How Designer John Varvatos Has Built a Reputation of Giving Back

John Varvatos Has Created a Legacy
John Varvatos

On Tuesday, Nov. 29, Footwear News will host its 2016 Achievement Awards in New York, honoring the best and brightest in the industry, including Social Impact winner John Varvatos. Read on to learn more about his accomplishments.

John Varvatos has three passions: fashion, music and giving. For the past 13 years, the menswear designer has been the engine behind The John Varvatos Stuart House Benefit, an annual celebrity-studded fundraiser in West Hollywood, Calif., that includes a concert and live auction. Proceeds support Stuart House, a program of the Rape Treatment Center of Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center that serves the needs of sexually abused children and their families.

“When we opened our store in [Hollywood] in 2002, I wanted to do something that would connect the company to the community,” said Varvatos. “I looked at different charities and stumbled upon Stuart House. I saw the young kids there, and it ripped my heart out. I told executive director of Stuart House Gail Abarbanel, ‘I’m committed.’ ”

Through the years, Varvatos has brought an A-list roster of celebrities with him to support the cause, including Amy Adams, Judd Apatow, Ben Affleck, Patrick Dempsey and LL Cool J.

“John Varvatos is so rock ’n’ roll and has such dope style, but nothing is more stylish than the way he gives back to the community through Stuart House,” said LL Cool J. “I got involved because organizations that help children mean so much to me, especially because I am a dad.”

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Alice Cooper has also come on board for the cause, as has supermodel Cindy Crawford. “John has been a friend forever and is a Detroit guy, like me,” said Cooper. “As a parent, you’re always worried about your kids; you then worry about other people’s kids since you can relate.”

Added Crawford, “One of the great things about being in the public eye is the opportunity to shine the light on great causes that you care about.”

While Stuart House has been the main focus of Varvatos’ philanthropic endeavors, he’s also involved in other charitable endeavors, including the Ringo Starr Peace & Love Fund, Susan G. Komen, Bowery Mission, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles and Housing Works.

The designer learned early on about the importance of helping others. “I grew up with nothing,” recalled Varvatos, whose father struggled to support a family of seven on limited earnings. “But I had great parents who did the right thing and always managed to find a way to give back. I felt lucky as a kid for what I had, and later thought, ‘Why not use the strength of my brand and company to help be a voice, raise money, or both?’ ”

Though his business is based in New York, Varvatos has never forgotten his Michigan roots. Following the 2013 bankruptcy of the Motor City, Detroit billionaire Dan Gilbert called on the designer to help reinvigorate the city’s downtown business district. So in 2015, Varvatos opened a store on Woodward Street.

“Since we opened,” he said, “others have come downtown. It’s starting to happen, and [likely] in the next five years, Detroit will be one of the most talked-about cities in the world for urban renewal. I am glad I was there to help kick-start it.”

The designer still has more to give. Varvatos recently signed on to support yet another charitable cause: God’s Love We Deliver, a New York-area meal provider.

In March, he will organize a fundraising concert in New York to benefit the organization. “I’m so excited about the event and hoping to raise nearly $2 million,” he said. “We [plan] to have world-class talent, and I want it to become an annual event.”

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