Gifts & Giving
Public Commons
Social Ventures
Home » Celebrities, Milken

Red Carpet Philanthropy: How Hollywood Threads Help Charity

By Tom Watson on April 24, 20074 Comments

You probably know Bradley Whitford as Josh Lyman on The West Wing and Jane Kaczmarek as the mom on Malcolm in the Middle – but to their friends in Hollywood, they’re the clothing people. As the founders of Clothes Off Our Back, Kaczmarek and Whitford (who are married) are deliberately trading the glitz and fame of the entertainment world for the rewards of charity fundraising.

Bradley Whitford at Milken

"Hollywood gets such a name as being so selfish and so self-serving," said Kaczmarek during a panel at the Milken Global Conference. "But in most cases – not all, I’ll admit – this is an incredibly generous community."

The Clothes Off Our Back Foundation hosts
charity auctions "showcasing today’s hottest celebrity attire." Items are
put up for bid to the public with proceeds going to benefit children’s
charities. The idea came from the couple’s desire to give something back, said Whitford.

"My wife and I have been incredibly lucky in show business," said Whitford, who also stars in Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. "After 9/11 there was this whole question whether awards shows were appropriate. So we thought why can’t celebrities use their voice for children. We wanted to spend our celebrity responsibly."

The foundation literally takes the clothes from red carpet types after they’ve worn them, and auctions the pieces online. Proceeds go to the  Children’s Defense Fund, Cure Autism Now, U.S. Fund for UNICEF, Save The Children, and Friends of the World Food Program. So far, nearly 450 celebrities have participated in Clothes Off Our Back
auctions since its inception in 2002, helping raise over $1 million for
various children’s charities.

The program began in a small way, with the pair driving around Los Angeles picking up used clothing and hitting up their friends. Now, there’s a staff and a growing roster of corporate partners.

"Around awards show time people in this town are both overwhelmed and completely narcissistic," said Whitford. "We started very naively – we just thought this would be a good idea, and now as it’s grown, we have to figure out what we’re doing…Part of what we’re aiming to do is mainstreaming the idea of philanthropy among celebrities."

Kaczmarek recalled racing around Hollywood looking for just the right color handbag for an awards show – when she suddenly stopped to wonder "just what am I doing" after three decades as a successful actor.

"This is the most self-congratulatory community I’ve ever been engaged in," she said. "These clothes and accessories – you never wear them again. A voice was telling me: if you have a sneaking suspicion you’re wasting your life you probably are. That voice was driving me crazy. Look, you have a certain currency as a celebrity, and how you spend that currency is up to you."

Now, she said, the organization has picked up some steam among the entertainment crowd:

"It was pretty cool when Helen Mirren picked up the phone and said would you like the dress I won the Golden Globe in."

Share This Post
[] [Digg] [Facebook] [LinkedIn] [Twitter] [Email]


  • Alex says:

    Celebrities have tremendous power not only to make large philanthropic contributions and organize money making endeavors like The Clothes Off Our Back, but also have the ability to set the trends in philanthropy. While we all may be wondering just how many more children is Angelina going to publicly adopt from third world nations—the truth of the matter is regardless of how trendy celebrity philanthropy may seem at times, these public and admired figures are driving traffic and funds to causes that need it. More power to them to use their fame for admirable efforts.

  • Jenn says:

    I think donating items for auction is great. But I wonder how much these celebs are actually donating out of their own pockets?

  • Kate says:

    I wish more actors viewed their celebrity in these terms. Fame truly is a currency, and those who choose to spend it like Whitford and Kaczmarek will leave a legacy far beyond US Weekly covers and blockbuster opening weekends.

  • Alisha says:

    I applaud what Kaczmarek and Whitford are doing by embedding themselves deeply in a cause. So many celebs thing “philanthropy” means showing up to a star-studded fundraiser – I’ve even heard of some getting paid for these appearances. Celebrities should aim to be just as strategic with their philanthropy as corporations or foundations if they really aim to have an impact.

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.


#cgi2010 Allison Fine Barack Obama Beth Kanter Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Bill Clinton Blogs Case Foundation CauseWired Changing Our World Clinton Global Initiative Corporate Social Responsibility Disasters DonorsChoose Facebook Facebook Causes Flash Causes Fundraising Fundraising Nightmares Giving Pledge GlobalGiving Haiti Hillary Clinton Kiva Lilya Wagner Mario Morino Millennials Non-profit organization Nonprofit NonProfits Philanthropy Planned Giving Politics Ron Paul Skoll Social Actions Social Media Susan Carey Dempsey Susan Raymond Ph.D Tom Watson Twitter United Nations Women YouTube


Philanthropy News

Sites We Like


onPhilanthropy and DotOrgJobs are published by CauseWired Communications, LLC - copyright 1999-2011, all rights reserved.