Fashion, Food and Philanthropy

Fashion with a Purpose 

By Lisa Marie Butler | Photography provided by Syracuse Fashion Week 

Whether you’re reading this magazine over morning coffee, on a work break or on a treadmill at the gym, please remember one thing: there is a human being less than one mile from you who doesn’t know where his or her next meal is coming from.

It’s a sad truth we often forget as we pursue our busy lives. Even sadder is the fact that these people are the most vulnerable in our community. They are elderly, ill, poor, young or simply working folks who have trouble making ends meet. I find this to be unacceptable. A few years ago, I decided to do something in my small way to affect change in my community.

My “a-ha” moment was in December 2013. After presenting individual fashion shows for quite a few years, including Syracuse Style, Syracuse Snarl and others, I was Fashion, Food and Philanthropy By Lisa Marie Butler ready to take the plunge for an entire week of fashion events. I had just begun preliminary plans for the inaugural season of Syracuse Fashion Week.

Between gathering a committee, researching designers and boutiques, looking for sponsors and searching for venues, I heard about an interesting documentary film entitled, “A Place at the Table.” What caught my attention was the fact that it was executive produced by Tom Colicchio, celebrity restaurateur and judge of one of my favorite TV reality shows, “Top Chef.” I didn’t know exactly what the plot or premise was, but thought I’d give it a chance. The film changed my life.

Please see it. You’ll learn about hunger and food insecurity in America. You’ll meet children who go to school hungry, and then wonder why they can’t focus and learn. You’ll see elderly people who worked all their life, and now have to make a choice between food and medicine. You’ll see how one unlucky life event, like losing a job or getting sick, has a dire ripple effect on families. You’ll see inner-city residents who live in a food desert. As it did for me, the film will open your eyes.

Among the plans for Syracuse Fashion Week, I wanted to raise funds for a local organization. In past events, I’d partnered with a couple of local charities to raise a few hundred dollars for them. But after seeing the film, I realized that going forward, my goal was to help feed hungry people. Humans have a few essential needs; shelter, clothing and food are the most basic of them. Somehow, in my mind, food and fashion simply clicked.

My next move was to implement my goal. I looked around the websites of quite a few charities and discovered the Food Bank of Central New York. I contacted Lynn Hy, the director of philanthropic giving, and explained my plan. After a meeting and tour of the facility, my plans crystalized. Syracuse Fashion Week would raise funds and awareness for the Food Bank. And, as they say, the rest is history.

It’s with enormous pride on behalf of me, my team, our sponsors and audiences that we can say in the four years of Syracuse Fashion Week events, we’ve fed thousands upon thousands of Central New Yorkers.

The word “philanthropy” has its roots in ancient Greek, and means love of mankind. I was raised by a wonderful Greek woman. Like many old-school mothers, life revolved around three meals a day, family dinners and holidays that involved cooking for a week. She believed food was more than mere survival. It was love.

I believe fashion is more than just clothes. It’s art and culture. And I believe Syracuse Fashion Week is more than entertainment. It’s community — art, culture, community and love. Without adequate food, none of these higher aspirations of civilization are possible.

So, please take a minute and think about the hungry person a mile away from you. And, if possible, help them out. SWM

Lisa Marie Butler is the executive director of Syracuse Fashion Week. For more information, visit

One Thought to “Fashion, Food and Philanthropy”

  1. Yes, I also believe fashion is more than just clothes. It represents a culture and a nation. Fashion and style show 2 different things to show stylish it depends on a person. Thank for your great post and I am interested to read your magazine.

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