Social entrepreneur turns a fashion show into a force for good

fashionforgood

Traditional fashion shows have one mission: To showcase a designer’s latest creations. But Matt Swinney’s Fashion for Good events, which takes place in Austin November 22 and 23,  aim for more than that. As a social impact business, Fashion for Good generates revenue, but the impact it has on society and the people who participate is just as important. It’s a business structure that has evolved as Swinney himself has evolved. 

A native Austinie, Swinney has taken a nontraditional approach in each business he’s started. Fashion for Good, which launched as Austin Fashion Week in 2009, was somewhat of an experiment. “I didn’t look at the industry and think, ‘This is how everybody’s doing it, so let’s just do that,'” said Swinney. “I just saw a business opportunity.” As the success of his early fashion events grew his reputation in the community, Swinney began to be invited to serve on nonprofit boards such as I Live Here I Give Here and Ballet Austin, both of which he credits with introducing him to the nonprofit sector. 

“I got more deeply connected to the nonprofit community,” he said. “I wanted to give back to my community in as many ways as I could, but I also saw that this was good for business.” 

At the same time, Swinney says he recognized how powerful the fashion show platform could be for aspiring Austin designers. “We like to talk about shopping small,” he said, likening the mentality to the “farm-to-table” movement in the food industry. Fashion for Good promotes local designers in the hopes that consumers become more aware of where their clothing comes from, support the local economy, and invest more in clothing that lasts longer. “When you invest in a local designer it’s like you’re putting food on the table, theoretically, for a local artist.” And that artist is probably using sustainable practices, he said, because, “They’re wasting a lot less because they’re using every scrap of fabric they can.” 

This past spring, Swinney brought that approach to the runway, with nontraditional models from Arc of the Capital Area stealing the show. At a fundraising event in 2018, attendees were invited to donate $1,000 to support Arc clients’ participation in the show. The Arc serves adults with intellectual disabilities. They offered a similar opportunity to attendees at Ballet Austin’s annual gala, with an auction package that included support for its Pink Pilates program for breast cancer survivors that would have dancers walk the stage. “We wanted to do a show that had models of all different shapes and sizes,” said Swinney. “I have photos of Matt MacConaughey screaming in his seat at just how amazing those models were. That was my a-ha moment.” 

Another show during Fashion for Good will raise money for Hounds for Heroes, which provides emotional support dogs for military veterans. Within the structure of his business, Swinney says, there are lots of opportunities to make a positive impact. “It may never make me rich,” he said, “But I get to wake up every morning and do something that I feel is impactful. And that’s enough for me.” 

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