Yves Saint Laurent once said, “I have always believed that fashion was not only to make women more beautiful, but also to reassure them, give them confidence.” This quote came to life for me when I organized a community service event for young girls called Empowerment Through Fashion. I have always loved clothes and fashion, but I had never thought about how that passion could help others. That all changed last August as I was putting the clothes I had outgrown into a bag to donate. As I folded the clothes, I remembered how, as a little girl, I loved to play dress-up and “fashion show,” taking everything out of my closet and walking down a pretend runway. Suddenly, I had an idea.
Through a family friend, I was introduced to the Greater Chinatown Community Association (GCCA). Their mission is to provide services to the Chinese-American community, especially new immigrants and the elderly. Through the GCCA, people in need get access to adult education and medical care. Even mundane activities like taking a subway or filling out forms can be difficult for someone coming from a different culture. The GCCA and its volunteers offer those in the Chinatown community tools to help them assimilate. Perhaps the most important services offered are friendship, support, and companionship.
The first person I met was Vivian Lo, the secretary of the GCCA’s board of directors. Vivian was instrumental in helping me translate my idea into action. She was enthusiastic about the fashion show fund-raiser, and convinced others at the GCCA it was worthwhile.
For the event, I solicited new and like-new clothing from friends and local stores. I sent countless e-mails and posted numerous requests on social media. As the donations were delivered, I kept a detailed spreadsheet of sizes and descriptions. Since I’d sell whatever was not worn in the fashion show, I came up with prices for everything.
Then I worked with the GCCA to find girls to participate in the fashion show. An added enticement (other than the excitement of walking the runway) was that each girl could keep the clothes she modeled. To address the empowerment piece of the event, the GCCA and I invited a group of career women to provide information and advice for the girls. Among the panelists was a judge, an investment banker, an architect, a magazine publisher, and an actor.
The event was held in December on a very rainy Sunday in a church auditorium. I got there early and, with a team of volunteers, decorated the room and set up chairs and tables. The models had a quick dress rehearsal, and volunteers did their hair and makeup.
The girls modeled 25 different looks ranging from jean shorts to evening wear. After the fashion show, everyone shopped, networked, and snacked on baked goods. About 150 people attended the event, and we raised over $3,500: the operating budget of the GCCA for one year.
Learning about the GCCA and the problems faced by new immigrants in the Chinese community was very meaningful to me. I loved being able to take my passion for fashion and share it with other girls. When I look back on the months I spent preparing for the event, working with the GCCA, and organizing the details, I realize how much time I have to give to others. It made me want to do more for people who need help.
For me, the best part of this experience was when the models came to my house for a fitting a few weeks before the event. Sometimes the girls tried on four or five outfits before finding one they wanted to model. And when they found it, you could see their faces light up. As I looked at the clothes strewn about and the girls practicing their walk down the runway, I realized that my childhood game of “fashion show” had become a reality, and in the process, had truly benefited a group in need.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the October 2015 Teen Ink Community Service Contest.