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SECOND-ACT SIGNIFICANCE VI: Nancy Volpe Beringer #115

Warwick Fairfax

May 11, 2022

Nancy Volpe Beringer was in her late 50s when she let herself not just dream of a career in fashion design, but pursue it. She explains that the success and security she had built professionally over several decades didn’t fully scratch the creative itch she felt as a young girl who loved to sew.  That’s when she pursued her passion with vigor – earning a master’s degree and finishing as runner-up in Season 18 of TV’s reality-show smash PROJECT RUNWAY. It was on the show she discovered her couture calling: designing accessible, adaptable clothing for those who haven’t historically had access to high fashion.


To learn more about Nancy Volpe Beringer and her fashion designs, visit www.nancyvolpeberinger.com

Highlights

  • The early seeds of her love for fashion (3:46)
  • Marching to her own driven drummer early one (4:53)
  • The challenges of single motherhood  (7:31)
  • The hard lesson her son taught her about working too much (11:03)
  • Pressing hard into her creativity in her 50s … and hitting a crucible (15:35)
  • Enrolling in fashion school and vaulting into her second act (18:29)
  • Finding her heart and home in learning fashion (22:53)
  • Her dream of being on PROJECT RUNWAY (25:55)
  • The moment she found her calling on the show (32:10)
  • Crucibles in her second act (41:34)
  • The birth of her line The Vault by Volpe Beringer (43:27)
  • Nancy’s word of hope to listeners who may think they’re too old for a second act of significance (49:27)

Transcript

Warwick Fairfax:

Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

I dared to ask myself, “If I was young again, what would I want to be learning?” Hypothetical question. The amazing thing was the answer came immediately to me, immediately, and it was fashion design. Don’t ask me where it came. It came immediately. So I’m still not sleeping and I start researching programs. And I’m going in to see what schools, what’s available and then I see interior design. I’m like, “Well, maybe I should do that at my age.” And then I went, “No, Nancy, you’re just dreaming. The practical is to stay where you’re at. This isn’t about being practical. This is about a fantasy if you were young.” Well, I start researching it. By the next week I was in New York touring two of the top fashion schools.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

That seems like a pretty quick pivot to a new life, doesn’t it? But then this week’s guest, Nancy Volpe Beringer was in her late fifties when the moment she describes happened and she didn’t want to spend one more minute of her life doing something other than what brought her heart alive. Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show. On this week’s episode of our series, Second-Act Significance, Volpe Beringer explains that the success and security she had built professionally over several decades didn’t fully scratch the creative itch she felt as a young girl who loved to sew. That’s when she pursued a fashion career with vigor, earning a master’s degree and finishing as runner up in Season 18 of TV’s reality show smash Project Runway, where she discovered her couture calling, designing accessible, adaptable clothing for those who haven’t historically had access to high fashion. Nancy Volpe Beringer has found second-act significance and you can too.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, firstly, Nancy, thank you so much and I love what you do with your two lines, The Nancy Volpe Beringer clothing line, the couture brand and then the Vault by Volpe Beringer, just the adaptability for the disabled. That’s so inspiring and we’ll get to that story and Project Runway and the choice you made that not everybody else did that you would just felt a call for that, so it’s so inspiring. And also really, it’s inspiring that you began this journey in your late 50s and now in your 60s. As somebody that’s also over 60 and just had my book, Crucible Leadership come out last October 2021, it’s easy to think, “Gosh, it feels a little late. Couldn’t have happened 20 years ago or something?” So I’m just so impressed by your example.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So I’d like to go back a bit before you launched into your just incredible vision, your fashion vision. I know life wasn’t exactly easy, and at one point, you were a single mom with two small kids. So just as a backdrop, tell us a bit about your life growing up and it sounds like you had enjoyed sewing and just different things. There’s part of the origin story of Nancy Volpe Beringer as you grew up and things you’ve enjoyed, so just tell us a bit about that.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

Oh, it seems like I’ve been following this roadmap, not knowing where my destination was supposed to take me, but it began actually I think that my childhood crucible moment could be when I took a sewing class. And the only reason I did that was because my mother kicked us out of the house, there were too many of us and we had to go to summer school. So I took a sewing class and I loved to sew. Instead of weeding the yard, I had to do all the sewing projects in the house. So that started it, but it wasn’t nurtured as a potential career. So it was just something I did because I enjoyed it and we didn’t have extra clothes. You didn’t go shopping in my household for clothes, but I got to make some clothes.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

So it was there, it was planted, but then life took over and it became just being practical, surviving, doing what you needed to do to survive, not so much what you wanted to do because I never really thought in those terms, it was just how to survive, I guess, and be independent.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So did you ever think about doing fashion or did that really not come up in the compass? If it did, was it like, “Well that’s fine, Nancy, but you know, come on, let’s get a real job?” kind of thing? How did all that happen?

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

What’s really interesting is I marched to my own beat right from the get go because my two older sisters went off to college. And that was actually groundbreaking for my older sister because that was something new as a female going off to college. I was the one who said, “No, I don’t want to go to school.” I immediately got a job. I was very shy, but I was also very determined and I got a job right out of high school, saved for a year, and then when all my friends were in school, I went and got apartment by myself. So it was, I think, driven more. It wasn’t even that, “What do you want to do?” I took my own path. So I was very independent thinking, a risk taker, not knowing it. So yeah, but for me, it was practical.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So it was much driven by your internal desire to be practical, to be independent. It wasn’t so much people lecturing you, it was just, at that time, that’s kind of the path you chose.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

I wanted to be on my own.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Yeah.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And that being said, Nancy, one of the things you told me when we talked before we were recording here, you said that you’d always been creative and you said even with spreadsheets and even in business plans and that you never knew why. And that’s part of all of that has come together, right?

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

That is so key because my one sister was an art teacher. So in your mind you think, “Well, they’re the artist.”

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Right.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

That makes sense. I thought I’m a business person. I liked being organized, more of a business brain, but I always was creating and I didn’t understand the need. So I would be creating … Again, I love creating spreadsheets. I love creating business plans, leadership programs. The crazier, the better. It got to a point in my careers where people, if they saw me coming down the hall, they’d hide because it’s like, “What is she up to now?” So it’s like, “Don’t get me involved,” but they did. So I just have always had to create and so many small scale to large scale. It was my oxygen, but I didn’t know. I didn’t identify it. It just came from within, and as long as I was creating, it seemed I was satisfied.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So here you are, you left home, you have an apartment and you begin in the work world, so talk about those early years, and frankly, the next decades through the 50s because there’s a whole story there until you had a major shift. So tell us about those years as you’re finding your way in life.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

So in my 20s, again, I became independent, I got my apartment, but I also got married. And by the end of my 20s, I was divorced, a single parent unexpectedly from my viewpoint, and at the time, it was with a two and a four-year-old. And again, I had no college degree because that wasn’t in my plan, but then I was like, “All right, now I need to support my children but also be a parent and how can I do that?” And I had two sisters that were teachers. I thought, “Oh, I’ll become a teacher because I’ll have the time to do both.” Well, that was quite interesting. So at, I guess around 30, I went and got my bachelor’s degree in business education and I did it in three years because I was going to run out of total money and I just had a …

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

So I did in three years, but the plan backfired, because as a teacher, I wasn’t making enough money and I found myself working two, three, four, one time even five jobs, bringing in enough income. So it really didn’t pan out the way I thought, but it took me to the next step. So it was always connecting and you didn’t understand why the one challenge took me to another completely new place. And I always loved doing things I didn’t know how to do. Again, that was intriguing to me. When I took the teaching job, it was a one-person department in a vo-tech school, business technology with the oldest outdated thing, but the challenge was to do something with it.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

And so I’ve always loved to do that. And so from teaching, then I became an advocate for teachers and school employees and worked for the education association where I really had spent most of my career. There’s always this kind of path, challenge, a bump in the road, something happened and then I just took a dive and went to a new place, but again always being able to create.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So you’re working from what I understand in the New Jersey Educational Association. Is that an administrative group or is that-

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

So it’s the biggest teachers union, school employees union.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Right, right, right, right. Okay, okay, you’re advocating for teachers and you’re in administration in there which probably you’ve reached a point where you probably could support your family. Did you feel like you had at least somewhat of a sane life like you could not be 24/7 because any job you can do that or was it pretty difficult to get to sane?

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

No. So when I started there, it was actually I applied for a job I didn’t get, but then they called me back and there was a temporary one and it was in communications, public relations, editor of a paper. I had never taken a journalism course. I never took a journalism course. I did my very first article I wrote it looked like a business report versus a story, but I learned, I asked questions and then I became a speech writer and then I became a media spokesperson. I just did, so I was always having … I did leadership development, but then when I got to the managerial level, which from the outside looking in, that is golden.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Yeah.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

There’s not many spots and that’s when it was like I’m financially in a great place. My future looks good, but always working crazy hours, I mean like always working crazy hours. One thing I think was very significant, I thought as a hardworking parent, single parent, I was being a role model for my children, but I would have like people coming into my house, we’d have long meetings. I’ve always worked 60, 80, 100 hour weeks. That’s just what I’ve done and I can remember my son in high school, we’re talking about college and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to go to college. And having not gone until I was in my early 30s, I said, “But it opens doors.” I said, “Look at me, by getting my degree what I’ve been able to do.”

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

Now, just picture this, there’s a knife slowly coming to me, into my heart because, and I can get emotional thinking about this, I remember my son looking at me and saying, “But mom, you’re always working. Why would I want to be like you?”

