“I’m a huge lover of fashion, I just wish that their were more ways for me to combine my love of fashion with my love of philanthropy,” actress Olivia Wilde said.
Wilde, who has starred in Tron: Legacy and The Change-Up, has graced the red carpet in designer fashions from Marchessa and Gucci, but has also spent a considerable amount of her recent energy traveling in Haiti on behalf of the charity Young Artists for Peace and Justice, which she founded with friend Barbara Burchfield. The charity is the youth outreach division of Artists for Peach and Justice, which has the goal of building schools in Haiti—the first, the Academy for Peace and Justice in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, opened in 2010. “We opened this secondary school not long after the earthquake,” Wilde said. “Every year we add more to the school so more students can be invited. We are the only free secondary school in Haiti.”
A big component of charity work is of course raising money. “We were doing traditional fundraising, but we were also searching for a creative way to fundraise, and we were really inspired by the idea of conscious commerce, products for a purpose and the movement that was happening with that,” Wilde said.
It’s that search that led Wilde and Burchfield to develop the “Message Bag” in collaboration with Alternative Apparel. “We were inspired by a bag that I always carried in Haiti, and old vintage army bag,” Wilde said. The $138 bag that is for sale is a cross-body that converts to a backpack, featuring vintage army canvas, pebbled leather trim and antique brass hardware. 20 percent of the bag’s proceeds will go to Academy for Peach and Justice—and Academy for Peace and Justice is screen-printed on the inside of the bag so consumers can remember exactly where their money is going. Alternative Apparel has also pledged to give bags, backpacks and other supplies to the school throughout the year as part of the collaboration.
“We are hoping to encourage people to consider where their dollars go, and to really understand the power of commerce,” Wilde said. “Your dollar is your vote, and everyone can really make a big difference because of that.”
Wilde hopes that a bag purchase will translate to sharing in the many moving moments she has had while working on the ground in Haiti, her favorite, seeing the school open. “These kids filed in in their perfectly pressed uniforms, their notebooks at the ready. It was really overwhelmingly beautiful,” she said. New programs being added to the school include a basketball program and various arts programs, which proceeds from the bag will help to support.
Wilde is of course not the first to launch a conscious commerce fashion product. Lauren Bush and Ellen Gustafson launched FEED Projects in 2007 with the aim of selling bags to defeat world hunger. Ralph Lauren has long supported breast cancer charities with various “Pink Pony” products. Still, conscious commerce is a movement that seems to be picking up steam with many fashion brands as both a marketing tool and a way to give back simultaneously. The movement also signals the new way that many companies are approaching corporate social responsibility. “I applaud all of the companies that are making this a priority,” Wilde said.