September 23, 2019

Runway leads to social entrepreneurship

The idea for Fashion With Compassion, a student-run fashion show where models don’t just show off stylish clothes but also offer help for Israel, came to Celine Yousefzadeh after she attended a charity fashion show at another school. She thought: Why not bring it to Milken?

“I did not know how I was going to do it, what I was going to do, who was going to be involved, but I knew it had to be done,” said Yousefzadeh, who turns 18 later this month. “After that, no one could really stop me.”

She teamed up with her classmate, Lexie Sokolow, who shared her vision of a charity fashion show. But some administrators and rabbis triedto stop the event’s co-founders. Penciling an untried event into the high school’s already jam-packed calendar was the first obstacle. Once they did, some rabbis told them that students should be models of Jewish values — not of designer clothes.

“ ‘You’re essentially having a person act as a hanger,’ ” Yousefzadeh recalls them saying. “ ‘It’s devaluing them.’ When we got these comments, we constantly said it was different. Our purpose is for Israel. Our purpose is a different way to raise awareness and funds for Israel.”

In fact, she was driven by a dedication to Israel and community empowerment instilled within her by educators at Milken Community High School and Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School.

Making the event happen became a crash course in social entrepreneurship, providing real-life lessons in management, communications, marketing and teamwork.

Their first show was a hit, with 200 rallying around the runway, raising $5,000 for the town of Sderot, hard hit by rockets from Gaza. The second show drew 300 people and raised $6,000 for Atidim, a program for advancing the underprivileged in Israel. By the time she became a senior, Yousefzadeh and Sokolow had the third annual show running like clockwork, with more than 100 students participating as planners, stylists and models, and high-profile companies participating as sponsors, including American Apparel, GENLUX Magazine, OPI, Scoop NYC, Teen Vogue and Westfield. Held on a Mitzvah Day last November, the show drew 600 people and raised $10,000 for Save a Child’s Heart.

“We were literally engaging everyone in our community and outside of it,” Yousefzadeh said,  “That experience itself allowed me to become the person that I am.”

Fashion With Compassion is now a Milken annual tradition. When Yousefzadeh enters Bentley University in Massachusetts to study business, she plans to run a Fashion With Compassion franchise for Jewish schools all over.

“If I can help others live their lives to the fullest and really take advantage of what they have to offer the world, I would love to do that.”