hadn’t found the component.”
Finally, in September, Griffin and Graham met a man at a Rotary meeting who knew where the pair could get a hold of the memory rings they needed for their aprons.
“The people we’ve worked with have been so kind,” Graham said. “Everything is made within a 20-mile radius of Bristol. It was just the Lord’s doing.”
Graham and Griffin will debut their one-size-fits-all aprons without strings — which come in six patterns and sell for $39.95 each — at the William King Museum’s 15th annual Mistletoe Market, opening Friday and continuing through Sunday at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon, Va.
Graham shared the story behind her aprons and delivered a Christmas message about God’s gift to mankind — that comes with no strings attached — at 1 p.m., Saturday. The event also featured a book signing and photo session.
Visitors also signed a birthday card for Billy Graham, who turned 95 on Thursday. Ruth Graham and some 900 other well-wishers helped the beloved evangelist celebrate at a birthday dinner in Asheville, N.C., Thursday night. She’ll head back over the mountain to North Carolina after Mistletoe Market to continue the celebration and deliver the card.
“I think he realizes it’s quite a milestone, so I think he’s pleased and proud, but he’s tired,” Graham said of her famous father.
After Mistletoe Market, the aprons, which can also be customized for restaurants and other businesses, will be available online at www.apronwithoutstrings.com
“We have no idea what God’s going to do with it but the reaction has been very interesting,” she said.
A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the aprons will benefit Ruth Graham Ministries.
“My interest is for people who are marginalized, outside of the church or within the church,” she said. “There’s something that they have in their life that they can’t talk about — they have a child that’s incarcerated, they may be in a same-sex relationship, they may be divorced, they may have anger issues, they may have an addiction of some sort. By and large the church has not been a good place for that. I want to draw attention to that, just like Rick Warren is calling attention to depression and suicide. Sometimes we have to go through things before we can do that, and I would like to reach out to people. They wouldn’t expect me to have been through a lot of stuff, but I have been, and I’m willing to talk about it.”
In addition to nurturing her apron without strings project, Graham said she’s also looking forward to writing another book, this time on the subject of forgiveness.
For more information on Graham and Griffin’s aprons without strings, call Griffin at (276) 466-8080 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Graham and her Ruth Graham Ministries, visit www.ruthgrahamministries.org.