Lauren Bush Lauren is far more than just a pretty face.
The eco-conscious designer and entrepreneur, 28, started off as a fashion model for big brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Abercrombie & Fitch, but left the camera lens in 2005 to launch FEED, which sells stylish organic cotton bags with proceeds benefiting education for hungry children in third world countries. As the daughter of businessman and philanthropist Neil Bush (and granddaughter of former president George H.W. Bush), the Princeton graduate has an impressive public service pedigree, but even she had reservations about branching out on her own to take on the daunting task of, well, ending world hunger.
“It’s really just taking that first step,” Lauren told TODAY.com at the Lucky FABB conference on Wednesday. “It can often be overwhelming because these issues are so big. That’s what inspired me to start FEED — I thought ‘gosh, world hunger is so massive’ yet when this bag is sold, we can feed one child in school for a full year.”
FEED sponsors children’s education and nutrition programs, ensuring kids in need are both educated and well fed — an incentive for them to stay in school. Currently, the charity’s products ($10-$220) — made with either environmentally-friendly or artisan-made materials — have provided over 60 million meals globally through the UN World Food Programme. It’s an accomplishment due in part to the brand’s determination to inform consumers of how they’re purchasing power can help save lives.
“Consumers know exactly where their money is going,” says Lauren.
Of course, Lauren’s background in fashion and beauty certainly lends something to the buzzed-about accessories. FEED has partnered with premiere brands such as Judith Lieber, Bergdorf Goodman, Clarins and even The GAP and Disney. Most recently, FEED launched a Fall 2012 capsule collection that includes, among other items, a chic black diaper bag — complete with a changing pad — designed in collaboration with DKNY. Featuring washed canvas and nylon, proceeds of the latest parenting tote pay for one year’s worth of vitamin-and mineral-rich micro-nutrient powder for moms in poor regions.
“It’s our first diaper bag — something our customers asked for,” Lauren said, adding that she’s seeing more and more brands offer functional, eco-friendly products that give back. “Obviously we’re producing products and participating in commerce, but it is commerce with a purpose.”
A few of Lauren’s favorite do-good companies include TOMS (she counts founder Blake Mycoskie as a “good friend”), which sells canvas shoes and simultaneously gives a pair of new shoes to a child in need; Falling Whistles, selling whistes in support of child soldiers in the Congo; and Krochet Kids, employing women in Africa and Latin America to handknit cute and colorful caps. “It’s such a growing field compared to when we started (in 2005),” Lauren said.
Lauren, who married into fashion royalty (she wed David Lauren, the son of fashion designer Ralph Lauren last year, an event covered by nearly every style outlet) is kept grounded and humbled by her rigorous travel schedule, which takes the New Yorker all over the world to scout and manage her organization’s projects.
One experience especially stands out: In 2009, she visited a remote village in Rwanda, where a group of uniform-clad children gathered around her. There was one “precocious girl” who kept trailing after Lauren, who stopped to ask her young fan what she wanted to be when she grows up.
“I was thinking the answer would be a teacher or seamstress or a hairdresser or some other figure present in her life,” Lauren recounts. “But she said 'I want to be the president of Rwanda.' That meant a lot to me. The fact that this little girl was getting an education, primarily because of this free meal, and because of that has very big ambitions for her life, was really touching.”
While not all of us will accomplish what Lauren has managed in the last few years, the activist hopes her work can inspire everyone — no matter their occupation or location — to get involved.
“It can be something as simple as making it a point to volunteer at your local soup kitchen or food panty, or whatever company you're at — trying to get them to be more involved in giving back in some way, whether its on a local or global scale,” she said, adding “there’s so much to be done.”
© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints