There is a longstanding link that binds fashion and philanthropy. The former is a booming business that cashes in on glamour, media mileage and a prevalent urge to self-indulge. In contrast, the latter is borne from an altruistic desire to help others and work selflessly for genuine causes.
And when the two combine, socially significant issues get showcased on a dazzling, arresting platform. In an increasingly materialistic world, causes that may be relegated to the shadows are pushed forward into fashion’s limelight, creating greater awareness and often – ideally - motivating charitable desires amongst fashion’s many aficionados.
It’s been happening in the West for the longest time – Donna Karan creating a foundation that assists in caring for cancer patients, Tommy Hilfiger’s dedicated efforts towards autism research and product lines designed specifically in aid of particular causes. Internationally, fashion’s a money-minting force to reckon with and it believes in giving back.
Designers using fashion as a force for good
It is heartening to see local fashion follow suit in Pakistan’s burgeoning climate. As fashion slowly becomes bigger, better and all-encompassing, one notices a conscious effort to highlight causes and work for them.
This Mother’s Day, for instance, Ideas Pret chose to visit Great Home, an old people’s sanctuary, and present made-to-size lawn suits to the women living there. Amidst large floral bouquets, gift baskets and cakes, the brand celebrated Mother’s Day with the women, many of whom confessed that their own children did not bother to visit them.
It made for a touching, inspirational video that emphasized upon the tribulations of the aged, left to live their last days in homes. Predictably, it went viral on the brand’s social media platforms, generating ample positive feedback.
Yes, the Mother’s Day initiative served to create a more positive image of Ideas Pret, which could thereby result in higher sales for the brand. But then again, business can also be generated via celebrity endorsements and red carpet sponsorships.
These brands come together to highlight the importance of giving back. “We all live blessed lives and at least, this way, we can give back to society in some way,” says Maria B.
“It’s important to use fashion’s platform in order to support important causes,” explains designer Sonya Battla, whose recent showcase at Bridal Couture Week was dedicated to raising awareness regarding burn victims.
Serving as showstoppers, Massarrat Misbah of Depilex’s SmileAgain Foundation and renowned surgeon Dr Jawad Khan, who featured in Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s Oscar-winning Saving Face, had taken to the catwalk for Sonya.
“We all need to give back to society. The plight of acid burn victims is a very real, horrifying truth that continues to prevail in our society. We need to talk about it more and I tried, through my show, to draw people’s attention towards it.”
An animal lover, Sonya also recently collaborated with the Ayesha Chundrigar Foundation, a sanctuary for rescuing and rehabilitating stray animals. A collection within Sonya’s high-street line ‘Kaju’ was shot within the foundation, amidst an assorted menagerie of furry creatures.
10% of the sales proceeds from the clothes in the shoot were dedicated to the foundation. “I love animals and this was just a cause that’s close to my heart,” says the designer.
A movement that's showing no signs of slowing down
Some of HSY’s best collections have been created in the spirit of philanthropy. Two years ago, the designer’s ‘Sher’ line was designed in collaboration with the Anjuman-e-Khuddam-e-Rasul Allah (AKRA), an NGO based in Shergarh working towards poverty alleviation and improving education. The association continues to date.
More recently, the designer showcased a 20-piece collection at this year’s PFDC Sunsilk Fashion Week (PSFW), created by 20 women artisans working with the Kashf Foundation, a company that works towards providing employment opportunities to low income households.
Maria B., similarly, is involved in several charitable initiatives working towards providing education in Lahore’s katchi abaadis and arranging food for the destitute living in the vicinity of her factory. At times of natural catastrophes, the design house takes part in an endeavor that they have titled 'Mere log', which includes the supplying of food and raising funds for rehabilitation.
Deepak Perwani, this year, is designing scarves that will generate funds for the Citizens Archive Pakistan, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving Pakistan’s culture and history. Even earlier, the designer has been involved in innumerable philanthropic efforts; this includes his brand ambassadorship of Pakistan’s Special Olympics as well as of the I Am Karachi movement which endeavors to strengthen Karachi’s cultural fabric.
He sponsors the Special Olympics team and all the leftover threads and fabric in his production unit gets sent out to underprivileged areas where women may use them to create clothing or accessories and sell them.
Leisure Club’s CSR project ‘Clothing a Million Smiles’ collects donations of upto one million garments, washes, sanitizes and packages them and proceeds to hand them over to partner NGOs like the Care Foundation, SOS Villages, Asghari Sajjad Educational Trust (ASSET) and Labor & Love.
Sara Shahid, meanwhile, commissions shadow-work embroidery from women living in Sheikhupura. “It’s something that I have been doing ever since I started my brand Sublime eight years ago,” she says.
“I provide the women with fabric and they embroider it for me. Then, I add a few design elements and get it stitched into kurtas and sometimes, kaftans. The clothes are mostly made in georgette and are an ongoing feature within my store, tagged under the label ‘Sublime Women Entrepreneur Project’.”
It works wonders for brand equity – but more importantly, it inspires a spirit for charity within society. In an economy rife with disparities, big businesses have the power to make big philanthropic commitments. Getting bigger by the day and perpetually spinning in a glamorous, breakneck whirlwind of exhibits, shows and seasonal collections, it’s good to see fashion pause a bit – and give back.