Why Ashley Biden's Clothing Line Really Nails The Charitable Fashion Concept

Photo: Courtesy of Gilt.
Fashion has become really politicized in recent months, whether regarding how companies address employee's government-related concerns internally or how brands align themselves with (and put money behind) causes they believe in. In the last month, a number of capsule collections, special-edition items, and merch has cropped up in response to events like the Women's March in an effort to commemorate and harness the momentum social movements (or, arguably, capitalize on said movements). There's often the assurance that part of the proceeds from each purchase will go to a particular charity; many of these projects are greeted with a fair dose of skepticism, though there's certainly an interest in seeing one's purchases go towards something bigger and more impactful. As far as fashion-for-good goes, though, leave it to a Biden to show everyone how to get it right.

Ashley Biden, daughter of former Vice President Joe and Second Lady Jill Biden, has dedicated her life to social work. She's the executive director of the Delaware Center for Justice; she has 15 years of experience in social justice under her belt. And, now, she's the founder of a fashion brand.
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Photo: Courtesy of Gilt.
Photo: Courtesy of Gilt.
Livelihood is an ethically-produced, socially-minded collection of hooded sweatshirts, sold exclusively on Gilt. They're all made in the U.S., unisex ,and available in a range of colors. They're priced between $79 and $99, with all the money going towards local charitable projects. The choice of garment wasn't random: Biden started her company with hoodies not only because of its past association with the labor movement and social justice, but also because it's a piece of clothing that's universally accessible. "You see the 60-year-old man who’s a construction worker on the side of the road with a hoodie on, and you see a kid in the schoolyard with a hoodie," she told Refinery29. "I really felt that it was a universal piece of clothing that everybody could get behind."

Of course, given Biden's history with social reform, it's not a line that simply pays lip service to its charitable bent — it's very much the core of its business. First off, 100% of the proceeds are donated directly to two communities identified by Livelihood, where a board comprised of actual residents will decide how the funds are allocated to a series of projects focused on education, workplace development, and job placement. The first towns to benefit from this are two close to Biden's heart: Wilmington, Delaware (where she was born) and Anacostia, District of Columbia (where she got her first job as a social worker). Fellow Wilmington native Aubrey Plaza models the lookbook. We're guessing it's only a matter of time until we see Joe and Jill Biden rocking their own hoodies.
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"The whole premise of Livelihood is giving back to communities in under-resourced neighborhoods for economic development, decided by [them]," Biden told us. She emphasized the importance of putting together a non-traditional board to manage how the proceeds are distributed, because otherwise, boards can be occupied by people "with either influence or money." It's about putting power back in the people's hands, she explained, and it's a mission that even made it into the final design of Livelihood's signature hoodie: There's a reflective strip on the right wrist that when the wearer puts their thumb through a hole on the sleeve and lifts their arm, it catches the light — which Biden identified as a symbol for "the people's power." Also printed on the jackets is the phrase "Keep Your Hood Up," which, to Biden, is both a reminder to stay optimistic and keep moving forward as well as a reference to the Tupac song, which she loved as a child.

Livelihood isn't just about hoodies, Biden underscored; it's about encouraging folks to go out and engage with community. In tandem with its e-commerce launch, the brand is rolling out its own website, on which it'll keep tabs on its local projects and share updates from its communities, as well as offer resources to those looking to get involved in the issues they care about in their own towns. "People get to see what they have invested in," she explained. "Not only do they get their favorite hoodie, but they get to see where their money’s going."

She believed she could so she did. #getinvolvedinyourhood #livelihood #strongwomen @gilt

A photo posted by Livelihood Inc (@livelihood2017) on

According to Biden, a brand like Livelihood is important today because the country needs something to come together around — and solving income inequality is something she believes can do that. "In my 15 years in this field and [in my time at] a non-profit, the Delaware Center For Justice, one of the things I truly believe is a lot of the social ills are caused by poverty," she noted, citing startling statistics like how about 15% of the population lives in poverty and how, despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the U.S. has one of the most startling wealth gaps. "This is something I hope unites people and gives back to the community in meaningful ways," Biden said.

In the last few months, we've rediscovered how our clothing can be a vehicle for our political beliefs — be it through the hidden meaning of our color choices or through much more explicit declarations of where we stand. Livelihood's beliefs are pretty clear; you can find them laid out on its website, in fact. For Biden, the most important thing about using clothing as expression is "being comfortable in your own skin." That way, it helps you feel centered and ready to act — the important thing, though, is making sure you take that next step. "That’s not where it stops — there has to be action," she explained. "That is what, hopefully, [Livelihood] is encouraging people to do."
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