Fashion With a Purpose: Be stylish and do good

DECEMBER 29, 2014

Photo submitted by author

The fashion world can be polarizing – you’re either “in” or “out”, “hot” or “not”, “fresh” or a “fad”. But whether you think the wide world of fashion is fabulous and fierce or elitist and bizarre, there’s probably one word that doesn’t immediately come to mind: philanthropic. In reality, social good and fashion are more connected than you may think.

Recently, the idea of “fashion with a purpose” has taken the industry by storm, with brands like TOMS Shoes trailblazing the concept of giving back while getting something fashionable and on-trend in return. But while some may believe TOMS is the first to make the connection, the roots intertwining fashion and philanthropy go back even further.

I can remember first coming across the fashion with a purpose concept in my teens through Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, an initiative of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. This initiative kicked off in the early 90’s, selling one-of-a-kind T-shirts to benefit breast cancer charities. While I was too young to understand the deep connection to this important cause, I did understand that when I bought one of their bulls-eye designed T-shirts, I was supporting a good cause. Sold! It was more than enough for me to fork over my hard-earned weekly allowance to support a good cause while wearing something that looked cool. From then on, I’ve been motivated by the idea of fashion with a purpose, and eventually found a way to incorporate it into my start-up.

I started my for-profit business, UChic, with the goal of selling products that help young women pursue life-changing experiences. After wrapping up a successfully funded Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, we’ve initiated production on our first tech fashion product – the “Gracie” computer case. At UChic, it’s not just about creating trendy accessories; it’s about giving back to our community and doing the most amount of good through every product we sell. In fact, a portion of our product sales will go to support our 1,000 Dreams Fund, which provides scholarships to help girls access opportunities and cover educational expenses that support their academic and career goals. With the help of the Indiegogo campaign, we now have the capital needed to launch our company’s mission to fund 1000 dreams through our product sales – and we’ve started by funding the dreams of the first 13 remarkable girls. Who knew a computer case could have such power?

Of course, my company is not the only one operating in this fashion with a purpose space. Many brands have ventured into social enterprise, defining success by not only sales, but by how much good they can create in the world. Below are some of my favorite examples of fashion and beauty brands doing right by their customers and the greater community:

Sevenly: To date, online fashion retailer Sevenly has raised over $4 million for causes ranging from anti-bullying to education to protecting young girls in Africa, and much more. The brand goes a step further to raise awareness, working to integrate the causes they champion into the design of the products they sell. It’s not just about selling products, it’s about starting conversations about things that matter. For every product purchased, Sevenly donates $7 to a chosen cause.

Feed Projects: Founded by Lauren Bush, Feed Projects is dedicated to providing meals to children around the world. Each bag sold is tied to a specific, tangible impact. For example, by purchasing the FEED 1 Bag, you’re providing one child with school meals for one year.

MAC: You’ve probably heard of the popular cosmetic brand, MAC, but you may not know the incredible philanthropic impact they have through the “Viva Glam” product line. Over the past 18 years, MAC has created seven exclusive Viva Glam makeup products and donates 100 percent of the purchase price toward helping women, men and children living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.

As a high-profile industry with a tendency to disrupt the status quo and start conversations, fashion has a unique power to raise awareness for important causes and affect change in a big way. And you can help. By supporting brands that give back, you’re playing a role in changing the world around you. Just by stocking your closet and makeup bag with responsibly-made and responsibly-sold products, you’re making the world a little more fabulous each time.

As we approach the new year, I’m incredibly inspired by the potential fashion has to positively impact the world in which we live, and can’t wait to see the kind of innovation that the new year will bring.

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