CHARITY BY DESIGN
Throughout his career, Michael Kors has spent time helping those less fortunate
Michael Kors vividly remembers the moment when he first heard about the charity God’s Love We Deliver.
“Back in the late ’80s, my business was small, I was young, and the AIDS crisis hit in every major city in the world. Especially in the fashion capitals,” he recalls. “And, at the time, friends were sick, neighbours were sick, people you worked with were sick.”
As a young designer, Kors was becoming increasingly interconnected with people in the New York City fashion community, many of whom were also at a loss for how they could help.
“You really had no idea about how to help or what to do,” he says. “And, like most fashion people, I’m definitely not a scientist. And, at the time, there were no drugs, nothing. Everyone just said, ‘ What can we do? What can we do?’”
Through a friend, Kors learned about how a small, grassroots organization operating out of the basement of a church was helping to deliver meals to sick people in their homes in the five boroughs of New York.
At first, Kors says he couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that this crisis could be so close to home.
“I said, ‘In New York? One of the richest places in the world?’” he recalls.
He learned that the meal recipients were those who had become sick and lost their jobs. Many were left alone, abandoned by their family and friends, and didn’t have access to, or sometimes lacked money for food. Kors knew he had to help.
“I remember the first time I delivered a meal to someone’s house,” he says.
“When I walked in, I realized that we were the only people that they saw. They didn’t see anyone. They had no friends and no family. Everyone had left. And you arrived with the meal and their face just lit up.”
Kors has been a part of God’s Love We Deliver ever since.
Sitting in a large meeting room on the fifth floor of the Michael Kors Building at God’s Love We Deliver in New York City, Kors talks passionately about the program, as well as his own initiative, Watch Hunger Stop.
Meanwhile, a few floors below in an industrial-sized kitchen, blackhatted volunteers scurry about, busily chopping vegetables, prepping food containers and packaging the more than 5,400 meals that are delivered every weekday, all year to those living with lifealtering illnesses such as AIDS, cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
“The volunteers here in the building are truly angels,” Kors says.
“There are some who have been here for 25 years. They ’re truly remarkable people.”
His work with the New York Citybased program prompted Kors to become more involved in hunger initiatives, eventually setting up the Watch Hunger Stop campaign five years ago in an effort to take hunger-fighting, communitybuilding practices to a global level.
“I saw it here with God’s Love, and then the need grew and grew and grew. And God’s Love grew and grew and grew,” Kors recalls.
“And then I started travelling because my business became more global. In the late ’90s, when I started going to Paris for Celine, I started travelling back and forth and I realized we’re all in this together.
“It’s empathy for your neighbour, not just here across the street, but also for your neighbour around the world. It seemed that the one thing, unfortunately, that was a problem everywhere around the world was the idea of nutrition and hunger.”
Via his partnership with the United Nations World Food Program, all funds raised through Watch Hunger Stop go to support the WFP’s school meal programs around the world. In addition to fighting hunger, Kors is particularly proud of the effect the program has on availability of education for young girls.
“Parents, especially with girls, in many cities and many countries, they won’t send their daughter to school unless there is a free meal,” he says. “So suddenly there’s a free meal and she goes to school because the parents say ‘OK, she has a meal.’ But then, she also gets an education. And you change the whole cycle.”
These days, Kors implores people to see that helping people is essential, regardless of where you live in the world.
“The world is not so distant anymore,” he says. “We’re all in this together ... we all have to give back. And I don’t think a lot of people realize what they can do. They say ‘Oh, I’m not rich. I’m busy. I’ve got my own children. I have a busy life, I can’t.’
“I feel very lucky ... and when you are lucky, you have to give back. Automatically,” Kors says. “But it’s hard, though, for people who don’t feel lucky in their own life to give back. And that’s what we are trying to remind people: We’re all lucky. Everyone. If you can afford $5 for coffee, you’re lucky.”
Kors is a savvy businessman. One who can easily acknowledge that people will often give more if they get a little something back, even if it’s just extra likes and shares on social media.
Perhaps it’s this knowledge that has made his initiative-benefiting products, like his limited-edition T-shirts and the Watch Hunger Runway Watch, such a hit with his customers.
“It has made 17.6 million meals possible in this short period of time,” he says of the products and social sharing. “We couldn’t have done this without social media, at this speed.”
In fact, it was social media that also led Kors and his team to Eli Sudbrack, the artist collaborator for this year’s T-shirt design.
Kors thought the artist’s colourful designs would be a welcome departure for a charity design benefiting world hunger initiatives; one that was bright, vibrant and optimistic.
“I remember when I was growing up when you saw things about hunger it was always so sad,” says Kors.
“And I wanted to say, ‘No, we can make zero a positive thing. We can make it upbeat.’ But, also, socially I knew his art would look amazing on the phone. So we would get people’s attention.”
Kors donates the full proceeds and 100 meals through the WFP with the sale of each watch or Tshirt.
And, for each selfie shared using the hashtag #WatchHungerStop, the designer donates an additional 100 meals. It’s an extra step of the program he’s confident most people will be able to fulfil.
“Twenty years ago people had very few photographs of themselves. Now everyone has too many pictures of themselves,” he says with a laugh. “For the first time, you say to yourself, well, without social media this couldn’t happen.”
Last year, the WFP fed 18 million children in 60 countries.
And this year, Kors would like to increase that number. Exponentially.
“I’m competitive,” he says with a wry smile. “And the reality is that we are further along, as far as the amount of meals that we’ve served. We’re almost at 18 million meals in five years, which was not on the agenda.”
According to Kors, the World Food Program believes that by 2030, there can be zero global hunger.
But Kors would like to see them move up that goal and reach it by 2025.
“I think it’s just continuing to make the noise,” he says. And, of course, sharing.
They had no friends and no family. Everyone had left. And you arrived with the meal and their face just lit up.
Michael Kors has been involved with the organization God’s Love We Deliver since the 1980s and has expanded his efforts with his own initiatives.
Singer and actress Hailee Steinfeld models the Michael Kors Watch Hunger Stop campaign fundraising T-shirt.