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Fashion Project wants to make donated couture work harder for charity

Posted by Scott Kirsner  July 5, 2012 10:00 AM

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When second-hand jeans made by the Gap and Roberto Cavalli wind up next to each other on a thrift store rack, it's a good bet that the Cavalli's — which can retail for north of $1000 — may not fetch their optimal price. That's the simple premise behind Fashion Project, a new Boston-based site that collects and then sells donated high-end apparel and accessories from brands like Nanette Lepore, Armani, and Yves Saint Laurent. The sales help support charities like Dress for Success and the March of Dimes, and the donations are tax deductible.

"Not every charity runs its own thrift stores, and the ones that do can get more value for an item by selling it through us," says Christine Rizk, Fashion Project's co-founder and chief operating officer. (She's on the right, with CEO Anna Palmer on the left.) "We tell people that we want stuff that would re-sell for $40 or more, and on the web site, we list some sample brands. About 80 percent of the stuff we get is sellable."

Non-profits can sign up on the site to have their supporters send in merchandise. And individuals can request a postage-paid donation bag to be sent to their house, fill it with items, and designate a charity that will benefit from their sale. (Donors get a tax receipt directly from the charity.) Both non-profits and individuals can see a tally of how much they've raised on Fashion Project. "Your closet can make a huge impact," Palmer says.

The site has collected about $17,000 in inventory already, though today it only features women's apparel and accessories. Palmer says they'll add men's merch eventually. Fashion Project takes 40 percent of the sale price, and passes along 60 percent to the charity.

Rizk and Palmer met while earning their law degrees at Harvard; they both graduated in 2011. Working alongside them as Fashion Project's chief marketing officer is fashion and social media maven Michelle McCormack, who organizes the annual Fashion's Night Out event. The company has five employees, and offices in the Leather District. Fashion Project has raised $200,000 so far from individual angels, and the founders hope to raise another $200,000 to $250,000 later this year. They're planning a promotion this summer that would encourage Bostonians to donate to the site in exchange for getting a discount on new merchandise at numerous Newbury Street retailers.

(In the photo, Palmer is wearing a jacket from Emporio Armani and holding a Kate Spade clutch; Rizk is wearing a dress by Diane von Furstenberg.)

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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