ON PHILANTHROPY: 5 Questions with Minka Kelly

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Minka Kelly recounted a deeply personal experience last month—the moving moment which led her to collaborate with the ethical fashion brand, fashionABLE. During the lunch at Herringbone in West Hollywood in front of a group of friends including Mandy Moore, celebrity hair stylist, Jen Atkin and fashionABLE founder Barrett Ward, Kelly discussed her mother’s 2008 passing. To deal with her grief, she decided to dedicate herself to philanthropic endeavors. She was introduced to Ward, and soon went on an adventure to Ethiopia to meet the women he was then employing to make scarves. She left with an overwhelming feeling of love for the country and the women she met there – so much so that she decided to join him on another trip to see the women in 2014. But this time, the women— who were new to the program, which introduces 120 new women each year— were closed off. They seemed shy and untrusting and, as Minka dug in, she found that the root of this was the shame and guilt they felt about their former jobs and lives. They were afraid their children would find out about their past and they hid it through every means possible. This struck a chord with Minka, who shared with them that her mother was also a sex worker. She told them she was just like their children, but that she thought of her mother as her hero, who had sacrificed herself to provide for Minka. She told the women that they were heroes, too, and that it was their bravery was what brought them to fashionABLE.  After this moving experience, Minka decided she wanted to do something together and this collaboration was born. Her bag line, which is a suede zippered clutch that comes in pink and navy, retails for $78 at www.livefashionable.com and is made by formerly sex trafficked women in Ethiopia, providing them with a fair trade job and the opportunity at a new life with dignity and safety. Minka took a moment of time to discuss her new collaboration with Haute Living. 

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Why was doing this collaboration so important to you on a philanthropic level?
I lost my mother in 2008 and realized that the only way to fill that void was to be of service.  I reached out to Judee Ann who runs the foundation dept to help me with this, which brought me to Barrett Ward who started FashionABLE.  He invited Judee Ann and I to Africa with him and his wife.  I’ve been back twice now.  I met a girl who went into the sex industry to pay for her sisters breast cancer.  I learned what courage and sacrifice means.  My mother was in the sex industry so I feel like I understand these women and the guilt and shame they carry with them for the choices they’ve had to make. I understand their fear that their children will be disappointed in them, so it became my goal to make sure that I let them know that just like me, their children will know and appreciate that their choices were, in fact, heroic, because a woman will do anything she has to do when it comes to providing for her family.  I’m proud of my mother. You cant choose the circumstance you were born into and you do the best you can with the tools you are given. I let these women know that their babies will be even more proud of them for having the courage and taking the opportunity to change their lives by entering the women at risk center and learning how to make these beautiful products in order to generate income and live a new life of dignity.  This duty helps me honor my mother and keep her alive in my own way. Its healing for me to exhange the nurturing love with these women.  My relationship with the women Ive worked with in Africa, because of this organization, has given me the courage and permission to be brave enough to be vulnerable with an undefended heart that is open, which has allowed me the ability to give and receive deep love, and has had a profound effect on the relationships with the women in my every day life, which is the greatest gift as they are my family.

How hands-on were you with designing the collection?
I designed the entire clutch– from the leather, to the color, to the stitching to the size and color of the zipper to the lining. I chose to line the inside of the clutch with the scarves fashionABLE is known for to include even more women on this project so the women at the leather factory as well the women weaving these scarves are employed.

Has designing always been one of your passions? Why or why not?
I’ve always thought I could improve this or that by a little of this or that but this is my first time actually designing anything and it was completely spontaneous and happened in the moment looking around the leather factory in Ethiopia.  I got so excited by everything and just asked if I could design something and we just started working on it right then and there

Where do you think you’ll go from here? Do you see a career as a handbag designer (or other kind of designer) in your future?
If I design any thing else I think it will only be for fashionABLE as my side gig and all benefits will go to the women in Africa who make the products.