The true meaning of charity: behind the allure of charity fashion shows

"Beyond the dazzling displays of the events themselves, the impressive social media promotion, and shockingly high-brow sponsorship, these charity fashion shows do well to remember a primary raison d’être: charity."

Photo by Bertie Lumsden

I stepped into DONT WALK Charity Fashion Show this year with high expectations. I was a dresser for the second year in a row, and was excited by what I discovered. The professionalism, the high quality and generally expensive feel of the entire operation amazed me. It was impressive and made me wonder: how on earth can they afford at the end of this to give money to charity or do anything even remotely charitable? Surely, like me at the end of nearly every calendar month, they are completely and utterly skint.

As a community, we love fashion. The shows are staple events of our social calendar, enjoyed by a large proportion of our student community. Beyond our perhaps worrying obsession with aesthetics, what I really wanted to know was what kind of work these committees do for charity and just how much can they really be donating to their worthy causes.

St Andrews Charity Fashion Show, established in 1992, has been raising money for their annually changing charity of choice for 25 years. Andrew Kalinin, head of charity, said that their 2016 show raised £30,000 for charity. The exact sum for most of the fashion shows this year is still being tallied up. However, it can be said without doubt that last year’s sum is beyond significant, given the unfailingly expert level of production. This year, their charity was The Brain Tumour Charity.

Mr Kalinin explained how “in terms of engagement with the charity, we always try to do as much as possible — starting from promoting the charity and its work in all of our social media posts, to organising their visits. The Brain Tumour charity came a few times this year to visit us and talk about their work with the committee.”

On the other side of the fashion show fence, DONT WALK have also done some fantastic work in the name of charity, combining any funds raised with an impressively interactive approach with their chosen causes. Head of Charity Bertie Lumsden, told me that they have raised over £220,000 over the sixteen years the show has been running. Almost a decade younger than the St Andrews Fashion Show, DONT WALK do an equally impressive job for some worthy charities. This year they were again raising money for The Robin Hood Foundation, a charity which aims to tackle poverty in New York City. Mr Lumsden, having experience with organisations helping with the refugee crisis, told me what else the committee have been up to.

“We felt it was very important as a student organisation to stand up for and do something to help those who were victims of the violence in Syria, especially as DW was founded after 9/11 and out of a sentiment of solidarity to stand with and support those who have been victim to circumstances outside of their control.”

DONT WALK’s achievements and aims for their organisation are intelligently planned and thoughtfully conceived. They have built up a relationship with The Robin Hood Foundation whilst Mr Lumsden led a group in a voluntary project with Salam LBC in the Bekka Valley of Lebanon for a month over the winter break. They do well to raise money for contemporary issues such as the refugee crisis whilst also recognising where DONT WALK was born, out of a city whose section of population affected by poverty the committee now supports.

Catwalk is part of the university’s Raising and Giving (RAG) week. One commendable aspect of their organisation is that, because of their link with the wider University of St Andrews Charities Campaign, they raise money for elected charities.

These charities “are selected by the entire student body when voting for them opens towards the end of this semester,” Catwalk director AJ Brennan said. “I’d like to think Catwalk is pretty democratic in that respect.”

The funds that Concrete Catwalk raises go towards a local, national and international charity, making sure that charity starts at home whilst also stretching worldwide.

Mr Brennan said, “This year we’re raising money for Frontline Fife (local) Anthony Nolan (national) and Women for Women (international). In regards to Catwalk, last year we spent less than £400 and raised nearly £10,000, so we made roughly 25 times what our budget was. 100 per cent of this money we made goes to our charities. We’re yet to receive official numbers from the University for this year’s show but it will be a
similar situation.”

With such a minimal amount of money being spent on the show, the profits raised are proof of the professionalism and high-calibre reputation which Catwalk has built for themselves, making them such a success both as an event and as a charitable organisation.

Sitara*, now in its eighth year, is another one of our beloved town’s fashion shows which is keen to prove that they are doing as much as possible for their chosen charity.

The Sitara* team told me that they have been “a proud contributor to the Multan branch of SOS Children’s Villages Pakistan since 2014. The SOS cause was first introduced to Sitara by the son of one of the founding members of this charity who, at the time, happened to be a fellow St Andrews student.”

“SOS Children’s Village Pakistan, working in 14 cities across Pakistan, is a Non-Governmental social welfare organisation dedicated to providing homes for orphans and abandoned children…the Multan village program offers a Youth Facility that aims to psychologically support children for the best nurturing. In addition, they service the unemployed youth of the community by equipping them with technical education through SOS Multan Institute of Technology as well as running small women empowerment projects. To date, donations made by Sitara have subsidised the construction of academic faculties, homes, and technical equipment, as a part of the continuous objective to house, educate, and empower unprivileged children who otherwise lack these opportunities.”

Sitara*, slightly younger than FS and DONT WALK, has increased their donations to charity with each passing year. They are dedicated to this annual increase in donations and “aim to maximise long term contributions by re-adjusting developmental- investment to donation ratio accordingly each year.”

They gave me an example of this: “70 per cent of last year’s profit was allocated to charity compared to just over 50 per cent the year before.” Their approach is effective and ensures that they give as much money to charity as possible whilst guaranteeing their ability to continue as an impressive organisation with a high quality of production. Any of the remaining profit is carried forward to the following year’s committee.

“We greatly value our partnership with SOS Children’s Villages Multan, and wish to increase the magnitude of our charity in the many years to

If you are interested in finding out more about their charity work, there is a lovely letter from one of the founders of the charity on Sitara*’s website. It showcases the level of dedication that this fashion show has to such a wonderful cause, revealing once more that our fashion show community has much more to it than what we see on the night of the production.

As a community, St Andrews should be extremely proud of what our fashion shows do for charity. Beyond the dazzling displays of the events themselves, the impressive social media promotion, and shockingly high-brow sponsorship, these charity fashion shows do well to remember a primary raison d’être: charity. It is not just the extraordinary sums of money that they are able to donate but also the message that they send out, as a community, to the rest of the world. It is a concern for causes in communities not as fortunate as ours, an awareness of life outside of our dream-like bubble, which makes the fashion show community of St Andrews beyond exceptional.


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