Any working woman who has ever donned a bodysuit — that sleek piece of garment that serves as a silhouette to layer upon — knows that Donna Karan is the powerhouse behind decades of pioneering trends.
Earlier this week, the self-made fashion icon announced her decision to step down as chief designer of Donna Karan International. The company went public in 1996, before its acquisition by French fashion conglomerate LVMH Möet Hennessy Louis Vuitton in 2000. “She will remain with the company in an advisory role,” read a company statement posted on Instagram.
While there’s been plenty of chatter about Karan’s exit, little has been discussed about the next chapter of her career. At 66, the designer will fully step into a new entrepreneurial realm that is much less glamorous, yet far more meaningful.
Founded in 2007, the Urban Zen Foundation is Karan’s philanthropic venture that aims to raise awareness and inspire change in issues surrounding health, empowering children and preserving cultures in developing countries. The idea was partly born from her frustrations about the lack of yoga and meditative therapies available when her husband, Stephan Weiss, was dying of cancer in 2001.
The foundation hasn’t received much attention from the general public, but that’s likely to change as Karan devotes more of her time to the project. The ever-increasing interest in yoga and Eastern spiritual philosophy won’t do harm, either.
Supporting the foundation is Karan’s retail business, Urban Zen, a line of artisan goods — including her own creations — that are all inspired by her travels and style philosophies. The brand expanded last month with the launch of its e-commerce site, where a portion of all sales goes to supporting the foundation.
The designer’s venture into philanthropy and commerce is governed by one simple concept: conscious retailing. Living in a free market can be a wonderful thing, but it also puts billions of independent designers and small businesses at a disadvantage. Each Urban Zen item purchased will make a difference to those who actually need it.
It’s also moves away from the fashion world’s typical notion of what’s “in” or “out” of trend. Instead, it roots back to Karan’s original style concept of a simple wardrobe for the practical woman and features carefully selected items that are truly timeless. “I think it’s a new paradigm in retail because it’s not about a season,” she explained in an interview with TIME.
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For its latest project, the Urban Zen Foundation partnered with Haitian artisan and businesswoman Paula Coles and The New School’s Parsons School of Design to create The DOT Center (Design, Organization and Training). The project helps support the Clinton Global Initiative’s efforts in bringing vocational education to Haiti.
There are a handful of other celebrities following in similar footsteps as Karan. Blake Lively’s e-commerce venture, Preserve, launched in July 2014 and doubles as lifestyle blog and a marketplace for affordable artisan goods. Tory Burch has her own foundation that supports economic empowerment for female entrepreneurs. Diane von Furstenberg gives to Vital Voices, Nicola Bulgari to Save the Children, Angela Missoni to Orphan Aid Africa, and James Ferragamo to GlobalGiving.
In some ways, the boom in celebrity philanthropy is nothing and easy to ridicule by skeptics. But, for good or ill, there’s little to deny about the the effectiveness that a well-known name in fashion brings to a cause in need.