Power in Numbers: Footwear’s Fight Against Breast Cancer

Now in its 21st year, QVC Presents “FFANY Shoes on Sale” has generated more than $44 million to fund breast cancer research and education. But Ron Fromm, FFANY’s president and CEO, said the charity’s impact extends far further.

“For the medical community, the Shoes on Sale funds provide critical seed money for first-step research of new ideas. It allows researchers to then go and apply for federal funding and other grants,” Fromm explained. “From what the doctors and hospitals tell us, we’ve turned that $44 million into nearly $250 million when you include the second-step funding that wouldn’t exist without Shoes on Sale’s donations making that initial research possible.”

These investments are critical to the ongoing fight against the disease. Breast cancer remains the second most common cancer among women, with roughly 235,000 new cases and 40,000 deaths predicted in 2014, according to the American Cancer Society.

Over the past 40 years, the chance that a woman in the U.S. will be diagnosed in her lifetime has risen from 1 in 11 (in the 1970s) to 1 in 8 now. Much of that increase has been credited to longer life expectancies, as well as more detections through screenings and other factors such as changes in reproductive patterns and hormone use.

But there are bright spots in the otherwise grim statistics. Advancements in treatments and early detection over the past several years have significantly improved women’s hopes of survival after being diagnosed. According to the American Cancer Society, the survival rate five years after diagnosis is now at 89 percent.

Fromm said the goal at this year’s Shoes on Sale fundraiser is to give people a greater understanding of the strides being made in the battle against breast cancer. “When you talk with the doctors and researchers, you get a real sense that there is a pivotal moment happening right now. The success that the research is bringing about is creating an anticipation that a cure for breast cancer is very much within reach,” he explained. “We want to bring that idea to the fore — that this is no longer research you can’t touch. When you look around the event this year, you’ll see the word ‘cure’ much more prominently.”

On the Front Lines

The doctors in the battle against breast cancer told Footwear News that Shoes on Sale’s generous donations have funded seminal research that has led to revolutionary new treatment techniques.

At the Joanne Knight Breast Health Center at St. Louis’ Siteman Cancer Center, Shoes on Sales’ support has helped the institution become a world leader in modeling human breast cancers in the laboratory. The cutting-edge research being undertaken there is leading to more personalized treatments that are less toxic and more targeted, according to Dr. Timothy Eberlein, director of Siteman.

“Our researchers have successfully utilized patient-derived breast cancer xenografts grown in mice to develop biomarkers for therapeutic interventions. Using the expertise of the Genome Institute at Washington University, we have been able to perform genome sequencing of these patient tumor xenografts. This has led to new clinical trials performed at Siteman that are aimed at tailoring treatments to individual patients,” he explained.

“Without the generous support of Shoes on Sale, these pioneering experiments, which lead to newer individualized treatments, simply would not have happened,” he added.

For Dr. Daniel Hayes, director of the breast oncology program at the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, Shoes on Sale monies have made possible what he calls those “shot in the air” ideas that typically aren’t developed enough to be funded by leading grant-making organizations such as the National Cancer Institute, the Department of Defense and Susan G. Komen.

And, he pointed out, unlike other organizations that fund specific projects, Shoes on Sale leaves it to the discretion of its beneficiaries to determine how the money is spent.

“I think of FFANY’s donations as my mad money, in that it has allowed me to do a lot of things that would never have gotten done otherwise,” he said.

Initiatives at Michigan that have been supported by Shoes on Sale include the creation of a breast tissue repository and database, several clinical trials of cancer stem cell therapies, and extensive research into anti-estrogen therapies and their side effects. In addition, donations have funded both laboratory and clinical studies of tumor biomarkers, helping to guide the most effective treatments and therapies for individual patients.

Hayes, who has been involved with Shoes on Sale since 1996, said he continues to be amazed by the generosity of the footwear industry. “Every year, I attend the Shoes on Sale gala, and I always walk away, shaking my head, thinking, ‘I can’t believe these people are willing to do all this work simply out of the goodness of their hearts.’ It’s an enormous amount of work to pull off a fundraising event like this, but I’m so grateful because it allows us to keep doing the work we do in fighting this disease.”

Dr. Suzanne Klimberg, director of the breast cancer program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, utilized Shoes on Sale funds to develop the axillary reverse mapping (ARM) procedure, which helps prevent lymphedema, one of the most common adverse effects of breast cancer treatment. Lymphedema causes painful swelling of the arms due to faulty drainage of the lymph nodes. Using ARM, doctors can evaluate the ways in which fluid drains through the lymph system using an injectable blue dye. Mapping the drainage of the arm decreases the chances of unintended disruption of the lymph node system during surgery.

“Many patients say they fear lymphedema more than the cancer itself,” said Klimberg, whose research primarily focuses on lessening the morbidity of treatments that are, more often than not, curative. “With ARM, we have dramatically reduced the rate of lymphedema to just 2 percent, which is very exciting.”

Klimberg noted that similar approaches to new treatments make her optimistic for the future, as the medical community moves closer to finding a cure. “I’m excited about the next 10 or 20 years,” she said. “I want to one day be able to see patients, screen them, diagnose them and treat them all in the same visit. I want to be able to say, ‘Take this pill, and I’ll see you in a year.’ I think we can do that, and that’s my vision for the future.”

The Big Night

This year’s Shoes on Sale fundraising efforts will kick off Oct. 8 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. The annual gala will open with a cocktail hour, followed by a sit-down dinner and awards ceremony, featuring special video messages from event spokeswoman Ivanka Trump and actress Sally Field. Some of the industry’s best and brightest will be honored.

Bergdorf Goodman will be lauded as Retailer of the Year, with designer Tabitha Simmons presenting the award to President Joshua Schulman.

“Bergdorf is one of the premier luxury retailers in New York, and since Josh came on board [in 2012], he has done a great job of focusing on footwear and elevating the category,” FFANY President Fromm noted, citing recent expansions of the Fifth Avenue department store’s shoe salon.

Gianvito Rossi will receive the Designer of the Year accolade, presented by Nina García, creative director of Marie Claire and a judge on “Project Runway.” The son of legendary designer Sergio Rossi, Rossi struck out on his own in 2007 with a sleek women’s collection that is a favorite of celebrities from Gwyneth Paltrow to Keri Russell. (See page 36 for more.)

“Gianvito has become a major force in the luxury scene. He is continuing the Italian shoemaking traditions of his father while bringing his own unique talent to bear,” Fromm said.

In the program’s most personal tribute, industry veteran Joe Moore, who stepped down as head of FFANY earlier this year, will be honored with the Jodi Fisher Humanitarian Award.

Fromm said it is only fitting that Moore receives the award created in the name and memory of Shoes on Sale’s late founder. “Other than Jodi, no one besides Joe could ever be identified as the driving force of Shoes on Sale,” he said. “Joe has worked tirelessly and passionately on behalf of [the cause] for 15 years, continuously building on Jodi’s [original] idea and inspiration.” (See page 40 for a trip down memory lane with Moore.)

Mike George, CEO of QVC, has partnered with Moore on the charity gala for several years. “I expect it will be a special moment because there would be no Shoes on Sale without Joe,” he said. “He has been essential in making the event the tremendous success it is today.”

Throughout the evening, party guests can visit the French-inspired salon area to shop for half-price footwear from higher-end labels such as Jimmy Choo, Giuseppe Zanotti, Ferragamo and Stuart Weitzman. Collections that will be featured for the first time include Gianvito Rossi, Vince, Carolinna Espinosa and Marc by Marc Jacobs.

The gala will wrap up with a lively afterparty, Club FFANY, beginning at 9 p.m. In a new initiative, FFANY is collaborating with YP210, Two Ten Footwear Foundation’s young professionals network, to expand the event. YP210 members are invited to purchase a ticket to Club FFANY for $75, which includes a discount on a pair of shoes from the salon.

“It’s a great opportunity to expose the industry’s next generation to the work that Shoes on Sale does,” Fromm said.

Broadcasting the Message
One week after the New York gala, QVC will go live with its much-anticipated Shoes on Sale broadcast, which is watched by millions across the country. From 6 to 9 p.m. EDT on Oct. 16, viewers can shop a selection of more than 200 footwear styles from more than 90 brands.

QVC CEO George said the retailer hopes to surpass last year’s total of 75,000 pairs, which, together with the proceeds from the New York gala, enabled Shoes on Sale to distribute $2.8 million to its beneficiaries. “Thanks to the extraordinary response from the footwear community, we think it’s going to be another great year,” George said.

Veteran QVC personality Jane Treacy will host the broadcast once again, together with Nancy Hornback, who will serve as multichannel host, engaging with viewers in real time on Facebook, Twitter and QVC’s online community forums throughout the broadcast.

George noted that social media continues to be a growing facet of Shoes on Sale. “One of the special things about this event is seeing customers come together as a community and share their cancer stories and journeys with one another. It makes the event a much more personal experience for people,” he said.

Social media has also been vital in expanding Shoes on Sale’s audience, George added. “It’s been a great way to build exposure and reach more people,” he said. “Shoes on Sale is one of our most viewed programs. It gets stronger and stronger every year.”

To bring awareness to the cause, QVC’s broadcast will feature behind-the-scenes footage from the New York event, breast cancer survivor stories and a profile of renowned surgical oncologist Dr. Armando Giuliano of Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Footwear’s Role

Shoes on Sale is set to surpass the $47 million donation mark this year, and both George and Fromm credited the unwavering support of the shoe industry, particularly its biggest donors. This year, Marc Fisher Footwear will join Nine West Group, Brown Shoe Co. and Vince Camuto as a Pink Benefactor, a title designated to companies making an annual gift of more than $500,000.

“We’re proud to further our commitment this year as a Pink Benefactor for this extra-ordinary cause,” said Marc Fisher, founder and CEO of his eponymous firm. “Shoes on Sale has always been personal to me, as my father, Jerome Fisher, and sister Jodi Fisher Horowitz, started this as a labor of love. It’s amazing to see this evolve to its 21st year and continue raising millions for breast cancer research and awareness.”

Brown Shoe will mark its 10th year as a Pink Benefactor. “We hope that speaks to the commitment we have as a company to breast cancer research and education,” said Diane Sullivan, chairman, CEO and president of Brown Shoe, which will also serve as official social media sponsor of the gala. “I’m humbled by the life-saving work of organizations like Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis, and I’m grateful to be part of an industry that contributes in such a significant way to finding a cure.”

For Nine West, Shoes on Sale’s founding Pink Benefactor, seeing the impact of the charity’s annual fundraising efforts is uplifting. “We salute all the work the beneficiaries continue to do with the monies that Shoes on Sale has raised and donated, as they develop innovative, groundbreaking research that we believe will one day lead to a cure,” said CEO Andrew Hede. “This effort has meant a great deal to Nine West, our customers and the community, as together we are investing in amazing work. No challenge is greater than our collective efforts to realize the dream for a cure.”

As Fromm steers Shoes on Sale for the first time, he said it’s been inspiring to see the industry put aside its competitiveness and unite for a good cause. “It takes tremendous lengths of generosity for this all to come together, and the industry continues to rise to the challenge,” he said.


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