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How to Harness the Power of Giving; Volunteering to Transform Your Fashion Career

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

Reflecting on my role as Event Coordinator for the F4D event, I am reminded of the power of volunteering and the benefits gained through giving time and energy. Read on to learn how to harness the power of giving, and ideas on volunteering to transform your fashion career.


Volunteer steaming exhibition piece.  Photo by Oliver Archer
Volunteer steaming exhibition piece. Photo by Oliver Archer

What an end to September it was! I was invited to take on the role of the Event Coordinator for Fashion 4 Development (F4D) 11th annual Sustainable Goals Banquet and Ladies Luncheon during the United Nations General Assembly week in Manhattan. The event focuses on sustainability and positive change within the fashion industry. Not only was this a new and exciting venture for me, but I was challenged in new ways, learned a lot, and connected with many wonderful volunteers, producers, press, and the F4D team. I always enjoy a good challenge, pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and being involved in fashion that positively impacts the world.


Banquet Hall for F4D Sustainable Goals Event
Banquet Hall for F4D Sustainable Goals Event

The first order of business was to get up to speed by connecting and hearing from the event's Co-producer, Kelly Darr. Kelly has been co-producing this event for 11 years and has the run of the show down pat. She filled me in on the overall show, things to be prepared for, the players involved, and the teams of volunteers required to support the event to make everything run smoothly.

F4D Ladies Luncheon
F4D Ladies Luncheon

After she shared the event details, experiences of past events, and what the role entailed, I had no time to waste. I had a quick turnaround to achieve my first challenge- recruit up to 100 volunteers that it would take to support the event. I contacted friends, family, industry connections, fashion schools, non-fashion schools, and fashion industry platforms. This was time-consuming but worth making new acquaintances and reconnecting with some I had lost contact with and was FUN! I had a lot of great conversations and will now enjoy these new and rekindled connections.

The next step was managing the volunteer sign-ups, dates and time shifts they could work, and the roles they would fill. I will be the first to admit I am not a spreadsheet kind of gal- I am creative and would rather be doodling, doing research, or creating a mood board than building spreadsheets. When I had to figure out how to manage and track up to 100 volunteers, I knew spreadsheets would be in my future, and I will admit spreadsheets in the past have made me cry (for real). After researching, I found an online tool for volunteer sign-ups (jotform), which generated Excel files and became a saving grace for the task.


My Amazing Sisters:  Lorraine, Rachel & Me on the F4D Green Carpet
My Amazing Sisters: Lorraine, Rachel & Me on the F4D Green Carpet

Another lifesaver was recruiting both my sisters to help. One of my sisters has recently retired from being a Product Owner-Engineering Senior Consultant manager and is a whiz at spreadsheets and managing teams. My other sister just so happens to be an Event and Volunteer Coordinator.....so I did a smart thing by asking them to join me as the first 2 volunteers! Both happily obliged, spent many hours preparing, and made the trip to NYC to help at the event in person- now that is some sisterly love! Shout out to them, as they were instrumental in organizing and managing the volunteer teams (and I learned a thing or two about spreadsheets)!


Another shout-out and saving grace was the Founder of Fashion Mingle. If you aren't familiar with Fashion Mingle, check them out. I have been a member and have been following them for years. They have over 10,000 members, hire interns, offer resources, a fashion industry directory, and produce industry events. When I reached out to them to share our need for volunteers, they agreed to support and bring in several of their members who they know personally and would be perfect for filling specific positions. Founder Melissa Shea and partner Sneha Andani went above and beyond in supporting the event and took it on with 100% effort and energy as if it were their event. In addition to bringing in volunteers, Melissa managed the check-in team, and Sneha worked the Talent escort team, both crucial and instrumental tasks at the event.


3 women whispering
Women sharing news

What made it even more special was that we had a tremendous response to our outreach to recruit volunteers! We had friends and friends of friends sharing, recommending, introducing, and spreading the word. We quickly had 100 volunteers sign up to help. Every day, I would see sign-ups throughout the Jotform- watching the volunteer count grow longer every day.


So, what exactly did our volunteers do? They did everything from setting up and guest check-ins to escorting VIPs and stuffing gift bags. They also assisted the producers, helped backstage, and did anything else that came up to ensure a smooth event production. With 2 events with almost 300 guests each, it took several teams to make it happen.


Some of our wonderful Check In Volunteers
Some of our wonderful Check In Volunteers

We had a Check-in Team, a Talent Escort Team, a Special Services Team, a Banquet Team, a Gift Team, and a Delivery Team along with help for awards, exhibition, backstage, PR Assists, and production Assists.


