In the world according to Olivia Wilde, social responsibility is as necessary to being human as breathing—or shopping. While the face of Revlon may be best known for seducing married men in The Change Up and Butter (and sometimes women on The O.C.) she is also an avid humanitarian. Her latest pet project is Conscious Commerce, an organization she launched with her best friend Barbara Burchfield (the woman behind Global Citizen Festival), with the goal of changing how people shop. The premise is simple: pair retail items with a vetted, charitable cause, and turn shopping into a fundraising tool.
For its latest collaboration, Conscious Commerce paired up with Anthropologie and designer Yoana Baraschi to create a garment that gives back (and is available online now). The sweet, tulle-embroidered “New Light” dress (often worn by Wilde herself) will benefit the New Light school in Kolkata, India. The organization serves as an orphanage and health clinic that allows children in the low income, red light districts of the city to escape sex trafficking and violence. One hundred percent of the profits from the first 1,000 dresses sold will go directly to funding the school.
We talked to Wilde to learn about the future of Conscious Commerce and why world aid might just be the coolest youth movement.
How did Conscious Commerce come about?
The idea was born out of a desire to find alternative ways of fundraising. Barbara [Burchfield] and I had been working in Haiti since 2008, desperately trying to raise money for education and healthcare projects. We kind of grew together as philanthropists. She’s a really tremendous mover-and-shaker. And we were just tired of fundraisers in the typical form. We thought there had to be another way to use the money that people are already spending—billions of dollars a day—and to funnel some of that to these worthy, small, locally run organizations.
Why did you choose to collaborate with Anthropologie?
Anthropologie is a company we really wanted to work with because we respect their ethics and their world view. It was the perfect way for us to broaden our horizons. But the core of the mission remains the same: That we were going to help a very specific organization that was run locally and educate consumers here about who they [are] helping. This is going to be a wonderful opportunity for consumers from Anthropologie to learn about New Light. And each tag on the dress has information about [the organization].
What’s the main problem children in Kolkata face?
Prostitution is a big, big problem. It’s passed on through generations. So, women who are born into it, tend to stay in it, and so do their children. There are girls who have already been working on the streets and they’re 8 years old. It’s really horrifying. So, Urmi Basu [the founder] built this school and orphanage for these girls, allowing them to go to school, to live in a safe community, and to have an opportunity to find work outside of prostitution, [while staying] connected to their families.
What is next for Conscious Commerce?
It will launch this fall as a website that’s really a guide to living consciously in all different ways and buying products for a purpose. You can come to our site and see which [products] are actually benefiting the organization they’re claiming to. We’re two girls who are very interested in fashion and style, as well as philanthropy. We wanted to give people a chance to see which pair of sunglasses are actually worth investing in. And eventually we want to grow from just style to guiding people to build consciously: architecture, food, health. We are just beginning.
What drives you to do this?
Seeing our secondary school go from being a patch of dirt in a field with cows to a thriving school with over 1,000 students, who would otherwise not be provided a secondary education, is extraordinary. I just can’t believe [it] came from just an idea.
How did your interest in this conscientious way of living develop?
I’ve been interested in aid work, activism, and philanthropy since I was really young. I grew up in Washington, D.C. with two journalist parents who were both very active and wanted to make the world a better place. We were raised with the ethos that that’s your responsibility as a human.
What is your dream project?
I’d love to work with Stella McCartney and have a Conscious Commerce collaboration that benefits animals.
Tell us about your involvement with ‘Half the Sky’?
I read the book [by Nicholas Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn], and I found it totally amazing, just incredibly life-changing. I loved how optimistic it was as a call to action. These women are overcoming unimaginable odds to build organizations, start companies, to survive, when you just can’t imagine how you would survive. I leaped at the chance to become a part of the documentary and traveled all over the world: to Cambodia, to Sierra Leone, to Kenya, and India.
What did you learn from working with them?
Optimism is the key. There’s a movement happening through our generation that I’m really proud to be a part of. Toms, Warby Parker, and Invisible Children, are all run by young people with a sense of excitement and optimism. Philanthropy is no longer a world for the old or rich. It belongs to the young people again because we’re finding the most innovative ways of alleviating poverty. Global Citizen Festival is a great example of that.
What other philanthropic models inspire you?
Ryot.org. They’re former aid workers that started a news site that provides an opportunity for the reader to become immediately active after reading a news story. You read about something happening in Syria, and at the bottom of the article, there’s an opportunity to volunteer, sign a petition, and donate money. I just love that really optimistic, active way of involving people in the news. We would like to do the same thing for consumers.