Philanthropy in Fashion: Julie Gilhart Talks Fashion Girls for Japan

Launch Slideshow

Last year the world was shocked by the devastation caused by the earthquake in Japan. There was an amazing outpouring by scores of organizations. The fashion industry rallied together as well, under the leadership of Julie Gilhart and VPL's president, Kikka Hanazawa. They started Fashion Girls for Japan,  a giant designer sale that benefited the rebuilding efforts. Over 60 designers participated and they raised $275,000 last year.

This weekend the sale is back. Head over to the Bowery Hotel Saturday, March 31, (12 to 7 p.m.) and Sunday, April 1,(12 to 5 p.m.), and do what we all love to do: shop for a cause. Tickets can be purchased in advance at

Julie took some time from her very busy schedule to talk to FashionEtc about the event and the cause, and check out the gallery for a selection of items up for sale!

First of all, major congrats on the event and cause. It's such a wonderful thing you guys are all doing. Why did you get involved last year?

I got involved because obviously we are a global community and we are all effected by everything that happens and it's our responsibility to do what we can when we can. Also, Japan and the people who live there have been a great source of inspiration to fashion. The fashion community here in New York is filled with amazing people from Japan. I was--and am--inspired by them and wanted to do what I could to help them in their time of need.

You raised a lot of money last year ($275,000). Did that go to Red Cross or other NGO's working in Japan?

Since we did not have time to register Fashion Girls for Japan as a non profit organization for the purpose of the event, we donated all the funds to Japan Society's Japan Earthquake Relief Fund. Fashion Girls for Japan became one of the top donors to the fund, and as a result, we were able to have direct conversation with Mr. Sakurai, President of Japan Society. Japan Society has a great team dedicated to research the most needed areas, initially focusing on disaster relief efforts, and now more on mid term reconstruction and recovery. They have so far donated to 17 organizations working locally in Japan, including Archi + Aid (pro-bono architects), Ashinaga (for orphaned children), ETIC (for entrepreneurs), Japan Medical Society of America (for PSTD patients) to address a broader spectrum of issues.

What made you decided to do it again this year?

Japan's reconstruction will go far beyond my lifetime. We all have to try to continue our support.

The response you had last year was incredible. Were you surprised at the outpouring?

Yes. Especially from the New York design community. They were all ready and willing to do anything to help Japan.

Have you been to Japan since the earthquake to see what more needs to be done?

No, I haven't but many of our group, Fashion Girls For Japan, have. Our efforts through the Japan Society were well received but still they need so much help and support.

What are you hoping to do with this year's event? Is it to rebuild or more to help people get their lives back on track?

It takes a monumental effort and significant capital to rebuild Japan and clean up the nuclear disaster. It takes years if not decades to do so, and we are hoping to remind everyone that through this sale, we give not only money but also courage and hope to people who have been displaced (estimated more than 200,000 people today) and who are working on reconstruction and rebuilding their lives.

Why do you think this cause in particular resonated so much with the fashion industry?

Everyone in the fashion industry has some tie to Japan. The disaster pulled on all of our fashion and human heart strings.

You've partnered this year with architects to build long term housing for the displaced. Do you have a set goal you want to meet?

As a group FGFJ wanted to be directly involved with a local (Japan based) organization that had a civic minded mission in helping the displaced with long-term goals. One of our members was introduced to Toyo Ito and other world renowned Japanese architects through Hidetoshi Nakata, the former Japanese soccer player well known in Europe and Japan. We thought also we have some of the most talented fashion designers today donating their products, and we wanted to make sure that the money raised will be transformed into something tangible, aesthetically beautiful and architecturally significant. In this case architects will be building communal gathering spaces (Minna no Ie / Home for All) in the affected Tohoku area where many buildings are still temporary.

Julie, you're very eco-conscious. Is that factoring into your work here--i.e., will the homes being built be eco?

Traditional Japanese houses are very eco, with a key design principle that tries to blur inside/outside in attempts to connect with nature. Toyo Ito and other members of KISYN will apply this important Japanese architecture principle to future public architecture and buildings, including Minna no Ie (Home for All)--one of the designs already shown incorporating elements of the sea. By the way, the Minna no Ie (Home for All) project concept will be the center of the Japanese pavilion exhibit at the 2012 Venice Biennial of Architecture. We have received some images of a new Home for All from architects, and we will be showing them at the Bowery Hotel this weekend.

What kinds of items can we expect to see this year?

We have amazing items!!!!  Over 74 designers now and counting. (See the gallery for a selection.) Check out the Fashion Girls For Japan Facebook page!

Is there anything else you'd like mentioned about the event?

I mean if one is going to shop--buy clothes--why not go first or at least try to go to a place where your money spent can actually contribute to others that have less? I honestly believe if what happened to Japan had of happened in New York, they would be right there doing, helping, giving, supporting. We have to honor them!