Some of our amazing volunteers

Going through this experience made me think more about volunteering in the fashion industry. Typically most students need or want an internship, but if you can't find an internship, or are not a student but looking for a way to support and with an option to do something with less commitment, consider gaining the benefits of volunteer work.


Why volunteer? Here are our top 5 HEALTH benefits:

  1. Volunteering can improve your mental health by reducing stress, boosting self-esteem, and providing a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

  2. Volunteering enhances career prospects by building a network, developing new skills, and demonstrating a commitment to social responsibility to potential employers.

  3. Volunteering fosters a sense of community by connecting individuals with shared values and interests, creating bonds, and strengthening social ties.

  4. Skills gained through volunteering, such as teamwork, leadership, and communication, can be applied in various areas of life, including work, relationships, and personal growth.

  5. Volunteering promotes a more compassionate and empathetic society by exposing individuals to diverse perspectives, encouraging understanding, and inspiring acts of kindness and service to others.

Talent Escort, Joanna Faith Williams with Alina Karimamusama.  Photo by Oliver Archer
Talent Escort, Joanna Faith Williams with Alina Karimamusama. Photo by Oliver Archer

"Having the opportunity to be a talent escort at the 2023 United Nations Fashion Gala, and the annual United Nations First Ladies Luncheon, was easily a highlight of my entire year. As my VIP guests arrived at each event, I was their go-to lady from start to end for anything that would be helpful for them & team. Beginning first at the Green Carpet, to escorting them to their tables and assisting with navigation to the stage for each speech, I am so grateful for the unique opportunity to have been rubbing shoulders with people who are changing the world.

During the First Ladies Luncheon, I especially connected with Alina Karimamusama. Widely admired by royalty guests, industry leaders, and staff alike, Alina's speech & presence made the First Ladies Luncheon even more special for all in attendance. On a personal note, after several times Alina & her team insisting, I was obliged to join her in photos, and we already have plans on the calendar to connect socially before her return to Zambia. Isn't it wonderful how fashion has the power to bring such a powerful group of men and women across the globe together for such spectacular events? The relationships built during these events are critical for the global industry at large, making it a true privilege to have been trusted in this role. The memories made at these events will last a lifetime! Thank you, Britta, F4D & Fashion Mingle!" Joanna Faith Williams


 

Even More Benefits!


  • Personal Growth:

    • Develop new skills and talents; (what skills did you gain that you can list on your resume?)

    • Enhances self-esteem and self-confidence.

    • Boosts personal satisfaction and happiness.

  • Professional Development:

    • Gain valuable work experience (what was your task?)

    • Improves time management and organizational skills.

    • Enhances networking opportunities. (who did you meet?? Stay in touch!)

  • Community Engagement:

    • Builds strong connections within the community. (what groups or organizations do you want to support and be connected with?)

    • Fosters a sense of belonging and purpose.

    • Strengthens civic responsibility and engagement.

  • Mental and Emotional Health:

    • Reduces stress and anxiety levels.

    • Increases feelings of fulfillment and purpose.

    • Combats depression and loneliness.

  • Physical Health:

    • This may lead to increased physical activity and fitness.

    • Enhances overall well-being through a sense of accomplishment.

  • Career Advancement:

    • Demonstrates commitment and initiative to potential employers.

    • Provides relevant experience for future job opportunities.

    • This may lead to references and recommendations.

  • Social Connections:

    • Expands social circles and friendships.

    • Promotes teamwork and collaboration.

    • Provides opportunities to meet diverse groups of people.

  • Giving Back to the Community:

    • Makes a positive impact on those in need. (even a few hours makes a difference!)

    • Supports essential causes and initiatives.

    • Strengthens the community as a whole.

  • Learning Opportunities:

    • Acquires new knowledge and perspectives. (what did you learn? what did you gain?)

    • Explores different cultures and viewpoints.

    • Develop empathy and understanding.

  • Sense of Purpose:

    • Feels a sense of fulfillment and contribution to society.

    • Identifies with a greater purpose beyond oneself.

    • Aligns with personal values and beliefs. (have you defined your values and written them down to keep you on track? check out our values workbook here

  • Resume Enhancement:

    • Demonstrates volunteerism and community involvement.

    • Adds depth and character to your resume.

    • Differentiates you from other job applicants. (a great point to mention in a job interview!)