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Oh.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

And here I thought I was such an ideal role model and I didn’t have the balance. It killed me almost, but I needed to hear it. It was an important lesson and we just come at life, but that was again, that’s generational also.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, absolutely. It’s easy to judge in hindsight, but as you were growing up, that was normal. You work hard, you get ahead because you think you’re doing your best for your family and you can only know what you know based on the upbringing you have. It’s easy to look back, but you did the best you can. Not to dwell it too much, but how did you handle that with your son because that would feel like a dagger to the heart, there’s no question. How did you handle that?

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

I don’t know exactly, but I must have been successful because he ended off going to school.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Okay.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

And so I guess, however, strategy I did and I also remember at a point because he was a musician and he was at Berkeley College of Music, and at a point, he was singing like, “Why am I even here? Maybe I should just come home and drop out.” And so again, I found a letter I wrote to him because we didn’t do emails and I wrote a letter and I said, “Well, that would be great. If that’s what you need to do, because again, I didn’t go to school right away. If that’s what you need to do, take a break. That’s great. I would love another adult person in the house to help. I’m all my own. I would love somebody to help with the cooking and cleaning and the shopping. That would be awesome.” He stayed in school.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

That was a very smart strategic letter. Yeah, I have a couple adult sons and a daughter, and yeah, certainly for the adult sons, that would be very effective. So as we shift here to, I guess, second act, if you will, for your life, you’ve got all these creative things bubbling around and I don’t know, maybe a bit like lava beneath the surface, maybe had a couple little mini-volcanoes or geysers or whatever, it started poking through the crusty surface, to be practical. And in your 50s, maybe they came strong enough that you began to seriously consider a shift.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So talk about you’re in this great job, I think, I believe your boss said, “Hey, this is a job for life. You’ll have retirement.” It’s the kind of job, if you’re practical, you never leave that kind of job. Job security. There’s always going to be teachers. They’re always going to need advocates. That’s not going to go away. So talk about how that shift began to happen to really lead to where you are now. How did that happen?

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

So I was achieved what I thought was my dream job and became a director of the group that I used to work in. It was almost immediate. I thought I could make a difference and it wasn’t happening. There were just so many roadblocks. So not only was I having trouble breathing because my creativity was being stifled, it was also my effectiveness. I’ve always thought I needed to make a difference in life and I was not able to do that. And it was like within months, it just happened. It was the volcano erupted and I started losing sleep. I just knew I was in a bad place.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So what happened next? So these volcanoes are going off. You’re not feeling fulfilled in your job. Sometimes, further up the chain is not always good. There’s more bureaucracy politics in any, it doesn’t matter what the organization is. There’s always roadblocks and issues and challenges and just the nature of human beings and bureaucracy. So that’s happening and so what did you begin to consider? What was all those little volcanoes going off? Where was that heading you?

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

Well, this is where I guess I would say it was my most major crucible moment and it was 3:00 AM, because I know exactly because I wasn’t sleeping at 3:00 AM and I’m thinking of my sons. The one is in finance, president of a company, very successful. The other, the musician, had graduated, had a recording studio, but he wasn’t making money, so he’s teaching himself additional skills, photography, videography all online. And believe it or not, I started thinking about what he was doing, it sounded so exciting and I got jealous. I got jealous of my own son. And this is the moment my life changed. I dared to ask myself, “If I was young again, what would I want to be learning?” Hypothetical question.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

The amazing thing was the answer came immediately to me, immediately, and it was fashion design. Don’t ask me where it came. It came immediately. So I’m still not sleeping and I start researching programs. And I’m going in to see what schools, what’s available and then I see interior design. I‘m like, “Well, maybe I should do that at my age.” And then I went, “No, Nancy, you’re just dreaming. The practical is to stay where you’re at. This isn’t about being practical. This is about a fantasy if you were young.” Well, I start researching it. By the next week, I was in New York touring two of the top fashion schools and I signed up for a drawing class because I did not know how to draw, illustrate, but I started taking it the day of the one tour.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

And the last one I took happened to be in my backyard in Philadelphia, but it was always there. And once I answered it, there was no going back. And I walked away and resigned and I remember the executive director said, “Have you always wanted to do this?” And I went, “I never even dared to dream. Again, I was always being very successful, but doing what was needed in my life and for others. But once I opened the door and peeked in, I had to go through it.”

 

Warwick Fairfax:

And so when you went through it, what was that door? What door did you go through?

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

So the good news is maybe because of just the way my practical life, I’ve always been very fiscally conservative. So that very first job out of high school, making just over a hundred dollars a week, I took a savings bond out of every paycheck, so that I could get my apartment after a year. So I was always saving. When I went to work for the education association, even though it was temporary, I enrolled in the pension system. I didn’t take vacation days. I didn’t take sick days. So I had a little nest egg, so that it’s easy to say, “Oh, I went and I followed my dream and became a fashion designer.” Well, it’s because of all those decades before I had the opportunity and I took my life savings and I enrolled in a three-year master’s program at Drexel University.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And one of the things that you said about that, Nancy, that I thought really speaks to how serious you were taking this, even though as you say it’s a fantasy, the other school was like a one-year program, right? It was Parsons which is very associated with Project Runway and you just knew intuitively that you weren’t going to get to learn, get your hands really in the fabric as it were, you weren’t going to get to learn quite as much in a year as you could learn in the three-year program, so you went for the more expensive, more in-depth program. Why did you make that choice?

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

Well, fortunately, so fortunately, when I found the one-year program at Parsons, again sometimes the top school in the country, I also went to FIT, I had been just recently married and I was so excited, because again, I’m very goal oriented. And I remember sitting at a bar and having dinner and I said to my husband, I said, “Oh, my God, I found the program. It’s one year. I can get my associate’s degree in one year. I’m going to become a fashion designer,” and he goes … He’s got a lot of nicknames for me. He goes, “Calm down, fireball.” He says, “I thought you’re doing this for the love of learning. Why are you rushing the learning?” Thank you. Thank you, Ted. Because without hearing those words, I would’ve been at Parsons and one-year program would not have been enough.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

But then I joke with him because then I enrolled in the three-year program and he lost his wife who was then doing 80-hour, a 100-hour school week. And you could see Drexel outside our window where we were renting an apartment and I’m like … So yeah, but I’ve such a supportive team behind me.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So I wanted to dwell on this shift a bit because here you are, so how old were you when you started at Drexel?

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

I think I just was 58. I think 58.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

That’s astonishing. I’d say there’s not that many people at that age that would say, “You know what? Maybe I think fashion, maybe something else, but it’s too late. I’m too old. I missed my chance and that’s just life.” Many would say that, but yet, I love what you said earlier that you said something like … You don‘t think you ever asked, you never really dared to dream. I know you said earlier like a Ted Talk, “Follow your dream. Make fear your friend,” which we’ll get to the fear part, which is fascinating, but you never really asked yourself, “What does Nancy really want to do?” It’s an irrelevant question, “Well, what’s the practical thing to do? I’ve got to get a job, and then later on, I’ve got to support two kids. I can’t afford to be crazy. I’ve got to feed them. I’ve got to build a life for them.”

 

Warwick Fairfax:

But you came to a point in which you actually, you dared to say and a lot of us think, “Well, my dreams don’t matter. It’s all about serving others.” And you served a lot of people, but you can serve others out of the dream you have within. It’s not either/or, but often, they think, “Okay, my life, my needs don’t matter. It’s all about my kids. It’s all about my husband. It’s all about my wife or all about my employees and I just want to be faithful and my dreams and desires are irrelevant.” It’s almost like, “I don’t matter,” or at least, “My dreams don’t matter,” but you made that shift, many don’t.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So for those who may be listening, how can you make that shift to saying, “Actually, I do matter. My dreams do deserve to be treasured”? How did you make that shift because I think it’s stunning?

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

That’s a great question. I always felt something was lacking. I just knew there was another life in me. I didn’t understand it, but it was there, but I never again allowed myself to think about it. I was very successful. I achieved a lot. People again would look at it and think of how successful, but there was still something deep inside that I knew was not being … There’s a fire, but it just wasn’t allowed to take off. And I remember my friends saying, “Well, you need a lot of little fires before the big one happens.” I don’t know, I can’t remember the words, but I think it really was when I started at Drexel, it was … You would think I’d feel so out of place, but I felt like home, I found my home. I felt like I found where this journey was supposed to take me.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

And my very first class was an art class. Why? I almost didn’t even try to do it because I’m still not a great illustrator, but I figured out a way to get through the program. And I got there early because I didn’t even get a tour of the school and I remember student walking in and I’m sitting on the one stool and there’s a platform in the middle and he sits on the other side because, of course, I’m the teacher, right? And then the next one comes in, sits next to him, so I pick up my things and I go and I sit with them, right? And I forgot that I looked different because that’s how much I felt like I was where I belong and it took a while, but I brought so much with me. I brought so much life experience with me and I think it served me so well, because again, when you talk about fear, I had nothing to fear in my designing because I knew there were so many more important things than whether or not I made the right cut or designed something and had to redo it.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

I want to jump in just for a second. Because this is a series on Second-Act Significance, what Nancy just described is the power of the second act, “I felt like I was at home. I felt like …” All of these things that she didn’t know where they were leading when she felt the tug, the tug took her to the second act. And it’s different for everybody what that second act is, but clearly this is the first half of what we’re talking about here in this series, Second-Act Significance. You’ve arrived or are en route to arriving at your second act and the significance then comes from that.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

What’s really funny is, I guess we’ll get into Project Runway, how a reality TV show was such a driving force to take me on this path and to guide me there, almost pushing me, which is just ludicrous to think that, but I really believe in the energy of the universe and the power of the universe. And from when I first watched the first episode, something happened and the universe was taking me somewhere.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Tell us how Project Runway happened. You obviously were following it for a number of years. You’re in Drexel, and then you decided, “You know what? I’m going to go for it.” Talk about that because that’s all … It’s one thing to go to fashion school, that’s incredible, but Project Runway? Oh, my gosh, that’s got … How did that happen? How’d you get that idea and what happened?

