Two years ago Ford Model fashion stylist Rachael Russell, whose has worked for Vogue and 944 Magazine, started the fashion-focused charity, Style Saves. Founded with the idea of helping kids build confidence through style, the not-for-profit raises funds to provide underprivileged students in South Florida with brand new clothes for the back-to-school season. We spoke to Russell about how the charity got its start and how others might go about starting their own charitable endeavor.
The Fashion Spot: How did the idea for Style Saves come about?
Rachael Russell: I came up with the idea for Style Saves when I took my two younger brothers, in Rhode Island, back-to-school shopping in 2010. I saw how excited they got, then reminisced about my own experiences and how fun it was to put together outfits for back-to-school. I realized that not every student is afforded this and I was inspired to create something that gives them an opportunity to feel confident about their personal style.
tFS: Why start your own charity versus take your expertise and help an existing one?
RR: I couldn't find any organizations that are doing what we're doing, so I decided to create something where I could help through the two things that I am most passionate about: fashion and philanthropy. What are some things to consider when thinking about starting your own charity? Its a major commitment! It took me almost of year of groundwork, which included getting as much professional advice as I could.. All the research and hard work paid off. Since the inception of Style Saves in 2011, we have a put together a great team of like-minded people and had amazing success.
tFS: What are the legal aspects involved with starting your own charity?
RR: To be considered a not-for-profit you must have 501c3 tax exempt status. The paperwork on that isn't something the average person is skilled to file themselves and it takes almost a year to obtain status legally. We are covered under the tax exemption rights of The Miami Foundation and have the support of services from our friends at Squire Sanders.
tFS: How have you leveraged your career as a successful stylist for Style Saves?
RR: My experience at Ford Models inspired the idea to have a Fashion Show fundraiser during Miami Swim Week. Soho Beach House was an obvious venue, as this is where most of the creative community hangs out. After that it was just a matter of connecting the dots, our launch event was supported by: PAPI, Trina Turk and Neiman Marcus, Bal Harbour. We have put a big fashion show together for three years now.
tFS: What are some of the challenges that people might not think of when it comes to pulling off a big event like that?
RR: There's a ton of moving parts, especially with multiple designers, sponsors and elements, including additional partnerships with Charity Buzz and Gilt City. Thankfully, we have had the help of Jamie Mark & Melissa Katz of InHouse Ideas to help coordinate all of this, as well as the Style Saves board members. In just 3 years, it has become a highly anticipated Swim Week staple, and has sold out at over 500 guests the past 2 years.
tFS: How did you go about finding sponsors to work with?
RR: It depends, sometimes we seek them, sometimes they seek us. This year we partnered with Schick Quattro For Women Trimstyle and hosted the launch two new brands: one being Crasqi, a Miami based men's swimwear line, and the second being Cabana Beachwear Trade Show. We also partnered with returning sponsors: Haute Living Magazine, Perrier, FORD Models, to name a few.
tFS: Can you tell us about your work with Charitybuzz? How did you source items for the auction?
RR: Charitybuzz is an amazing concept which enables the entire auction to be online and available for international bidders, which gives us the opportunity to gain broader exposure and raise more money. The Style Saves team has a really strong network of people and organizations interested in giving back and they worked together to do outreach for the donations. Some notable items this year included: tickets to Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in NY, dinner at Zuma, shopping sprees at Saks, and luxury hotel stays at Nikki Beach Koh Samui, Thailand, The Ritz Carlton, Panama and many more.
tFS: What's something you know now that you wish you had known when you started Style Saves?
RR: I wish I had known how fast it was going to take off so I could have prepared, but it's a total blessing. It has been an amazing experience both personally and professionally.
tFS: Are you thinking of expanding to other cities?
RR: What started out as a small community project has grown into something much larger than I could have ever imagined. Now in our third year, we have already been involved in national and international charitable efforts and plan to do much more in the future.
tFS: What would you say to people who are inspired and want to bring a similar concept to their hometown?
RR: I'd say: go for it! When I started, the goal for students our first year was 10 and we ended up dressing 53. You may be pleasantly surprised by the eagerness of your local community to give back and get involved in a cool cause that they can relate to.