  • Fun and Enjoyment:

    • Engages in enjoyable and meaningful activities.

    • Participates in events and projects of personal interest.

    • Creates memorable and fulfilling experiences.


 

Volunteer Blake Ghali.  Photo by Oliver Archer
Volunteer Blake Ghali. Photo by Oliver Archer
"I really loved working with the Fashion 4 Development team to award some very deserving people that make a great and meaningful impact within the fashion industry! Handing out the awards to these recipients was a great experience and I loved hearing what each recipient had to say!" Blake Ghali.

Need some Volunteer Ideas??

Here are some volunteer ideas within the fashion industry that you can consider to gain experience and support a cause, at any stage of your career or education:


Venturini Couture dresses in black and gold on the Runway at FashioNXT
Venturini Couture on the Runway at FashioNXT

1. Fashion Show Assistant:

  • Help organize and run fashion shows by assisting backstage with models, clothing changes, and set design.

  • Work as a dresser, ensuring models are correctly dressed and ready for the runway. Check out this list of ideas on how to volunteer during NYFW and other exciting events from Glamobserver.com

Fashion Boutique window display with mannequins
Fashion Boutique window display

2. Visual Merchandising Volunteer:

  • Assist in arranging and styling displays in retail stores or boutiques to create visually appealing showcases for clothing and accessories. To learn more about this position and companies looking for help, visit here.

3. Fashion Event Coordinator:

  • Assist in planning and coordinating fashion events, including trunk shows, pop-up shops, and fashion expos. Want to learn more about working as a Fashion Event Coordinator? Check out this article to learn more.

4. Fashion Blog or Social Media Contributor:

  • Write fashion-related articles or create content for fashion-focused social media accounts to gain experience in fashion journalism or digital marketing.

5. Fashion Design Assistant:

  • Work with local fashion designers as an apprentice or assistant to learn about the design process, pattern-making, and sewing. Check out this list of internships within fashion and if they aren't paying, offer to volunteer. Better yet research your favorite designer or brand, find the HR or career tab on their brand page, and reach out. Send them a cover letter explaining your desire to volunteer to gain experience within that market area.

African Textile Swatches
Textile Swatches

6. Textile Research and Development:

  • Volunteer with textile manufacturers or fashion brands to assist in researching and developing new fabrics or sustainable materials. Do you enjoy working with fabrics and finding ways to upcycle them? Check out FABSCRAP; A one-stop textile reuse and recycling resource that has locations in Brooklyn, NY, and Philadelphia, as well as virtual opportunities. Check out FABSCRAP here

Colored Denim jeans
Colored Denim jeans

7. Clothing Drive Organizer:

  • Coordinate clothing drives to collect and distribute clothing to those in need, gaining experience in fashion-related philanthropy. Are you familiar with Dress for Success? Still going strong and recognized globally, Dress for Success has ways to get involved. Check out the opportunities here.

8. Fashion Photography Assistant:

  • Assist fashion photographers during photoshoots, helping with lighting, set-up, and model coordination.

9. Fashion Marketing and PR Volunteer:

  • Work with fashion PR agencies or brands to assist in marketing campaigns, social media management, and public relations.

10. Fashion Retail Volunteer:

  • Gain experience working in fashion retail stores, learning about customer service, sales, and inventory management. Help out your local boutique which may be a small designer or mom-and-pop shop on a tight budget

11. Costume Designer Assistant:

12. Fashion Event Promoter:

  • Through online and offline marketing efforts, assist in promoting fashion events, such as sample sales or fashion fundraisers. Check out Glassdoor.com for a listing of paid internships and companies hiring social media marketers. If the company you are interested in is not hiring, offer to volunteer!

Image from Stylist Elin Svahn Stylist of model in red coat and boots on rocks from Streeters.com
Image from Stylist Elin Svahn Stylist from Streeters.com

13. Fashion Stylist Assistant:

  • Work with fashion stylists on photoshoots, fashion editorials, or personal styling sessions to learn about wardrobe coordination and trends. Check out Streeters.com which lists stylists around the country and shows their work and email contact information. When looking to volunteer for a stylist, find one you resonate with and send them a note! I am sure they would be open to your offering to volunteer to gain some experience.

14. Fashion Nonprofit Organizations:

15. Fashion Workshop Instructor:

  • Teach fashion-related workshops or classes to local youth or community groups, sharing your knowledge and passion for fashion. Or how about assisting a teacher?

 

Get Involved!