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

And I know how it happened at age … I think I was just about to turn 50 was the first season. I remember watching it with my mother and I remember watching and I said, “You know, if I had studied fashion and took my love of sewing as a child, I could have been on this show.” I just fell in love with this show and I said … And why I would think that, I’m 50 years old, I’m thinking that I could have been on that show, but it was there. It got planted in this crazy brain of mine. Fast forward, I have this job. I’m also getting more into fashion. Again, having grown up 12 years wearing a school uniform and just making my things, I was apparently in my professional life, I was considered fashionable, but it wasn’t until I started thrifting and consigning that I got to really explore good fashion and high fashion and got to appreciate it.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

So these were all again little steps. And so as soon as I went into Drexel, I went, “Now I can be on Project Runway. Now I’m 57, 58. Oh, now I can be on Project Runway.” Didn’t tell a soul. Nobody knew about this fantasy of mine. Some people, again, it’s a reality TV show. The fashion industry, there’s a mixed review. I graduate. Now I’m 61, “I’m going to be on Project Runway.” I’m like, “I better apply. I’m getting there.” So I applied right away without the experience, but I knew because of my age and the first go around, I actually got an interview and I made it through a couple of the stages.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

Fortunately, I didn’t get on. I made it to like the semi-finals and where some people would’ve thought that as a failure, that just motivated me and there was almost a relief. I’m like, “This is great. I’ve got a year now to prepare.” I took a very intense online draping class out of Paris. I signed up for couture courses. I went over to London for two weeks and took at Central St. Martins, the top fashion school in the world and I took an intensive class. I start training like an athlete. And during that time, I spent two years of physical therapy because while at school, I developed arthritis in my neck and so I wake up every day in pain, but being active actually helps me through the day.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

So I started training as an athlete to get back on and I knew like there was something that said, “I am going to be on Project Runway,” it makes no sense, but there was something there. And I remember the first time when I went, I had to do a video and I called my son up, “I got a videographer son. This is going to be great, right? I’m going to have a cool video.” And I said, “I have a favor. I need to make a video.” When I told him what it was for, he said, he begged me not to go on. He said, “Please, mom, don’t. Don’t do it.” And there were two reasons. One, who wants their mother on a reality TV? And the other one is he has watched and witnessed the pain as a survivor of adult bullying and he has seen me in pain having been bullied and he didn’t want to subject me to that because it’s a cruel world out in the so social media and he was trying to protect me. Did I listen to him? No. I just got a friend to do my video.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, sometimes people give you good advice. Sometimes they give you advice because they really love and care for you. And sometimes it’s good to listen and sometimes you need to know when not to listen, “Thank you so much for your input. I love you, but I’m going to go for it anyway.” So you know that’s okay. Because I want to make sure we get your story here, because definitely, I’m curious about what you were just talking about. So Project Runway, the second time almost on an athletic level of research. And on Project Runway, you got pretty much all the way, I think, what? Runner up, I think was it. But during that Project Runway, I feel like you found your calling. Call it divine calling from karma, the universe. So tell listeners how you picked up something that other people didn’t want. It’s like, “I don’t want this,” but you said, “Yes.” What was that? What was your yes to?

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

So when I went to Project Runway, I actually was shot up like twice in the arm because I had nerve, I had rotator cuff things. So I was like, “I don’t know how long I would survive.” And every challenge, I got there and I felt blessed. When I got on the Runway, it was just like … And I could have been gone home, I looked around and I just took it in. And I felt blessed that I had made it. But once I was there and I’m like, “Okay, you made it, Well, guess what? You’re not ready to go home yet.” And I just stayed so focused on not worrying about other people but just what I could do.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

So one of the challenges, it’s called Client Challenges and they bring outside people. Well, for our Client Challenge, there was Olympians and Paralympians. And they come down the runway and there is Tatyana McFadden, a Paralympian in a wheelchair. She is the world’s fastest female marathoner, success story, in the world. There’s actually a federal law, Tatyana’s Law. And I saw her and I jumped out of my seat and I started to pull that energy to the universe, looking, looking, and like, “I need to get her. This is why I’m on Project Runway.” I knew it that moment, I knew it. And I asked her, I said, “Did you see me?” Just I must have looked like a crazy woman just staring at her.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

