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Fashion and Philanthropy

Customers want to feel that they are making a positive difference in the world. Giving a gift that "gives" even more than the actual item makes both the gift's giver and receiver feel a part of something greater.
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We all know the feeling.

We find that perfect item in a store, try it on, fall in love with it, look at the price tag, and... we know we shouldn't. After all, do we really need another pair of shoes?

This is how most of us respond to those inner promptings. We put the item back and walk out the store, empty handed.

Now imagine the same scenario, but with a twist.

We find that perfect item, try it on, fall in love, look at the price tag, and then... just as we're contemplating the "shouldn't," a smiling Sales Assistant kindly points out that "30 percent of the items proceeds benefits charity."

Our heartstrings are tugged. What will be the ending of this scenario?

At first glance, fashion and philanthropy seem to be worlds apart. The former seems to be solely focused on the self-centered act of making oneself look and feel good, whereas the later is giving of oneself selflessly without any thought of a return or accolades.

However, in recent years these two concepts have become entwined. In fact, the fashion industry has become a great supporter of all manner of philanthropic endeavors.

This is led by the forerunners of the industry, the designers themselves. Often, personal experiences influence them to turn to philanthropy, such as with Tommy Hilfiger. As the father of an autistic child, Tommy Hilfiger has become a huge benefactor of autism research.

That's one part of the equation. The other is a very simple fact -- customers want to feel that they are making a positive difference in the world. Giving a gift that "gives" even more than the actual item makes both the gift's giver and receiver feel a part of something greater.

Some companies count on people's innate desire to help so greatly that they base their business model on it and make giving a full time commitment. They end up becoming synonymous with the cause they champion.

Take for instance, TOMS. A trip to Argentina became the catalyst for TOMS founder, Blake Mycoskie, to create his company when he saw village children without shoes. To combat this, he came up with the pioneering, "One For One" model, matching every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes for a child in need. TOMS has since added eyeglasses and coffee to its line and has even created an online Marketplace with the same mission. In an interview with elpis Philanthropy Advisors, Mr. Mycoskie said that, "Our customers want to be a part of something bigger than themselves and give back. Giving is really what fuels us at TOMS and it's inspiring to see that it fuels our customers too."

Another example is FEED Projects. Its founder, Lauren Bush Lauren, witnessed the effects of hunger firsthand when she was a World Food Programme (WFP) spokesperson. Back home, she knew people wanted to help but they didn't know how to do so. Her answer? To create a line of reversible burlap handbags -- the sale of which would, "help FEED the World."

In most cases, philanthropy isn't as all encompassing, but nevertheless it still remains a part of a fashion company's activities.

To this extent, designers often produce limited edition items and allot a portion of the item's sales to a specific cause. London-based jeweler, Carolina Bucci is one example. Approximately a third of the purchase price from a special edition of her famous "Twister" bracelet is donated to the NSPCC. Another such example came a few years back when Greek jeweler, Ileana Makri, designed a bracelet alongside Missoni to help Orphan Aid.

Another way the industry goes about giving back is through organized events, such as K.I.D.S./Fashion Delivers which holds an annual philanthropic gala in N.Y.C.

So, going back to that original, not-so-hypothetical shopping scenario... I think we now know how that story ends! After all, even if the actual item is a gift to oneself, it's nice to know that part of its purchase price is also a gift for somebody else.