Fashion's New Focus: A Generation Born HIV-Free

The fashion industry has designs on putting an end to mother-to-child HIV transmission through the Born Free project, which kicks into high gear today.

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The Céline bag for Born Free.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

The Versace dress for Born Free.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

Marchesa’s Georgina Chapman said she and Keren Craig didn’t hesitate to get involved in Born Free. “Being mothers, it was something we felt was incredibly important, and something so achievable,” said Chapman, who designed cotton and lace dresses. “More often than not, it’s not the case that you can see an instant result, but here, there is one. It’s something feasible that can happen.”

Donna Karan, who participated via DKNY, added: “Every problem has a solution. In this case, the solution is simple: Act on our awareness. Put out the word. Make it happen. Create a movement of women designers and design a future. Together, we can do this and make a difference.”

The support goes beyond designers. MAC AIDS Fund will match up to $500,000 from sales of Born Free merchandise. Every U.S. Condé Nast magazine is running an ad in its May issue; the company is also donating 100 percent of proceeds from subscriptions made to any U.S. Condé Nast publication via

Wintour said magazines have the power to impact such change. “We are a very powerful company with a huge influence on the world and it’s very important for us to use that influence for good. They [the editors in chief] have all really stepped up in supporting this by running the ads.”’

Vogue’s May issue has a significant story devoted to Africa, AIDS, the battle on the ground against it and Born Free. Penned by Jonathan Van Meter, the accompanying photos by Annie Leibovitz feature Liya Kebede and Victoria Beckham. It was shot in South Africa in late February and features Kebede and Beckham with the various groups involved on the ground, from mentoring to medical professionals and education. Executive fashion editor Phyllis Posnick and Leibovitz aimed to make it less a fashion story and take more of a photo-journalistic approach with clothes layered in.

Beckham called the experience “inspiring, motivating and moving. I met some incredible people doing really wonderful work to help the people and their communities. The whole trip was a huge experience, life-changing actually. I am now looking into other ways I can work with UNAIDS, and charities like Mothers2Mothers and Born Free to become an informed advocate for the eradication of mother-to-infant HIV.”

To heighten visibility and awareness, Megrue had reached out to Trey Laird of Laird + Partners to brand the project and establish an easily identifiable entity — think Pink Ribbon and Breast Cancer Awareness. “Almost as if to create a brand,” Laird explained. “We came back with a presentation for John that came up with a concept. We said, ‘Let’s call it Born Free and brand it as an initiative. Let’s get women in fashion together, and have them come together around Mother’s Day.’

“We can really take it from what was a governmental structure to something that’s much more a brand for consumers, and we could tell a story around it,” Laird added. “The story was already there. It was really just coming up with a way to make it emotional and clear and compelling for people to get involved.”

While Vogue took the lead with designers and the event, Laird and his team spearheaded the marketing campaign, from ads outdoors and in print, digital and social media, featuring models and their children photographed by Patrick Demarchelier, as well as short clips for TaxiTV.

Born Free is the first humanitarian project of this scale for Shopbop.

“When we thought about this opportunity, we thought more about what Amazon Fashion and Shopbop could bring to it,” said Cathy Beaudoin, president of Amazon Fashion. “We have a large and loyal customer base, and we offer free shipping around the world. And offering this collection on our platform was a way for people everywhere to experience Born Free, and for us to contribute to the cause.”

Shopbop ships to 165 countries around the world and has a significant customer base of mostly young working women. It also has a 4.5 million-strong social media following with a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Shopbop will feature a dedicated boutique for the Born Free collection that allows customers to learn about the initiative and its participating designers, as well as shop from the lineup. There is also an editorial feature with Lily Aldridge and Chanel Iman to coincide with today’s launch.

Born Free will be celebrated on May 11 — Mother’s Day — when Vogue, von Furstenberg, Kebede, Megrue, Mutu and Claire Danes host a Mother’s Day Carnival at Hudson River Park’s Pier 45. It will include performances by Idina Menzel and Ariana Grande, and the chance to practice baseball with the New York Yankees, throw footballs with the New York Giants, including Victor Cruz, and shoot hoops with players from the New York Knicks, including Amar’e Stoudemire. Guests can also paint with Mutu; face paint with MAC Cosmetics makeup artists, and create Lego designs with New York-based artist Nathan Sawaya.

As for the goal, Megrue thinks a generation born free of HIV can be accomplished as early as next year, but there is a bigger message, too.

“These global health issues are primarily funded by governments,” Megrue noted. “The private sector has stepped in in a major way, but governments need to lead these global issues. With the money raised, we will be able to invest in Africa, on the ground, and we will very effectively get governments to understand how important this is and how important government funding is. In this environment, every budget line item in every developed country is being pressured, and this is an area that we collectively need to defend.”


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