Photo Credit: Aspen FW/Brittany Thomasson/Dave RossmanCombining fashion with philanthropic causes is not a new idea. The major Fashion Weeks — London, New York, Milan, Paris — all have some dimension of charitable giving associated with them. It is a needful and helpful thing; along with the glitter is substantial goodwill.
Aspen Fashion Week, from March 11-14, is no exception. I wrote about Aspen Fashion week two years ago, and its title, Combining Play With Philanthropy seemed appropriate then. Now, even though the event has blossomed into a much more substantial event, with Bentley Motors being one of its major sponsors, humanitarian root systems abide, stronger than ever. Celebrity designers play a pivotal role in this event — including KJUS, Obermeyer, Roots Canada, Authier, Helly Hansen, Killy, Neve designs, GRAY Aspen, FERA and SKEA, to name a few. But of equal relevance is the humanitarian dimension of this event; one that Lisa Johnson, Founder of AFW, is justly proud.
As a prime example, the first day of the event featured “Off the Rack,” a conversation with FEED (Fighting Hunger and Malnutrition around the world) Foundation’s co-founder, Lauren Bush Lauren, Kohl Crecelius; CEO and co-founder of Krochet Kids International, David Peck of The David Peck Collection and Veronika Scott from The Empowerment Plan. These emerging fashion designers, also social entrepreneurs, have created substantial, unique products that are in process of actually changing lives for the better.
CrOp by David Peck is based in Houston, TX. The name “CrOp” is short for “creative opportunities.” Veronika is based in Detroit, and has founded and operates The Empowerment Plan. I interviewed both David and Veronika recently.
JustLuxe: Has your life as a designer always been associated with an eco-sensitive, humanitarian awareness?
David Peck: Yes, I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico and was always aware of the disparity between rich and poor. My parents were helpful in this way as well, as they always gave back as much as they could. I was always one of those creative outsiders, who always knew there was a world outside, and when I started doing design work, I wanted my business to have a philanthropic component, as I wanted my business to be an extension of myself.
JL: How does this translate into your business practice?
A portion of sales from each season is donated to a charity tied to the inspiration for that season. For FW12, revenue will be donated to Covenant House. Covenant House is the largest privately funded agency in the Americas providing food, shelter, immediate crisis care, and essential services to homeless, throwaway, and runaway youth.
DP: I started in 2010 with a just a few pieces, CrOp utilizes socially responsible and sustainable, eco-friendly materials including organic merino wool knit, satin jersey, fine count organic pima cotton, fine natural silks, organic wool twill, and fair trade textiles. A majority of the fabrics are made in the United States and each fabric is selected for its durability and low impact on the environment. All of CrOpʼs custom prints are done with methods that have the least impact on the environment.
Veronika Scott is another emerging designer who has been featured in Forbes and NPR, as she has done something extraordinary, and with one product. She is 22, graduated recently from a design school, where as her senior project she designed an outwear coat that transforms into a sleeping bag. And for what population? The homeless. And here she is at Aspen Fashion Week, far from the streets of Detroit. I asked her a few questions also.
JL: What is your mission and vision in producing these coats?
Veronika Scott: In order to further the project, I want to invest in each of the women individually. This means bringing them in and creating an environment where they can receive in-depth training by a professional seamstress. We are not just training the women to produce one part of an item over and over again, I am trying to give them the skills to create something from start to finish. Skills that would take them beyond his project. I want to stay in Detroit, and stay within the community that this project has become a part of — continuing to develop the business and refurbish the building we are located in. In order to do this, I need to open up a new part of the business that allows us to become sustainable financially; selling the coats to the public will enable us to become financially independent, scalable, and sustainable. Therefore, this August I hope to begin a one to one business model. Which means that when you buy a coat for yourself, you are in turn covering the cost of donating a coat to someone on the streets.
JL: How do you see these coats changing lives for the better?
VS: The future of The Empowerment Plan lies within the building. I want to renovate and fill with 50+ men and women, all previously homeless, giving them a chance to succeed and create a career for themselves within the garment industry. If done right, this would be a way to help end the homeless cycle. They lose their job, then their home, and end up on the streets anywhere from six months to 20 years. If they get their paperwork together and manage to get a slot in a shelter they can only be there for two years. In those two years they have to get their lives together, get sober, find a job, create a savings, and find a new place to live or they end up right back on the streets. The Empowerment Plan aims to break that cycle, by giving homeless women jobs while in the shelter, so they can earn money, find a place to live, and gain back their independence for themselves and their families.
JL: What does your coat symbolize to you and others?
VS: To me the coat is a vehicle for individuals to learn sewing and industrial manufacturing. And so, as our company grows, and our women become even more skilled, we will only produce coats a few months a year giving us room to produce other garments. In doing so we have the ability to become a great foundation for the growing garment industry in Detroit, and for those within the United States who want to produce in house.
JL: How did you conceptualize this idea originally? Did you have an early calling or a mission about helping those in need? How did this come about?
VS: Growing up in poverty, I spent my adult life running away from it. Working at amazing firms in New York, I was not happy, and did not feel at all connected to the work I was doing. When I started this project as a student, I was under the impression that this was just for a grade and felt free to take risks, to try something and fail. So while I started going to a shelter in downtown Detroit, my fellow classmates shied away in fear.
Homelessness is an abstract concept for them. But for me, it was always possible, and never too far from reality. I wasn't scared of these individuals because they weren't unknown to me as they are to so many others. People don't understand why others become homeless, therefore they put it in a box and stay afraid of what is unknown. So while I was developing this project with the individuals at this shelter, I spent much time there just listening to their stories of day to day life and their needs that they began to trust me and I to know them. I became so involved that it wasn't about finishing a project anymore, but keeping a promise I made to them.
So why am I invested and passionate about this project? Because for the first time I was able to see the impact of something I created. For a designer, that's pretty amazing! Since the class ended, I've pushed the project and my concept further than I dreamed possible, and it's not easy feeling like you have fires to battle and put out daily. The fact of the matter is that no matter how hard it gets, I can still see the impact my product is making and that's worth the struggle.
Visit AspenFashionWeek.com to see more from the Aspen runway.