Here's more information on how to get involved in volunteering opportunities in the fashion industry, including specific websites and organizations to consider, as well as tips for networking and building connections:

Fashion Institute of Technology NYC
Fashion Institute of Technology NYC

1. Fashion Schools and Local Universities:

  • Many fashion schools and universities have fashion-related events, fashion shows, and workshops where they welcome volunteers. Contact the career services or student affairs office to inquire about opportunities.

2. Local Fashion Boutiques and Designers:

  • Reach out to local fashion boutiques and designers in your area. Offer assistance for events, fashion shows, or even day-to-day tasks in exchange for learning experiences.


3. Nonprofit Organizations:

  • Look for nonprofit organizations dedicated to fashion and clothing-related causes. Organizations like Dress for Success, Fashion Revolution, and Soles4Souls often seek volunteers for their initiatives. Did you know you can become a Fashion Revolution Ambassador? Check it out here

4. Fashion Events and Expos:

  • Attend local fashion events, expos, and trade shows. These are excellent places to network and learn about potential volunteer opportunities. Event websites often provide contact information for volunteering inquiries. Did you know ifd has a global calendar? Calendar of Events (it is constantly being updated)

5. Online Platforms and Websites:

  • Explore websites and platforms like VolunteerMatch, Idealist, and All for Good, which lists volunteer opportunities across various sectors, including fashion-related ones. You can search by location and area of interest.

6. Fashion Industry Associations:

7. Social Media and LinkedIn:

  • Follow fashion professionals, brands, and organizations on social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Engage with their content and network with industry insiders. You can often find volunteer openings posted on these platforms.

8. Fashion Internship Programs:

  • Some fashion companies offer internships that can lead to volunteer opportunities or part-time positions. Check the career pages of fashion brands and companies for internship listings.

9. Networking Events and Meetups:

  • Attend fashion-related networking events, workshops, and meetups in your area. These events are excellent opportunities to meet industry professionals and learn about potential volunteer positions. ifd has Community Building Happy Hours & other events, follow us here!

10. Fashion Industry Magazines and Blogs:

- Keep up with fashion industry publications and blogs. They often feature articles and announcements about upcoming fashion events and volunteer opportunities.


 


Final Tips:

Tips for Building Connections and Expanding your network:

  • Attend industry events, fashion shows, and workshops to meet people in the fashion industry. Check out ifd's calendar for some ideas!

  • Create a professional online presence on LinkedIn and Instagram to showcase your passion and expertise.

  • Join local fashion groups or associations to access networking opportunities. A favorite, in our opinion, is ifd Connect!

  • Contact fashion professionals for informational interviews to learn more about their careers and potential volunteer openings.

  • Be proactive and send well-crafted emails expressing your interest in volunteering and explaining how you can contribute to a specific project or event.

Fashion Industry Friends
Fashion Industry Friends

Volunteering in the fashion industry can be valuable to building your network. When you volunteer, you can meet people in the industry who share your interests and passion for fashion. You can connect with designers, stylists, photographers, models, and other professionals who can offer valuable insights and advice on breaking into the industry. Building relationships with these individuals allows you to access job opportunities, mentorship, and other resources to help you achieve your career goals. Additionally, volunteering can help you develop skills and gain experience to make you a more attractive candidate for future job openings. To break into the fashion industry, consider volunteering to expand your network and gain valuable experience.


Fashion 4 Development Landing Page photo
Fashion 4 Development Landing Page

About Fashion 4 Development

F4D, founded in 2011, is about supporting UN goals and making a difference. They focus on education, empowerment, enhancement, and enrichment, touching lives worldwide. In 2015, they took on the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals, emphasizing sustainable practices globally. Check out the website here: www.fashion4development.com


 

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Great post Britta! Volunteering can offer opportunities to connect with some amazing people and you just never know the opportunities that may arise and the doors that can open up through this route.

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Hey there, lovely fashion friends! My name is Britta Cabanos, and I'm thrilled to have you here! 

 

I'm a 25+ year fashion industry design professional, and I'm passionate about supporting conscious designers, ethical makers, and sustainability. I believe that fashion can be a powerful force for good, and I'm committed to helping aspiring fashion industry pros make their mark in this exciting and ever-changing field. 

 

If you share my passion for conscious fashion and sustainability,  then you're in the right place. I offer industry insights, mentorship, connections, and resources to help you achieve your goals and make a positive impact in the world. Let's connect and explore the possibilities together - are you ready to join me on this exciting journey?

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