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Fundraising Through Fashion, Feminism by Amanda Wells Lovrien ’95, Violets’ Giving Circle Advisor

Violets’ Giving Circle Raises over $60,000 for women and girls in Los Angeles

In the early hours of March 19th, while 20,000 runners pounded the pavement in the Los Angeles Marathon, 20 Marlborough students were preparing for their own event a short block off the route at Hollywood and Vine. Much like the runners, the 10 juniors and 10 seniors that make up the board of the Violets’ Giving Circle had been training and preparing for their event for nine months.   

The Violets’ Giving Circle (VGC) is a charitable fund started and run exclusively by Marlborough students. At the time of its inception in 2006, it was the only group of its kind in the country. To date, Violets’ Giving Circle has raised over $300,000 to help further the education of women and girls in downtown Los Angeles.  

“It’s not lost on us that we are privileged to attend a school like Marlborough, and we want to help others receive the same gift of education,” remarks VGC co-chair Allegra S. ’17.  

Students apply to join the Violets’ Giving Circle in their sophomore year and, if accepted, enter the two-year program that alternates between fundraising and grant-giving years. The 2016-2017 academic year marked a fundraising year, so in August the hard work began under the guidance of new faculty advisor and alumna Amanda Wells Lovrien ’95.

Co-chairs Alexa B. ’17 and Allegra S. ’17 returned from summer break with three goals: create an inspiring and professional event, provide a sophisticated platform for the student designers, and raise more money than any event of the past. After a mere 80 hours together in meetings, the board did just that.

“After watching the women of the U.S. Olympic team dominate in Brazil, [the board] was inspired.  From Simone Biles to Katie Ledecky to Ibtihaj Muhammad, [we] noticed that regardless of size, race, sexual orientation, or religious preference, the women of the United States were a force. This is something [we] wanted to celebrate,” remembers Alexa B. ’17.    

So in the week following the ground-breaking nomination of the first female candidate by a major party for the president of the United States, the board picked “Iconic American Women” as their theme for the fashion show. They looked to trailblazers of the past century as a way to honor the present and the future.

As one might imagine, it took a lot of work to pull off a four-hour event with a two-hour show for 350 guests. Zoe W. ’18 and Sarah L. ‘18 led the hunt for designers and quickly found students with talent who were up for the challenge: Ruby C. ’20, Madison C. ’19, Kaitlyn C. ’18, Ava E. ‘21, Lux F. ’18, Harper R. ’21, Anika V. ’21, and Caitlin W. ’18, who also started the Fashion Club on campus.  Inspirations ranged from fashion royalty Grace Kelly to computer and coding pioneer Grace Hopper. Car Y. ’17 helped set the tone for the event with hand-drawn save-the-dates and invitations with the help of Emily B. ’18 and Dani S. ’18. Alli Y. ’17 and Caroline M. ’18 diligently collected over $50k in auction items that would be included in the first-ever online auction for the fund. Ally S. ’17, with help from Associate Director of Administrative Technology Ms. Ida Dahan, updated the website, worked on online ticketing, and created donation pages. Ally S. ’17 and Kate G. ’17 worked on the design for the event program. Maddie B. ’18 created a student video with the help of Paulina C. ’18. Jenna K. ’17 secured student band 21st Century Ensemble and a talented writer from WriteGirl, one of the programs that has received grant money in the past. Molly S. ’17 with Isabel M. ’18 and Claire C. ’18 worked logistics and ran point with the venue.  Elissa M. ’18 secured purse and jewelry vendors for the boutique at the event. Elizabeth E. ’17 researched and compiled lists of agents and prospective judges of the Project Runway-style competition that met their criteria of being passionate about helping women and girls, having a unique voice, and being fashion savvy.  They found three women that fit the bill: comedy writer and star of VH1s Barely Famous Erin Foster (who shared the event live with her 200,000 Instagram followers), Co-founder of Jimmy Choo and CEO of her own label Tamara Mellon, and Golden Globe-winner for best actress in Jane the Virgin, Gina Rodriguez.  

Over 70 people worked behind-the-scenes backstage at the Avalon Hollywood; student designers worked with hair and makeup artists from MUD, models changed for three different fashion shows, logistics crew timed walks and worked microphones, students helped run soundboards and lights, and talent handlers guided the judges through the designs to help reach what they called “impossible” decisions.  Dr. Eric Reinholtz, World Language Department Head, emceed and helped raise over $12,000 in the live auction with charm and humor. Even the CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California, Surina Khan, took the stage to advocate for VGC, which acts as a giving circle for the foundation.

At the end of the night, Lux F, ’18, who drew inspiration from Courtney Love for her three outfits, was presented the award for the “Most Wearable.” Student designer Harper R. ’21 modeled her own outfit inspired by Carrie Fisher and received “Most Creative,” and Ava E. ’21 walked away with “Most Iconic” design for the three outfits she designed for Gloria Steinem, Venus Williams, and Grace Kelly.  

However, it was clear from all who attended that there was more than just these three winners on this night. Also victorious was the board that pulled off an event on par with professional production companies, the models who walked with grace and confidence, designers with perfectly constructed pieces, and the hundreds of women that will now receive the gift of education thanks to the the record-breaking $65,000 raised at the event.  

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