New York fashion designer Yoana Baraschi celebrated the 10th anniversary of her business last week at the Anthropologie store in Beverly Hills. The fete showcased the designer’s exclusive 11-piece anniversary line, including the New Light dress ($298), a partnership with Conscious Commerce, the philanthropic company created by actress Olivia Wilde and her business partner Barbara Burchfield.
Baraschi, Wilde and Burchfield connected through Half the Sky, a global movement to fight oppression of women inspired by the best-selling book “Half the Sky” by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
“We decided to do a project together, and that’s when Anthropologie came to mind,” says Baraschi, who has worked with the company since her brand launched. “I wanted to do something connected to India, so Olivia and Babs proposed that we work with New Light India, an organization that does amazing work helping young women change their lives. I donated all the profits [of the first 1,000 dresses sold] to the group and Anthropologie matched the donation.”
Baraschi spends about half the year in India, where artisans hand-loom textiles and craft embroideries for her apparel line.
“Urmi Basu opened New Light in Kolkata, India, in the worst part of the red light district to offer an alternative for girls as young as 8, who would be going into the commercial sex trade,” says Wilde. “Many of their mothers worked as prostitutes and, instead of having to go into that line of work at that age, they can get an education and live at New Life, so it’s a combined opportunity for education and an orphanage, a safe place. And they still remained connected to their families, which is an unusual structure that sets it apart and makes it very special, so they maintain a relationship with their mothers.”
One more reason to toast: The evening marked the launch of www.consciousco.co featuring the company’s collaborative products and other stylish goods that give back to charitable causes from brands such as Toms, Warby Parker and Josie Maran.
“Our website is a marketplace for lots of purposeful products,” says Wilde. “You can see a huge collection of items that we think are fabulous that benefit great organizations, so it’s a destination for people looking for a way to shop and live consciously.”
“For our special collaborations, we aren’t going to brands that people might already associate with the world of philanthropy,” adds Wilde. “ It’s not like we’re selling crafts that you might see and think, ‘Oh that benefits a school in Kenya and it looks like beads from Kenya.’ That’s one thing and that’s not what we do. We offer fashionable items that you would want anyway that happen to have a philanthropic element. And I think that sets us apart.”
Prior to the Baraschi collaboration, Conscious Commerce teamed up with Alternative Apparel* last year to create a satchel that benefited the Academy for Peace and Justice, a school in Haiti that Wilde and Burchfield helped create through their work with nonprofit organization Artists for Peace and Justice.
“Babs and I had worked in Haiti since 2008, looking for a way to find an alternative form of fundraising because traditional fundraising is not sustainable,” says Wilde. “If you are trying to keep an organization running, to keep a school open, you just can’t just keep asking donors for money, and we were so frustrated with that model. Babs was running [Artists for Peace and Justice] at that time and figuring out that billions of dollars are spent in retail every day. So we thought, why don’t we tap into that money and divert it to a good cause? And that’s how Conscious Commerce was born.”
“We make it fun,” adds Burchfield. “We don’t take ourselves very seriously. We don’t try to be preachy or overly earnest. We’re saying, ‘Listen, we’re trying to live in a slightly less selfish, more conscious way. And we’re gonna share what we’ve learned with you.’ ”
“We encourage other brands and designers to create a collaboration with us, because it’s really a beautiful way to not only introduce people to the brand, but also to nonprofit [giving],” says Wilde “And for young women, I love the idea of them finding this beautiful dress that they’d want to buy anyway and knowing that they’re a part of this really wonderful movement.”
Yoana Baraschi x Conscious Commerce New Light Dress, $298 at Anthropologie stores and www.anthropologie.com
*[Updated 10/30/2013, 9:43 a.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the name of a previous Conscious Commerce collaborative partner. The company partnered with Alternative Apparel last year to create a satchel, not American Apparel.]Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun