Robert Barrow – Head of Charity FS2020 – Yes (39%)
Fashion Show season has been a quintessential part of the St Andrews second semester social calendar for a number of decades. As well as providing a platform for students to express themselves as models, designers and committee members, in the 28-year history of the St Andrews Charity Fashion Show (FS) a total of over £570,000 has been raised for a number of worthwhile causes, whilst additional charity fashion shows have since been established to similarly guarantee a good night is had by all whilst supporting fantastic causes.
With such a wide range of social events to fill our calendars with, it is often very easy as guests and organisers to forget what makes these events so worthwhile to be a part of. Speaking as Head of Charity for FS it is with great certainty that I can say that charity is at the heart of all things we do and is the common theme that runs through the motivations of each member of the FS family.
Whilst I would unsurprisingly argue that fashion shows are an effective method of raising money for charity, there will always be ways in which committees can strive to be more ‘effective’ in their fundraising. Put simply, event costs could always be lower and ticket prices could always be higher, but the guest experience would only suffer, and in the long run this might only damage the future fundraising potential of the show.
Furthermore, difficulties in innovation and the risks associated with stepping outside of the tried and tested model are evident in the very nature of committee run events. Directors are often in their 4th year and thus, only have a year to implement any strategies they have, whilst avoiding the trappings of previous years where shows may have been too ambitious. Committee turnover is high, with students either graduating, changing committees or deciding to focus on other aspects of student life, which only makes increasing the fundraising effectiveness more short term focussed.
Despite this, I would argue that to judge St Andrews fashion shows by final donation alone leads to a misunderstanding of the impact our student community can make on the future of the world and what charity in the 21st century is all about. In my two years in the role, we have selected two very different charitable partners: Social Bite, a social enterprise movement that seeks to end homelessness in Scotland; and this year’s partner Fashion Revolution, a global movement organisation that champions sustainable practice in the fashion industry. Both of which recognise that charity is as much about the spreading of awareness around societal issues as it is the raising of funds. Feedback from testimonials of previous charitable partners suggest that partnering with FS not only provides an opportunity for a sizeable donation but has the additional benefit of raising the profile of our partners within the St Andrews student community and beyond.
Through an effective use of social media, both on official FS pages and via the sharing on the personal accounts of a 58 person strong team (apologies for bombarding your news feeds), it becomes our responsibility to utilise the share button to spread the aims of our charitable partner so that as wide an audience as possible can be reached. Furthermore, as evidenced by FS2020’s week of sustainability events, the St Andrews fashion show scene is changing, as committees attempt to move past the ‘one night only’ approach to St Andrews events, in favour of a number of more low-key but message-driven approaches to providing benefit for our charitable partners.
The Fashion Revolution ethos is to bring people together, empower individuals and foster a conversation surrounding the sustainability of the fashion industry’s practices, so that we may move closer towards a “fashion industry that values people, the environment, creativity and profit in equal measure”. Their ethos is not to simply raise money for worthwhile sustainability projects, but to recognise that our most valuable asset to bring about change is our voice as individuals and communities.
Although many may rightfully argue that charity fashion shows could always be more effective, it is important to recognise that charity is not about fundraising alone. In addition to combining a series of enjoyable events throughout the year with a desire to raise impressive amounts for donation, I hope that St Andrews charity fashion shows can continue to evolve despite their limitations and recognise their value as a platform for encouraging important conversations for change amongst our student community.
Piers Eaton – Deputy Viewpoint Editor – No (61%)
Fashion show season is just around the corner, and that means many people will be contributing to charity by enjoying a lavish evening that allows students to express themselves artistically – how could anyone see this as anything but a positive way to raise money?
Except that doesn’t tell the real story of the charitable nature of fashion shows. Fashion shows, as they exist now at universities, are an exceptionally inefficient way to raise money. In 2018, for example, one fashion show in particular listed less than 14% of their ‘charitable costs’ as actual donations to charity. Additionally, they did so by taking on, in my opinion, a sizeable deficit, which was less than 10% smaller than their charitable contributions.
So, despite three-figure VIP ticket prices, standard tickets costing anywhere north of £50, and corporate sponsorships, over 90% of the charitable donations had to come from a budget deficit. If the ultimate goal is to raise money for charity, fashion shows are doing poorly.
The simple fact is that university fashion shows are set up to be an inefficient way to raise money. Charity fashion shows, like many university events, rely on inter-year hype to generate buzz. If an event is expected to be a ‘can’t miss night’ then that can often be enough (barring disaster) to mean it will be a success. This means that there is an incentive for those in charge to try to ‘top’ previous years. This means additional spending on the show itself, which in turns means more expensive tickets and the need for corporate sponsorship. All this may better the quality of the show, and make for a more memorable night, but it is terrible for their charitable efficiency, because it means less of the money goes to charity.
There can only be so many ‘big nights’ a term, and so fashion shows must compete for the limited oxygen with various other balls and events, which do not claim to be charitable and so can spend all the ticket price on the event. As they try to compete with other large and lavish events, it is only natural for the charitable financial aspect of the event to become less and less central, and for the extravagance of the event to become the defining feature of the night.
Some, at this point may be saying, ‘well 14% of the money being spent on charity isn’t that bad, that’s thousands of pounds going to a cause that wouldn’t otherwise, so it’s better than nothing!’ To which I would answer: shouldn’t we ask for our fundraising events to give more than a seventh of their earnings to charity? While it is true that most charity events measure whether they met their charitable goals by how much they raised, not efficiency, most also aim to keep costs down in order to most effectively raise money. A charity event should really be aiming for something above 50% of the revenue to be going towards the organisation it’s supporting.
These kinds of goals are achievable for big university events. Big charity concerts or comedy nights (even ones that pay professionals rather than getting students to do it for free) can pull in lots of money without having to spend such a high percentage of their income on their operating budget. If people’s aim is to maximise how much they are raising through a fashion show, it seems that large scale fashion shows are not efficient.
Many, smaller-scale fashion shows in cheaper venues, where students make clothes from scratch and sell them off at the end of the night, with amateur student entertainment, may prove to be a better way to effectively raise money for charity across the course of a year. This won’t make for as glamorous an evening, won’t produce a new Facebook profile pic that is quite as spectacular, and won’t raise as much money in a single go. But, it also won’t cost thousands to raise hundreds using this method.
Where I did my undergraduate degree, every college had their own charity fashion show, as well as a university-wide one, meaning there were about 20 a year. In my three years, the only charity fashion show I went to was one organised by the Flat Earth Society. It wasn’t such a glamorous affair – it was basically a massive joke – but with tickets that cost £4.20-£6.60 and only about 65 people going, they were still able to donate over £250 to charity. Because it wasn’t a massive affair, they were able to keep costs down. If charity fashion shows want to do justice to the charity in their names, they need to make sure they are more focused on generosity than extravagance. Charity fashion shows aren’t an effective to way to raise money, but they could be, if their charity feature was prioritised more heavily.