Fashion Heals – and Funds for Sick Kids

by Jessica Barr

Is fashion unequivocally an industry of narcissism, superficiality and a “me-first” attitude, believing in vanity above all else? The industry, chock-full of deviance, has found itself defying the very merits that most belief fashion runs on. Fashion Heals for Sick Kids, founded by Elke Rubach in 2015, has as one of its missions, turning fashion into a vehicle of healing by funding research that will support pediatric health research with ultimate global impact.

With a goal of raising $1 million by 2023, Fashion Heals has spent the last five years successfully raising over $450 thousand through an annual volunteer-run fashion show, in which the patients, parents and doctors walk the runway. The fundraiser, held in Toronto, is put on solely through donations and sponsorships by companies spanning across the banking, fashion, entertainment, construction and housing sectors.

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“I’m lost for words to express my gratitude towards you for the opportunity you gave Leah. When I was watching Leah walk down the catwalk, it was surreal. When she was in ICU at SickKids all those years ago, how could I have imagined this moment. This event was monumental for us! Just thinking about last night brings tears to my eyes again. I had a really good cry in the shower last night when we got home. Thank you once again for giving us a memory we’ll treasure for life.” – Grace, Mom to #FHModel Leah . . Credit: @maggiedevereuxphoto #fashionheals4sickkids #ourwhy #sickkidsvs #giveback #strongertogether #community

A post shared by Fashion Heals for SickKids (@fashionheals4sickkids) on Oct 3, 2019 at 3:14pm PDT

Founder Elke Rubach compares the show to a greek wedding where “everybody brings something to the table.” 

In their first year, the Fashion Heals runway show raised $12,000, moving onto $40,000 their second year. By the third year, that number more than double at $90,000, growing to $125,000 their fourth year, and finally on October 2nd of this year at their fifth show bringing in $200,000. The company reports only net fundraising, so total reported is the total amount put towards medical research.

In the past, funds raised from each event have seen direct allocation to funding research. This research includes virtual reality as an alternative for pain management. With the use of virtual goggles, sick kids are able to watch movies while their chemotherapy is being prepped, or carried out. For younger patients, technology allows patients to interact with a virtual robot who talks them through what is going to happen in their surgery, easing anxiety and stresses through the fascination of the robot.

Most recently, fundraising money went to Dr. Cynthia Hawkins to fund her research focused on pediatric brain tumors. Through her research, Dr. Hawkins has found a way to match treatments with specific genetic mutations, believing “these funds are literally changing the way we care for patients.”

This kind of knowledge allows for children with less aggressive brain tumors to be treated with oral medicines, avoiding the side effects of traditional and more intensive chemotherapy. Patients unable to do the testing in person have the ability to send their samples to Sick Kids where the necessary equipment can be used to better assess their situation. 

Fashion Heals offers sponsorship options that include benefits like recognition as an official sponsor which includes promotions at the event and on the Fashion Heals website, inclusion in a looped video played behind the runway and a feature in any social media campaigns, ads and press releases done by Fashion Heals.

Through the preparations and actual hosting of the event, the curators build relationships with the doctors, patients and their families. Stephanie Clayton, a hospital patient from the moment she was born, has grown especially close to Rubach and is an ambassador for Sick Kids.

“The story probably closest to me is Stephanie’s,” says Rubach, who she met two years ago and invited to Fashion Heals’ third show. She loved the show so much there were plans for her to model in the fourth, but health complications got in the way, inhibiting her from walking. 

Stephanie is a chronic pain patient who, “was born with too many complications to list,” says Rubach. Although there are days she goes through so much pain, she knows that the Fashion Heals family and model squad support and cheer her on, letting her know she is an inspiration to them all and to keep on fighting. This year, Stephanie was able to make it to the show where she and her sister relished in the empowerment that the event and patients are able to envelop the room in.

Dr. Jim Whitlock, the Chief at Garron Family Cancer Centre sums up the company’s funding as making “an impact in the lives of children who suffer from cancer, not only in Toronto and across Canada, but around the world.” 

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