How Fashion Designers Are Using Business To Support Women’s Issues

Donna Karan women in power
Donna Karan and an artisan in Haiti.
Courtesy of brand.

Notable female fashion entrepreneurs are prioritizing women’s causes not just as a side project but also as an integral part of their brand and business. And more often, they are championing other women with their business models.

Ivanka Trump has made it a major mission to build her #WomenWhoWork campaign, which targets professional females without a shared community. “It was created to celebrate the many ways in which women work today. As working women, it’s important to recognize that our professional personas are only part of the story,” said Trump. “I’ve spent much time through the years as one of a very few number of women in the boardroom and noticed that there were only connotations around ‘working women’ —no one ever used the term ‘working men.’ ”

The campaign extends beyond a social media hashtag, with branded content online that focuses on what Trump calls “solution oriented” tips and tricks to help women arrange all aspects of their lives.

Additionally, Trump regularly seeks out a diverse group of successful female power players — among them stylist Micaela Erlanger and Ohio state Sen. Capri Cafaro — to share their stories and business expertise with other women.

Women in power ivanka trump Ivanka Trump and her team with “Originals” author Adam Grant. Courtesy of brand.

Similarly, Tory Burch has been focusing on developing the Tory Burch Foundation, which supports female entrepreneurs. This month, the designer announced the creation of a fellowship aimed at supporting three women with a grant, yearlong fellowship and intensive workshops.

Diane von Furstenberg, who is taking a step back at her namesake company after appointing Jonathan Saunders as her first chief creative officer, said she is looking forward to spending more time on her philanthropic endeavors, which include advancing women’s causes. For the past six years, the design veteran has held the DVF Awards, which provide recipients with resources necessary to expand their efforts on behalf of women around the world.

Emerging London label Bionda Castana has made service a priority for its platform since the firm was founded in 2007. Designer Natalie Barbieri recently created a 2016 resort collection benefitting Mothers 2 Mothers, an organization that provides health care and education to HIV/AIDS-affected mothers in Africa. The nonprofit taps HIV positive mothers in their community to help lead the local efforts. (Barbieri was introduced to the organization through a benefit sale hosted by the Outnet and Victoria Beckham.)

Bionda Castana Women in POwer Bionda Castana’s collection benefitting Mothers 2 Mothers. Courtesy of brand.

Barbieri said that fashion designers are in a rare position to help support other women because it is such a heavily female, creative and open-minded industry with unique audience relationships. “It gives a greater meaning to what we do,” said Barbieri. “When a company builds itself around a greater mission of doing good, you infuse that passion into your products, services, employees and also customers. The industry we are in means we can be creative — and being able to be creative and provide product that people can buy into for a good cause — is appealing for the end consumer.”

bionda castana women in power Natalia Barbieri of Bionda Castana, with a Mother 2 Mothers mentor Courtesy of brand.

Connecting fashion and philanthropy has been a critical part of Donna Karan’s philosophy from the beginning. “Women are nurturers by nature. We can’t help but mother when we see someone in need,” Karan told FN. “In many ways, fashion is a woman’s business — we dress women and many of us are women.”

Karan left her namesake label last year, primarily to focus on her passion project, the Urban Zen Foundation. The initiative supports existing nonprofits and experts in the fields of health care, children’s issues and preserving artisan crafts and cultures.

“If we know a purchase will benefit others, either by raising money for a cause or sustaining an artisan community in need, each of us can make a huge difference,” said Karan.

She added, “Our job as designers/ creators is to make sure the product is desirable. All the good intentions in the world won’t make someone buy something they don’t want. But if we can marry desirability with helping others, everyone is empowered.”