Immigrant Designer Goes From Homeless to Wealthy, Then Sells Everything to Help Others*
What happens when you really believe in God….
By Brianna Acuesta
Vascon grew up in Raposos, a poverty-stricken small town in Brazil, where he never attended school and started working from a young age to support his family because his father was an alcoholic. When he was older, he moved to Rio de Janeiro, where his situation actually worsened. Though he secured a job washing cars to survive, he said that he was starving for several months and lived on benches.
Once he saved enough money to move to New York City, it seemed that he had finally caught a break and would be able to achieve the American dream by arriving in one of the most prosperous cities in the world. However, to Vascon’s dismay, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“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.”
On the same night that he made this promise to God, he said he had a strange dream that changed his life dramatically. In the dream, thousands of birds were landing in trees and dropping purses to the ground. Though most would take this at face value and simply deem it an odd dream, Vascon took this as a sign and ran with it. With a newfound purpose, he spent the next day collecting cans, turning them in for $80, purchasing sewing supplies and leather, and making 12 purses. The purses were the same design he had seen in the dream.
By fate or coincidence, a woman approached him while he was selling the purses in Central Park. That woman ended up being Nancy H., the fashion editor from the New York Times. When Nancy heard his story, she swiftly bought all 12 purses and insisted Vascon spend more time with her so she could write a piece on him and his purses.
Vascon became a success overnight. He earned enough money to start seven stores in America and return to Brazil to buy a house for his mother. The millionaire was living well until his birthday arrived and no one called him to wish a happy birthday. This caused Vascon to question everything yet again, and he turned to God once more.
He said in prayer, “Remember that night I told you I would return everything? I guess now is the time.”
He took this endeavor to heart and wound up selling everything he owned, including his stores and business, to travel the world—128 countries, to be exact—and learn about a variety of cultures and help people. He would help in any way he could, by feeding the poor and homeless and paying for a student’s college tuition.
After he sold his last possession, he returned to the United States and found himself sleeping on benches in NYC once again. As luck would have it, a few days later another journalist approached him when she realized who he was. She wrote a piece about him and two days later he received an offer from a store wishing to partner with him. He has now rebuilt his business, still makes beautiful purses from exotic materials, and helps others anonymously as a way of giving back to the community that built him up twice.