Written by Vicky Victoria
The Giving Closet is a daydream transformed into reality. After 12 productive years on the Hollywood landscape, celebrity wardrobe stylist Sam Russell gave birth to an idea—an idea that blossomed into a passion project that personalities in show business could not easily ignore. “Hollywood was very, very good to my work and even better to some of my clients; prosperity was flowing,” claims Russell. “I had a light bulb moment while driving down the canyon after a fitting. A client at the time was constantly hounding me for free stuff. I realized then that I’d rather spend my precious time re-routing a portion of what we throw at celebs to real people in need. Once that thought washed over me, it changed the course of my life.” On September 1, 2011, Russell debuted the Giving Closet on NBC San Diego. The idea was to surprise a randomly selected woman who overcame great obstacles with a wardrobe upgrade valued at over $10,000. Russell shares, “Our society adores the rich and looks down at the poor. But if she had a new handbag and wore the same shoes as you, would you know the difference?” “The Giving Closet takes a village. If we all did just one thing within our means to help just one stranger, this would be deeply re-thread and re-connect the human spirit.” –Sam Russell
With the help of non-profits and social workers, 2 1/2 years later Russell has traveled from Knoxville to Long Island to Detroit to find unique stories of persevering women. He has accomplished exactly that. The Giving Closet celebrated its 9th give-away in Detroit in March 2014. Russell did a Google search and found Alison Vaughn at Jackets for Jobs. At the time, he was prepping size 16 clothes. Russell made a request to Alison, “If she is a size 16 and has good energy, I want to hear her story.” Alison noted a woman who entered her non-profit and fit the bill.
“It was extremely easy to select Angela,” says Russell. “She has been out of work for over a year and recently moved in her sick mother to care for her. With four kids ranging from ages 8 to 17—all of whom are on the honor roll—I felt that Angela should be celebrated. So many people are counting on her despite the harsh economic challenges of living in Detroit. By keeping her kids off the street and in study groups, she has not failed them.” In 2012, the 5th Giving Closet recipient, two-time cancer survivor Christine Pechera, was surprised by a new wardrobe and paid internship with noted Hollywood producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.
The goal of the Giving Closet is to prove that fashion does have a heart. In that, Russell has succeeded. He is quick to note that his goodwill mission would not be possible without the generous support of many designers. Adrianna Papell, Sienna Rose, Sole Society Shoes and Meridian 110 Handbags are just a few who share Russell’s vision. Recipients are given the star treatment, with each and every outfit chosen specifically for them.
To underscore his core mission, Russell says, “These women will not benefit from designer gowns. Everything the Giving Closet provides is much more practical and accentuates their lives from weekday to weekend. All recipients of this goodwill mission are headed to brighter futures that will be manifested by their own hands. I just gave them new shoes to get them there faster.”
If you’re looking for that next rung up on the ladder, Sam Russell is looking for you.