And they were randomly pulling names out. And when I got her, I screamed of joy. I’m reliving that and I know some of my other designers were probably so … See, this is my problem as I think about it. I called them the other designers, they were competitors, right? We were competing, but the other designers, they were probably relieved not to have to deal with that. But I knew, I knew enough from my little experience at Drexel studying a little bit about adaptive design that I had to approach this differently. So you have 30 minutes to sketch the look. Well, I knew I had to split it, not only in the aesthetics but functionality.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

So I was asking her function and this is a one-day challenge and they knew what they wanted. They had plenty of time to prepare and this was supposed to be for the Tokyo Olympics, red carpet look. She wanted a train. She wanted this. She had so many things and I’m like, “Great.” And at that point, Project Runway did not exist. I was there to fulfill Tatyana’s fantasy, not only aesthetically, but function-wise and that’s what I did and then it changed my life.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

I have, co-hosted 110 episodes-ish of this show. And, Nancy, that story that you just told is the first time and I still have them, it’s the first time I got chills. To hear you tell that story on the heels of everything that you’ve talked to or about up until then, it still has physically moved me to hear you talk about that because it’s not just you finding your second act, you finding the answers to all those questions you had since you were a little girl who was sewing, but you poured it in to helping other people. And I can see, I can hear in your voice, hopefully listeners, you can hear in Nancy’s voice, just how moved she was by that experience. I’m going to let Warwick talk because I’m still moved by it myself.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

No, that’s actually well said, Gary. You had ever, since you were young, just this … There were embers there waiting to burst into a forest fire for fashion, but here, you connected fashion to, I would say, a God-given calling, a universe-given calling to empower those who are not as fortunate, those with disabilities, those who may be marginalized in society. So you’ve got your creative fashion talents and desires and you found a way to help people. And while other people might have said, “Phew, I’m glad it wasn’t me,” you were leaping for joining it.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I love what you said, it wasn’t about, “Oh, gee, if I do a good job with this Paralympian, this will put me on the map and it will help my business get to the next level.” That was the furthest thought from your mind. “I can help this woman,” is what you were thinking. “I can help this Paralympic athlete. I can help her feel better about herself and empower her.” And you were doing it for all the right reasons, which I think is just wonderful. Does that make sense? I want listeners to hear your motivation. It wasn’t about fame and success, it was to help that person.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

I’m just reliving it, I’m getting very emotional, because it was such a defining moment. Fashion can be really powerful. It’s not just about clothes. And I think because so many times in my life I didn’t feel like I fit in, having been bullied, feeling damaged or just who knows what has driven me, and again, I didn’t know, again understand why I had this need to be a relevant designer. Even at Drexel, people always ask me, “What are you going to do when you graduate?” I think it’s because like, “What’s this old person doing here? This is a hard program.”

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

And my gift was not to answer the question because I was goal oriented. I said, “I just want to be relevant. There’s got to be a reason why this 61-year-old person gets to be a fashion designer. It can’t be about making more clothes. There’s got to be a reason I’m doing it.” And it was that moment on Project Runway. It was like, “Yes, this is it, understanding that fashion is powerful and everybody should have theability to express themselves and their individuality and get empowered and feel beautiful from the inside outside. And if fashion’s the way they do it, why do they not get that opportunity?” I can remember talking to one of the judges after Project Runway with another thing I did and she said, “Oh, even on Project Runway and what you’re doing now, you’re a decade ahead. You’re the future. You’re a decade ahead.” And I went…

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

And all of a sudden, I used to think, “That would be great to be called the future of fashion.” And I’m like, “No, I don’t want to be the future of fashion. I want to be the now of fashion. Why should the disabled or anybody with a medical issue or the different type body have to wait for the future? Why can’t it be now?” And that’s what happened and it impacted my finale collection. It impacted when I finished the show. Even during the pandemic, it’s really my compass of what I need and should be doing.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

What you’re saying there, Nancy, to me is the true life of significance. It’s not about power, fame. It’s not about, “Oh, you could be the future of fashion,” I think it’s almost like, “I could care less. I’m focused on helping and empowering these people.” Not to get too religious here, but certainly, Jesus talks about caring for the least of these, the despised, the marginalized. I’m sure, in other religions, there’s that kind of thought, is you were motivated to care for people that others maybe don’t care about. It was all about helping people. If that brings you awards, that’s fine. That’s okay. But it wasn’t about, “Oh, Nancy Volpe Beringer is the future of fashion.” It’s like, “Okay, whatever.” I wouldn’t say it’s meaningless, but it’s like a drop in the bucket compared to helping that Paralympian and other people who may be looked down upon.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So I think that’s, to me, what a true life of significance is. It’s using every creative talent that you were born with in service of a greater good. And to me, as we’ve said on this podcast and elsewhere, everybody wants joy and fulfillment everybody on the planet, “Well, how do I get it?” Well, doesn’t come from being a narcissist and just getting rich for the sake of it because you will not be happy and joyful. Every psychologist on the planet will tell you, “It doesn’t work.” The only way to be joyful and fulfilled is to do what you are doing. It doesn’t mean everybody has to be in fashion design, but conceptually, you are using your creative talents in service of others that you feel a universe or God-given calling to help.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

And so that gives you, I’m sure, joy and fulfillment. Not to put words in your mouth, it’s probably how to describe it. Is that a fair description of you, if you don’t mind me putting it that way?

