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Fashion and philanthropy: good deeds and discounts go hand in hand

"Kindness is always fashionable." - legendary designer Rachel Roy

In preparation for spring (Yes... it's still snowing in DC), I’ve decided to go through two rounds of purging my closet. I won’t lie, I may have been inspired by Netflix’s latest reboot of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Luckily, there are many incentives that retailers provide that will help you stock up on the latest fashions and donate to those in need. Here are some inspiring fashion-related philanthropy incentives I’ve spotted in the world of retail.

1. The Holiday Swap

Out with the old, in with the new. That seems to be the tagline of many retailers that were asking for clothing donations in their stores during the holiday season in exchange for some sort of discount at their location. I personally spotted a Banana Republic box in my mall, so I started looking into how many stores are actually participating in this kind of "holiday swap" campaign. Huffington Post wrote a very useful article and recommended “6 Stores Where You Can Donate Old Clothes for a Sweet Reward.” Next time you’re doing your holiday shopping, be sure to take advantage of these initiatives. However, the holiday swap marketing technique is not limited to physical stores.

For example, I’ve also noticed Rent the Runway has a “You Rent. We Donate” campaign that runs all year round and provides a 10% discount on your purchase. You can choose to donate to up to 4 different organizations including Dress for Success, Girls in Tech, Global Fund for Woman and She Should Run. Not to mention, their business model promotes sustainability - with each rental you are saving money on water, electricity and emissions to produce a new piece of clothing.

“The world now consumes about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. This is 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago.” - The True Cost

Although this is a great model for clothing stores, I also wanted to highlight some additional initiatives I’ve spotted that go beyond providing used clothing for those in need. Let’s explore some of the other philanthropic campaigns that retailers have used.

2. The “One for One” Deal

TOMS was founded in 2006 as a pioneer of the “buy one and we donate one” marketing technique. With each classic TOMS shoe purchased, a new pair of shoes would be created for someone in need. Since their launch of the "One for One" campaign, TOMS collaborates with over 100 partners and has positively improved the lives of over 2 million children worldwide by providing shoes, as well as better access to healthcare and clean water.

After the launch of TOMS , eyewear manufacturer Warby Parker (founded in 2010) and sock retailer Bombas (2013) quickly followed suit with this philanthropic business model.

According to Gigaom, In 2011, Warby Parker shipped more than 100,000 pairs of glasses and had 60 employees. One collection of 27 glasses was priced at $95 a pair. By starting out on an e-commerce platform, the company was able to cut out the merchandisers and provide a high-quality designed product for a reasonable price. They partnered with VisionSpring, a nonprofit that distributes low-cost glasses in developing countries.

“People don’t understand the degree we’re committed to social good. Our goal is to build a large, profitable company that can serve as an example of how a company can do good in the world" Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal.

Bombas took a similar approach in their mission to support those in need by going after and undeserved segment of those in need and breaking into the highly competitive sock market. The sock company noticed that clean socks may not be the first thing that comes to mind when providing items for the homeless. Used socks are typically not accepted at homeless shelters. Bombas saw a high demand that could not keep up with supply for these items in donation centers. Their high quality products were kept at middle-class prices, ensuring popular demand. The company saw its total sales increase from $450,000 in the first nine months to $12 million according to a story featured on on how Bombas survived Shark Tank.

3. Empowering Developing Nations

One of the campaigns I was recently inspired by was done by iconic designer Rachel Roy, featured on the Ivy Podcast #104: Rachel Roy Talks Fashion & Philanthropy. Her clients include Michelle Obama, Gwyneth Paltrow and Oprah Winfrey. In the podcast Rachel talks about designing for the working woman, but she also discusses how she can use her “entrepreneurial spirits as a force for good.”

She’s recently launched a new campaign called “Kindness is always fashionable” - a way of weaving philanthropy into her business. It also started when Pakistan had a huge flood and her daughter looked at her mother and asked: “What are you going to do about it?” It was then Rachel decided to take action. She then reached out to fashion influencers including the CEO of Macy’s and the Editor of Vanity Fair. She asked if they would provide their support via signatures for the release of a designer bag where 100% of the proceeds would go to UNICEF to benefit the children in Pakistan. How does Rachel credit her successful campaign? She advised that when you reach out for help, make sure that the help is free!

Rachel has also partnered with organizations that support women-owned businesses around the world. Some of the items such as the “Love Bomb” jewelry collection created by artists like Sao Tai are sourced from unexploded bomb material dropped in the Vietnam War. Another featured item as part of her “Kindness is Always Fashionable” campaign includes ethically-sourced towels from Ethiopia that support local artisans.

“Giving women an opportunity to work is my life’s work. It leads to stronger communities, families and voices. It gives women a freedom that can only come through providing for yourself.” - Rachel Roy

Whether it's the holiday spirit, a one-for-one deal or helping individuals in developing countries, there are a number of campaigns that can make a difference. What kind of fashion-centric initiatives have you spotted in the world of philanthropy?

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