The hot new fashion collab unites brands and charities

Fashion has a new influencer: Gandhi. As the Indian civil rights leader
once said: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the
service of others,” and this spirit resonates deeply with the four fashion
industry professionals with whom I shared a panel during Fashinnovation’s
3rd Worldwide Talks. As our industry attempts to find itself, climbing out
of the rubble of COVID, they see a path to success through collaboration.
While we’ve come to associate the word “collab” with trendy commercial
partnerships like last week’s Prada Adidas sneaker drop, this is a
different union. Collaboration in this case is not about selling overhyped
product, it’s about giving back.

For Jeannie Barsam, founder and CEO of Gifting Brands, this involves
what she calls “Inventory Philanthropy.” Gifting Brands aims to provide
brands with an alternative to selling off unsold inventory to off-price
retailers or destroying it, as has been an unfortunate practice in the
past, or even worse, letting it go to landflll. Instead brands can donate
the goods to Gifting Brands, where they will get a tax credit and their own
brand home page, and walk away knowing that 100 percent of the proceeds go
to charity. Barsam describes her 501c3 non-profit as “the first ever
e-commerce website that partners with fashion and luxury brands to donate
excess inventory.” One of the charities Gifting Brands partners with is The
Family Place which provides shelter for women at risk just as the pandemic
created a spike in cases of women trapped at home or subject to domestic

Kimberly Carney, founder and CEO of Fashwire, a B2B data hub which
provides brands with consumer insight and a B2C shopping platform featuring
300 designers from 30 countries, says philanthropy has been what helped her
navigate the pandemic, or what she calls “the Next Normal.” Through
Fashwire’s philanthropic arm, Fashgive, in partnership with Retailers
United, this meeting of executive minds from tech and retail raised funds
for COVID relief efforts and to help America reopen, and provides grants
for designers struggling during this time.

Crisis brings opportunity to fashion industry

Fashwire’s Seattle store had been performing well prior to Covid but now
their Direct-to-Consumer business has taken off. Gifting Brands’ launch was
initially scheduled for later in the year but Barsam decided to bring it
forward to May, despite having only a few brands on-board. The pandemic
test run paid off and Barsam says it elevates brands to boast connections
with both charities and sustainability and can become part of their

Helen Aboah, CEO of Urban Zen, Donna Karan’s range of luxury artisanal
pieces sourced from around the world, with its attached charitable
foundation focusing on culture, education and wellness, says, “This period
has been incredible for our foundation in supporting healthcare, nurses,
training for self-care techniques and meditation.” Although no longer able
to enter hospitals during the pandemic, the foundation pivoted to digital
communication, and says Aboah, they were able to share 5-minute videos for
free to every frontline work in the country./p>

Theo Killion, a C-suite veteran who serves on several boards including
that of the organization A Better Chance founded in 1963 which provides
talented children of color who may not have the means to get into private
school a platform for their future, believes collaboration is key to this
current moment in history. Covid has laid bare all the infrastructure
issues in healthcare, education, unemployment, and racial inequity, and for
him, A Better Chance alum, giving back is personal. He refers to it as
“closing the circle”: “A Better Chance got me started, they gave me a lift
so I owe it to people to create 500 opportunities every year for young
people to be able to get the same chance that I had.” Gifting Brands also
counts A Better Chance as a partner charity.

Fashion and the art of collaboration

“At Urban Zen, collaboration is about connecting creatively, with two or
more companies coming together to make something beautiful,” says Aboah.
“Whether in homeware, apparel or jewelry, rather than commissioning someone
to do something for us, we prefer to share the stage, bringing together who
we are with who that other person is.” Urban Zen’s artisanal collaborations
emerge organically from Karan’s travels when she meets people and forms
relationships. “She gets in there, molding clay,” says Aboah.

While efforts to place people above profit and slow down fashion had
tentatively begun pre-Covid Killion reminds us that the industry has been
given the green light to accelerate activities: “The Business Roundtable, a
group of 181 of the most powerful CEOs have said it’s no longer about
shareholders but about stakeholders, and that includes communities and
employees. So all of a sudden if you’re one of those corporations you have
permission to do good work. The other thing is institutional investors for
the past three years have been focused on ESG, that’s Environmental,
Social, and Governance.”

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A positive outlook for fashion industry

Mentors have been important to these industry leaders throughout their
careers. Aboah who has worked with Donna Karan since the company’s LVMH
days names the designer herself as one, citing her admiration for Karan’s
tireless philanthropy, from her work on Seventh on Sale, the CFDA AIDS
benefit, Kids for Kids carnival for Pediatric AIDS, and Super Saturday
benefiting Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. Karan was addressing conscious
consumerism long before it was commonplace and creating products crafted
with an ethos before it was popular. “It was always about the we and not
the me,” says Aboah, “she was always thinking about how to give back, and
this resonated with my upbringing.”

From Aboah’s partnerships with everyone from the mayor’s office to
essential workers, she sees hope on the ground and an entrepreneurial
spirit. “I think we’re going to get out of this stronger and better.”

A positive outlook is essential in those who will lead our industry into
calmer waters and Killion provides the perfect perspective for moving
forward, reminding us that after the 1918 pandemic which lasted two years,
came the Roaring Twenties. “Everyone was dancing, everyone was fashionable,
everyone was collaborating, and there was a celebration of freedom, with
fashion at the forefront.”

Let’s unite behind the new roaring twenties.

Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for
the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

Photos Fashinnovation

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