Red Carpet Philanthropy: How Hollywood Threads Help Charity
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.
"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."