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

No, that’s perfect. It does bring me joy and fulfillment, and again, you want to be happy. I can remember always saying, “Why is life so hard? Why is life so hard?” It just seemed like life was so hard. Even when you’re being successful, it’s hard. And even though I was working the 80 hours, 100 hours in pain every day, life wasn’t hard. Life was being fulfilled, but I also believe within me is that, again, I don’t know what happens later and all that, but I just feel like you need to leave this universe, this planet, your life having done something to help others, to just have some mark left that you made a difference, even if it’s in a few lives beyond your immediate family for me. Where I always knew there was something else in me thatwas unfulfilled, that’s where this has taken me.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

I know as much as I’m having so many roadblocks, and again, the pandemic has impacted all of us. Thursday, March 12th, was the finale on the air. I was supposed to go where I got to celebrate on top of the world. I was going to go to Nova Scotia for an adaptive festival. I had this. I did a lot of charity work, all this stuff. I have not seen a client or created a new thing with a client in over two years. I do a lot of care taking for some high-risk people in my family and so safety has been first. So all that went away, where I thought I was going to be. It disappeared, but then other doors opened up. I had other tragedies. I was displaced. There was a fire where I was living and had my studio. We were all displaced. I had nowhere to go. And right in the middle of the pandemic, there was a premature … My granddaughter was born. I became in this tightest little safety pod, but all this happened again for a reason.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

And as silly as it seems, if you really allow yourself to look beyond and be open, so here’s the fire. I have my little team. I have a couple people with trash bags putting all my designs, all my clothes, personal things in trash bags, getting it out of this building over a one week. We had five days, one freight elevator, no electricity and I found a rental. I was fortunate that I could do that and it had all these entrances, so we could all be safe, but now I have a garage filled with everything and it’s a mess. And then what happened was I went, “All my work, I have too much stuff. I have too much stuff. Look at all these clothes I have from all this thrifting and consigning. What am I going to do with all this?”

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

And then because I wasn’t making money through fashion with the pandemic, I thought, “Well, I’m going to sell my personal clothes and designs, they’re amazing, to raise money, to create an adaptive line for the disabled.” And one morning, I woke up and I said, “Why are you waiting?” I started researching and I decided I wasn’t going to sell it elsewhere. I try to do my own platform. I start researching and nowhere in the world that I can find, and which is really hard in fashion, is there a resale, and again this is luxury items, that care and will adapt the items for the disabled as part of just the service? So that fire and having all these clothes and everything stuffed in bags and unpacking saying, “I have too much stuff. I’m going to sell it to raise money,” that’s opened up this whole world of The Vault and trying to really advocate and that’s where I’m at.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

I’m starting at the bottom. It’s rough because I can’t go to … Again, I don’t go to events yet. I’m very isolated in some ways, but I just had this great opportunity. I just named a finalist for a brand new retail concept for Fashion Group International where they honored top designers, so things might happen. But again, it was, what somebody thought a challenge, a tragedy, a fire and then I moved in the new place and I’ve had two tornadoes, I’ve had a hurricane, I’ve had a collapsed ceiling in here, that just keeps coming, but it’s okay. That’s all okay and I don’t know why I could keep smiling and laughing.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Well, what’s remarkable about what you’re saying is you’re turning setbacks into blessings, blessings for others. That’s taking creativity almost to the ultimate level. You have a really remarkable story of hope and meaning and you live in the moment, you love fashion, but you‘re using fashion to empower and help people. And it seems like you’ve had setbacks in the recent years, but you can still smile. That’s remarkable. Rather than, “Oh, woe is me,” “I was on the cusp of I don’t know what, but okay, stuff happens. What can we do with it?” You can still smile. So I think, I don’t know your attitude is really remarkable. I think we can all learn from your creativity, your adaptability. If I can misuse that word, if you don’t mind, you’re very adaptable in your thinking and your ability to turn tragedy into triumph, if you will.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

You just stole my line that I wrote down. You can see it here. It’s on the bottom right there, “How wonderful that someone who works in adaptive fashion has lived an adaptive life.” I’ve been waiting for 15 minutes to say that and you took it.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Sorry about that.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Good for you.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Sorry.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

