Designer Nanette Lepore helped to raise more than $18,000 on Sunday to aid abused and neglected children through Childhelp, a national child advocacy nonprofit. Lepore, who is based in New York, showed her work at a runway show and shopping event at Saks Fifth Avenue outside Washington, D.C. The show featured looks from her Holiday and 2014 Pre-Spring collections.
A portion of the day's sales were donated to Childhelp, as were the proceeds of a charity auction and raffle. Three of Childhelp's celebrity ambassadors flew from Los Angeles for the event, "Dancing with the Stars'" Maksim Chmerkovskiy and actors Finola Hughes and Ian Buchanan, who star together on "General Hospital."
Among the items up for auction were two tickets to attend Lepore's runway show this spring during New York Fashion Week. As the bidding went up, Chmerkovskiy spontaneously offered to tack on ballroom dancing lessons and lunch at his Soho dance studio.
"It's really tough to get into those fashion shows," Chmerkovskiy quipped to Lepore, "so the only way for a guy like me is by going with someone famous." It was an inside joke: The Ukrainian-born dancer recently revealed that he is dating Kate Upton, one of the world's most sought-after supermodels.
Lepore, too, has no shortage of celebrity fans, including first lady Michelle Obama, actors Blake Lively and Scarlett Johansson, and singers Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift.
Despite her star status, however, Lepore hasn't forgotten her roots in the Rust Belt city of Youngstown, Ohio, where she saw firsthand the decline of America's manufacturing sector. "I saw my friends' parents lose their jobs when the steel mills closed," she told HuffPost, "and then that's when the exodus started." Since 1960, Youngstown has lost more than 60 percent of its population.
Since moving to New York in the 1980s, Lepore has become an increasingly visible advocate for the city's garment industry, which, like Youngstown, is struggling to compete with cheap foreign imports.
"Without those New York factories working on a small scale, I never would have been able to start a fashion business with just $5,000," Lepore said, recalling how she would cut dress patterns and carry them to the garment factories herself, where she might order just a five of a finished product. "If those factories weren't there, I would have needed millions of dollars just to start out with, to go right to China and order 500 of everything," she said. "If these factories disappear, there goes the American dream, and there goes the innovation and the startups."
This post has been updated with the most recent figures raised by the event.