The idea of charity has evolved over the generations. Gone are the days when writing checks and donating bags of unwanted clothing are the only options available for potential benefactors.

Nowadays, donors can choose specifically where and how their contributions are being used. Donating has even entered the world of retail, where a new initiative of gift-giving has changed the game.

“Gifts that give back” isn’t a new concept. It has actually been around for quite some time. Non-profit organizations like Oxfam Unwrapped and Unicef Market offer purchasable gifts that directly benefit the charity, while leaving the donor with an item to give as a gift. Now, the idea has trickled into other mediums like fashion, where designers are creating exclusive collections that purposefully give back.

This is happening on both a national and local scale. Alex and Ani and Natural Life are among the multitude of brands participating in this fashion-forward way of thinking.

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Designer Profile: Alex and Ani Jewelry

Alex and Ani launched Charity by Design in 2010, in an effort to promote community awareness. The collection of specially designed bracelets benefits a multitude of charities where a portion of the proceeds will go.

All of the brand’s patented expandable bangles are proudly made with carefully sourced materials in hand-selected American factories. The talismans that adorn most of the bracelets are created exclusively by Alex and Ani’s founder and creator Carolyn Rafaelian. She also custom designs the charms for the new collection.

“[The Symbols] may not directly relate to the organization it benefits at first glance, [but] you quickly learn that each piece holds significant meaning and symbolism,” Nicki Maher, vice-president of Charity by Design, said. The butterfly bangle, for example, was inspired by the Butterfly Ball, an event that the Caron and Hanley Treatment Centers hosted the year they partnered with Alex and Ani. Each bangle, subsequently, has an equally meaningful story behind it.

From paw prints to cowboy boots, there is something for everyone. The collection is meant to appeal to wide range of consumers, both aware and unaware of the collection’s purpose.

“We love to hear when a consumer buys a product from our collection, learns for the first time that they just became a supporter, and then becomes inspired to find other ways to support a cause that is important to them.” Maher said.

Presently there are 50 unique bracelets in the Charity by Design collection that’s attached to a different organization. Stand Up To Cancer, American Heart Association, Living Water International and the Alzheimer’s Association are among the list, and the brand’s list of partnerships keep growing. The company expects to add 10 more charities within the next year.

“Charity by Design has grown so much over the last 4 years,” Maher said. “We are really looking forward to some exciting partnerships.”

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Designer Profile: Natural Life Clothing and Accessories

Similar things are happening right here out of Northeast Florida. Established in 1996, out of Jacksonville, Natural Life has evolved into a global brand catering to a unique style. Call it bohemian, or call it eclectic, creator and owner Patti Hughes, prides herself in designing items that inspire and give back.

As part of their mission statement, giving back is a term the brand both preaches and practices. Natural Life is no stranger to charity, having been involved with several community programs including Feeding Children Everywhere and Girl Talk. The brand has even reached out with donations to the First Coast No Homeless Pet organization, proving that helping the community is at the heart of the brand.

Now, as a new initiative to give back to the community, Natural Life created a collection of “Give Back” products — an assortment of t-shirts, skirts and accessories that essentially give back. The mission is to help women around the world reach their full potential by donating a portion of the products’ proceeds to charities like the McKenzie Noelle Wilson Foundation. Among the items in this collection, is a beautiful, white-beaded African bracelet from Liv-N-Grace.

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Other Designer Profiles:

There are many other forward thinking individuals out there designing with a greater purpose. Here are a few:

Eviana Hartman

Fashion designer and founder, Bodkin — New York

Bodkin, launched in 2008, is committed to promoting sustainability through its line of women’s fashion. Unlikely, and often discarded materials, like fabric remnants from mainstream fashion houses, is what Hartman is on the lookout to use in her bold designs. Past collections have been inspired by ethnic fashion like 80’s Japanese streetwear and traditional Malawian attire.

Ma Ke:

Fashion designer, Exception de Mixmind and Wuyong Zhuhai — China

Ke started Exception de Mixmind, as an answer to the lack of companies producing clothes out of passion and creativity. The brand takes pride in offering minimalist fashion made from 100 percent natural materials. Ke won Best Asian Fashion Designer at 2007’s Elle Style Awards.

Flex Watches

In an effort to feed countless impoverished children in Mexico, Flex Watches has devised a beneficial trade-off: for every watch sold, a child will be fed. “10 Watches, 10 Charities, 10 Percent,” is mantra the brand promotes. It suggests to the brands 10 original colors that represent a different charity where 10 percent of the proceeds go to.

Rebuild Globally

Rebuild Globally transforms old tires into hand-crafted, quality sandals. The enterprise, operating out of Haiti, has helped employ countless of individuals who are trying to rebuild their lives after the destructive 2010 earthquake. A purchase of one of these sandals, helps employ and educate a community.