Donna Karan Is Rallying the Fashion Troops, Supporting Veterans With New Initiative

In honor of Veterans Day, Nov. 11, Donna Karan is beginning an initiative in partnership with Veteran Services USA, or VSUSA, a nonprofit organization committed to supporting returning and senior veterans by providing access to programs that enable successful life transitions, and Cheri Kaufman, VSUSA partner and founder of Kaufman Astoria Studios, to raise funds in support of VSUSA’s ground-breaking PTSD program that utilizes RTM.

During her ongoing work with the VSUSA, Kaufman told WWD, she shared with Donna Karan that she had come across warehouses of clothing including jackets, hats and boots. The pieces, she said, were in great condition and the designer agreed just right for repurposing. Together, Kaufman and Karan devised a plan to redesign the pieces for head-to-toe looks that could be auctioned off to raise money in support of veterans.

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“I always felt that these people have given us so much,” said Kaufman of U.S. veterans. “We thank them when they’re going in, but we do not think to thank these people when they’re coming out and there are 20 million of them. These vets are women and men that have gained skills in service to our nation, and they deserve to have their lives regained from the pain they have with PTSD. PTSD is tremendous for so many. If we can do something to help them, you not only feel good that you’re doing something, but you feel good about everything.”

A look at Donna Karan’s redesigned pieces.
A look at Donna Karan’s redesigned pieces.

Karan and her team have already launched into redesigning, reimagining and repurposing military clothing. Noting the importance of raising money to provide therapy to veterans who are struggling with PTSD and suicide, she said she was glad to have the opportunity.

“I knew I wanted to be involved in the initiative as soon as it was presented to me,” said Karan. “Urban Zen is about dressing and addressing the issues individuals and communities face and our veterans have dealt and are dealing with PTSD and trauma. There is an important initiative behind this project and fashion has always been a force for good. When I launched Super Saturday, it was to raise awareness for ovarian cancer. I hope this will raise awareness for our veterans struggling with PTSD and suicide. Also, this isn’t just about the military, it’s about bringing awareness to how people are suffering and how we can help one another in a time of stress and need.”

To approach designing the pieces, Karan said she used a lens similar to the one she uses on Urban Zen.

“The natural color of green has always been a favorite of mine,” said Karan of the pieces. “The original tailored pieces were superb both for their masculine and feminine details. I embellished the pieces and utilized their signature qualities from an embroidery point of view. It is astonishing the level of content I have been given to work with.”

She shared a hope that others will be as excited as she was when they see the redesigns. “I hope they see that not everything has to be brand new, there is a novelty in redesigning what was once created.”

A redesigned military jacket from Donna Karan.
A redesigned military jacket from Donna Karan.

While Karan and her team have gotten a head start, the redesigns are just the beginning of a larger program that will be auctioned off for the initiative next year, including participation from other well-known designers. The designers have yet to be announced.

“Bringing designers and industry creators together to support critical causes has always been important to Donna, such as Super Saturday and 7th on Sale,” said Helen Aboah, chief executive officer of Urban Zen. “The pieces that our designers at Urban Zen created with Donna are just a sneak peek of what’s to come. At the beginning of the new year, we are going to announce a collective of fellow designers that will join Donna on this incredibly important initiative.”

Information about the initiative and auction will be shared in 2023.

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