Fashion’s long held commitment to philanthropy is well documented. An industry that was considered frivolous and elitist, has recognized that part of its business model has to include becoming cultural actors in a global stage. Fashion designers have achieved in the last 20 years a celebrity status that at times overcast that of the famous people they dress. This avatar contributes to building, and even leading communities of like-minded individuals united under common philanthropic principles. This cultural niche is in reality, their client base.
Today’s savvy fashion client is more aware of how brands allocate their profits. This client is more inclined to buy that costly evening gown, especially when she already has more than she could really wear, if she knew that part of the proceeds would go to charity. It is an approach to cure shopper’s remorse. Frugality is still a virtue, even in moneyed circles, where real luxury is usually unseen. Many do not want to be seen as wasteful or irresponsible.
All fashion brands today include some form of charitable giving. Lending your name to a cause celebre that your fans endorse makes good marketing. But many designers show real concern for the state of the world, and recognize their own power to make a difference in areas that affect them. It could be a personal experience, an epiphany, a bout with disease (their own or a relative’s) or a philosophical commitment to fairness. The fact is that giving back has never been more important for the world of fashion’s zeitgeist, as evidenced in the following examples.
After the death of her husband, Stephan Weiss to cancer in 2001, Donna Karan turned her attention to funding research of holistic treatments in cancer care for both the patient and the caregiver. She founded the Urban Zen Foundation with the mission to “create, connect and collaborate to raise awareness and inspire change in the areas of well being, preserving cultures and empowering children in mind, body and spirit”. The work of the organization is multifold. Through carefully engineered initiatives, Urban Zen funds solutions in health care and cultural identity. They have implemented a program to integrate holistic principles and traditional eastern treatments into modern Western treatments for cancer. The aim is to treat the patient with dignity, while battling the deadly disease. The organization’s cultural programs have brought attention and resources to the plight of the Haitians after the devastating earthquake that destroy the already impoverished Caribbean nation. Through art exhibits around the world, the program has raised awareness and funds for the reconstruction efforts for the country and the soul of the Haitian people.
1. DONNA KARAN. / Photo: Neilson Barnard.