No, that right there says just how inspirational you are, Nancy. And this is the time in the show where I would normally say something like, “The captain’s turned on the fasten seatbelt sign and we’ve begun our descent. We got to land the plane,” but instead, in honor of Project Runway, I’m going to say, “That sound you just heard was Tim Gunn saying, ‘Make it work.'” So we’re at a point where we’re going to wrap up here in a minute, but I want to say one thing before I let you tell listeners how they can find out more about your work and about you. I’ve said this a lot on the show, which is always a blessing. I’ve asked listeners to go back and watch the video on YouTube, so they can see the guests smile, even as they are talking about some truly difficult crucibles.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

And I thought I was going to say that about you, but they don’t have to go watch it on video because they can hear it in your voice. Your smile comes through your voice, as you’re describing really tough things that have happened to you. You’re smiling because, I think, you’re in that second act of significance and it puts the other stuff in perspective. It didn’t happen to you, it happened for you and you’ve leveraged that to help other people. So I would be remiss if I did not say this, so how can people find out more about you and your collections, Nancy?

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

So well, there’s a couple different ways. I’m on Instagram as @thevaultbyvolpeberinger and also @nancyvolpeberinger. And I also have matching websites. My original designs are on nancyvolpeberinger.com or thevaultbyvolpeberinger.com that’s also channeled into Facebook. You can contact me, email me the same way. I do have to tell you as much as my son feared social media, social media has been my blessing through the pandemic. And so I welcome anyone to reach out. I get such inspirational messages from around the world. I answer every one of them and they have kept me … They have kept the smile when the days you don’t want to get out of bed and it just feels too hard, people connect with me and I so appreciate it

 

Gary Schneeberger:

As a guy whose last name is Schneeberger, let me make sure that listeners know how exactly to spell your name. So when they go www, dot, spell it out for them so they can get you.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

So it’s Nancy Volpe, V as in Victor, O-L-P-E, Beringer, B-E-R-I-N-G-E-R. And again, it’s The Vault by Volpe Beringer.

 

Gary Schneeberger:

Fantastic. Warwick, I don’t know how you’re going to find just one last question. It’s your show. You can ask five last questions if you want, but it’s back to you.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

Yeah, it’s all good. Well, Nancy, thank you so much. What’s really inspiring … Everything you’re doing is inspiring. You have this comment, “Follow your dreams. Make fear your friend.” I think another site I saw, the Age Fifty-Nine site celebrating stories of people who are 59 and over. So for those who might feel like, “Life’s passed me by. It’s too late,” talk about why they should think differently, whether they’re in their 40s, 50s, 60s, heck 70s or 80s, who knows, whatever the age is. What’s the message of hope that you would give them along the lines of, “Follow your dreams. Make for your friend”? What’s a message of hope for those who feel like, “I’m too old. Second act is never going to happen to me. I need to stuff those dreams deep, deep down and not let them out”? What’s a message of hope for people like that?

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

Well, I think one key thing is to surround yourself with positive people believers, people who believe in you. Again, when my one son discouraged me from doing it, he’s out of the picture. I surrounded myself with people who believed me. He believes in me now. He’s all there, but to follow their dreams and they can be small. It’s surround yourself with positive people. Being positive, especially in the world we live in, is extremely difficult and I would say that’s key. And the fearlessness.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

Again, when Elaine Welteroth, the judge, was promoting the show for our season and she was talking about this senior person on the show, she said, “She’s fearless.” Somebody says, she said, “Make fear your friend,” and I didn’t realize I did that all along. When I was that little 11, 12-year-old signing up for the sewing class, the other class I signed up for, this extremely shy person, was a public speaking class. “Huh? What? Makes no sense.” That was a fear.

 

Nancy Volpe Beringer:

So I’ve always challenged myself in where I have been afraid, it hasn’t stopped me. So it’s okay to feel the fear, but don’t let it stop you. And again, surround yourself with positivity even if it’s just from yourself, even if you don’t have other people. Write down words of positivity. Believe in yourself. When you stop believing yourself, that’s where it’s hard to keep going.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

I’ve been in the communications business long enough to know when the final word on the subject has been spoken and, Nancy, you’ve just spoken. Listeners, thank you for spending this time with us on Beyond the Crucible. We know, we discussed it here, how difficult crucibles can be, how painful they can be. We also know the power. We’ve heard the power. I felt the power of Nancy’s second-act significance. It is never too late to start a second act. And she is inspiring, rejoicing proof and evidence of that, not just to have a second act, but to have it be truly deeply, movingly, meaningfully significant.

 

Warwick Fairfax:

So until the next time we are together, do remember that your crucible experiences are not the end of your story. In fact, they can be the beginning of a new story if you learn the lessons from them and apply them moving forward. And the reason why that’s true is that where you will be taken as you learn the lessons of your crucible and move forward is to a place that you may not even know what it is at the moment. Nancy didn’t know where her place was going to be when she felt the tug to go, to move, to change, but where it’s led her and where it can lead you is to a life of significance.