Fashion Industry Rallies Around Darfur

The fashion industry let its hair down Friday night and showed that true beauty is not just skin deep, even in the world of fashion.

Wrapping up a jam-packed week of dozens of high profile shows, some of the top designers and models ended Fashion Week on a high note by attending a charity show that brought attention to the Darfur region of Sudan.

The event, "Designers for Darfur," was born when designer Malcolm Harris and model Lydia Hearst decided to increase awareness of the horrific genocide taking place in the small East African country of Sudan.

The number of people killed in Sudan is staggering and may be a devastating preview of what happened in Rwanda, where more than a half a million people were killed in just 100 days in 1994 as the ethnic groups Hutus and Tutsis sought to exterminate each other.

The killings in Darfur are rapidly approaching Rwanda-like figures. Since 2003, at least 400,000 people have been killed in the Darfur region and more than two million civilians have been forced to flee their homes. The displaced have been subjected to rape, starvation and mass slaughter.

Hoping to prevent another Rwanda, Harris and Hearst spearheaded an event to bring the fashion industry together to bring attention to this cause. They created a free show open to the general public that incorporated the colors of Africa into its clothing designs. The dresses will be available on eBay to purchase in a live auction with the proceeds going directly to Save Darfur Coalition, an alliance of more than 170 faith-based, advocacy and humanitarian organizations.

Harris, outfitted in a shirt reading "Darfur is Real, Don't wait for the movie," said his inspiration for the event came from knowing about the atrocities happening in another part of Africa and his will to make sure it doesn't occur in the Sudan.

"I was particularly moved by Darfur because after being well aware of the situation that happened in Rwanda it was almost like we had a blueprint of something that had already taken place, and this is even more horrific," he said. "I figured we could all get together and brainstorm solutions that could change this and help these people."

In an industry obsessed with beauty, Harris had the trying task of informing those in the fashion industry about an area of the world that many people know little about despite the mass killings and wretched poverty affecting the area.

"Initially it was a bit trying, only because there were still a great number of designers who have never even heard of Darfur. You become a bit disappointed in your tribe, so to speak," Harris said.

Any disappointment he initially felt was overcome early on by the tremendous outpouring of support that the fashion industry provided.

From Steve Madden to Aveda, dozens of designers and sponsors kicked in to help finance the event and raise money for Darfur.

"Supporting Malcolm is a big thing," Madden said. "He is making people aware about this area of the world."

Madden graciously opened his heart and his wallet, covering some of the most significant expenses for the event.

The eco-friendly and socially-conscious hair products company Aveda also gave generously; they donated 15 hair stylists and many of their products for the show.

The people truly making the event possible were the many designers who generously donated their designs and products to the show and the eBay auction that will follow.

South African born designer Mark Bouwer said he holds the cause especially close to his heart because he is from Africa.

"As a designer you're given a voice. It's very important to use that voice to talk to people about issues that are important," he said.

Indian designer Anand Jon, who was joined at the show by "Lost" actress Michelle Rodriguez, explained, "Everything is becoming very global. Using fashion as a sphere of influence is great. All of us are so supportive of this event."

Model Carol Alt agreed.

"This has become the event of the week," Alt said. "The genocide taking place in Darfur is on a holocaust level scale and I'm here tonight to call attention to the issue."

David Rubenstein, president of Save Darfur Coalition, said he was overwhelmed by the event and its turnout, which greatly exceeded his expectations.

"Tonight is about much more than just hair and clothing. The design industry is taking a huge leap forward," Rubenstein said. "Malcolm Harris had a fabulous idea and used his heart and soul to make it happen."