Retail Therapy: 6 Fashion Brands That Give Back



For centuries, the fashion world has been branded with stereotypical ideas about being excessive, wasteful, and frivolous. Detractors point to past and present-day Marie Antoinettes, throwing money around blindly while there are people in the world who have basic unmet needs. What all of this negative energy misses is the potential for fashion to be a positive influencer in the world. Often starting with the spark of a single idea, entrepreneurs, fashionistas, and artisans are changing how the world views fashion’s potential. From empowering women in Uganda, to fighting childhood hunger, here are six companies fashionably making a difference in the world.

1. Michael Kors

Charitable causes are not limited to start-ups and nonprofits — high-end brands want to give back, too. Michael Kors partnered with the World Food Programme (or, WFP) for his cleverly titled campaign, “Watch Hunger Stop.” The concept is easy and almost self-explanatory. For every watch purchased, 100 meals are donated. The goal is to donate 5 million meals, and so far, 3.4 million have been delivered.

Specifically, each watch purchased donates $25 to the WFP. The giving back isn’t limited to timepieces — there is also a number you can text to donate $5. Kors has also used his extensive fashion network to pull in other high-profile members of the industry. Actress Victoria Justice and models Lily Aldridge and Chanel Iman campaigned for the cause in the pages of Teen Vogue last November.

The watches are available online and retail for $295.



2. TOMs

The catalyst for TOMs was a visit by Blake Mycoskie to Argentina in 2006. While there, Mycoskie saw the hardships children experience when they grow up without shoes. To begin remedying this problem, Mycoskie founded TOMs, a for-profit business that would be able to donate shoes to children.

Since 2006, TOMs has been able to provide over 10 million pairs of shoes, as well as widen its horizons. TOMs Eyeware and One for One is another venture by Mycoskie, but instead of shoes, the focus is on vision. For every pair of TOMs shoes purchased, a person lacking shoes receives a pair through TOMs’ giving partners; when someone buys a pair of glasses, the team behind TOMs works to enhance a person’s vision. That may take shape through funding corrective surgery, glasses, or treatment for medical conditions, depending on the person’s diagnosis.

The charitable spirit behind TOMs is not content with only highlighting its own causes. TOMs has a marketplace on its website, enabling shoppers to browse by cause or region for other fashionable finds. In embracing this model, Mycoskie is furthering another one of his visions. He wants to see an emergence of social-minded businesses and consumers in the future. This means not only raising the capabilities of TOMs, but of all like-minded business ventures.

TOMs sells footwear for men, women, and children. The styles range from the “classic” original design to wedges. Eyeware is also available for men and women.



3. Sseko

Liz Forkin Bohannon headed to Uganda when she was 22. Her original intent was to use her background in journalism and communications to aid a non-profit through public relations work. Along the way, she encountered a community and befriended a group of women who changed how she viewed the world as well as education.

Bohannon learned that many of her new friends saw their education as gifts to be cherished, but the cost of higher education was beyond their reach. Bohannon herself painstakingly designed a pair of sandals to wear around the city. Those sandals are the template for the entire brand, which includes shoes, scarves, and handbags.

The sandals are made by Ugandan women who are employed during a 9 month gap that occurs between high school and college. Exactly half of what they earn is placed in a savings account they cannot access until tuition is due. Putting the money aside assures it will be spent on a worker’s education, and not given away to other members of the family. Sseko Designs is organized so that instead of giving money, money is earned, and jobs are created. In this way, the company wants to grow and empower communities through development, instead of straightforward donations.

If you purchase a pair of Sseko sandals, you can interchange the fabric and alter how you tie it. There are literally hundreds of ways to style your shoes, and the company has published a tutorial on the myriad of options at your feet.




Lauren Bush’s concept in 2005 was simple — create a bag to benefit the United Nations World Food Programme’s (or, WFP) School Feeding program. She had visited schools in Asia, Latin America, and Africa in her role as WFP Honorary Student Spokesperson. She saw first-hand what people in poverty-stricken areas had to endure, and was particularly interested in an initiative that focuses on providing food for school children: WFP’s School Feeding program.

As a result, she designed the FEED 1 bag made of burlap and organic cotton, designed to look like the bags of food WFP distributes. Two years later, FEED Projects LLC was founded. In 2008, the FEED Foundation was launched. The foundation is a nonprofit aimed at eradicating global hunger and malnutrition. To date, over 60 million school meals had been provided to children around the world as a result of the bags.

As the company grew, so did the scope of what it offered. The FEED bag has expanded since its original design–backpacks, totes, duffle bags, and clutches can now be purchases as well as the original design. FEED has a line of accessories now — scarves, bracelets, etc. — in addition to clothing. All of the products adhere to the original agenda: help feed the world while funding programs through environmentally friendly, artisanal materials.

FEED bags can cost as little as $20, or over $100, depending on the style you select. There are also bags with specific themes in mind for the purchaser, like a wine bag and a bridal bag. When you select a bag on the website, you will also learn how many school meals your purchase will provide. The $22 wine bag, for example, will provide 5 school meals.



5. Della

Tina Tangalakis has worked as a wardrobe stylist on film and television projects. This is what she was doing after studying costume design at California Institute of the Arts. In 2009, when she participated in a volunteer program in Ghana, she decided it was time for a change. She partnered with an entrepreneur from Hohoe, Ghana to create a fashion line: Della. Della is based in Los Angeles but provides jobs, education, and skills training to the men and women of Hohoe.

With the fashion line, the team behind Della wants to offer more than socially responsible, well-made products. They are careful not to call themselves a charity, instead they are a business — a business doing “right.” That “right” is accomplished through product purchases, because then the community in Ghana benefits from jobs and business.

Della has 35 full-time employees in Ghana, and twenty full-time state-side workers. The textiles are sourced from the Volta Region, which become handcrafted products. The workers are paid hourly and participate in literacy and money management classes. Additionally, the workers in Ghana volunteer with the Happy Kids Orphanage. Every week, a seamstress takes time to visit and educate the children in the orphanage. Della hopes to have an after-school child-care program when its new production center opens, allowing more opportunities for women who have children.

Recently, Vans partnered with the company to sell one-of-a-kind shoes, featuring fabrics by Della. Other items sold by Della include handbags, men’s pocket squares, headbands, and iPad cases.



6. Krochet Kids

How did you spend your high school days? Probably not crocheting like the three men behind Krochet Kids. Back then, Kohl Crecelius, Travis Hartanov, and Stewart Ramsey fulfilled the custom design order of their friends. All three went off to different colleges, traveling to various countries during the summer. Their journeys gave them insight to economic and social conditions around the world. Realizing how lucky they were with their upbringings, the men wanted to offer opportunity to others.

When Stewart told a story about how he met people in Uganda who wanted to work and provide for their families rather than relying on governmental bodies for assistance, the three teamed up to spread their crocheting skills around the world. Hooks and yarn in hand, they headed to Uganda to teach people how to crochet. In 2008, Krochet Kids earned non-profit status, and now more than 150 people in Uganda and Peru are involved.

The Ugandans and Peruvians are paid to create the crocheted pieces people order. Employees are paid fair wages, and provided education and mentorship opportunities to help them to break the cycle of poverty. All products are hand-signed by the woman who made it. Online, there are biographies for all of the workers, and people can see exactly how their purchases are impacting the lives of the women who made the products.

Krochet Kids sells a wide range of items in its womenswear, menswear, and children’s line. Apparel — such as sweatshirts and t-shirts — can be purchased, as well as bags, hats, scarves, and earmuffs.

More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet: