Milwaukee Edition

Donna Karan on Fashioning Healthful Change

As a style icon, humanitarian and pioneer of conscious consumerism, Donna Karan has elevated fashion to a platform for change throughout her career, using her celebrity status to raise funds for AIDS research in the 1990s and more recently venturing into alternative health care.

Karan’s first collection under her signature label DKNY, which debuted in 1985, aimed to dress women in comfortable, professional clothes that embraced and flattered the female form. The brand was built on women’s strengths, rather than insecurities; her iconic 1992 “In Women We Trust” ad campaign depicted the inauguration of a female president.

Her latest multidimensional Urban Zen project (UZIT) supports cultural preservation, compassionate health care and education. The affiliated brand integrates luxury and sustainability with multicultural traditions and modern trends in a multifaceted line of clothing, accessories and beauty care products.

UZIT fuses Eastern healing techniques and Western medicine in a patient-centric model intended to foster calm in the midst of the stress and chaos of illness. The complementary therapies program was born out of Karan’s challenging period serving as a caregiver during her late husband’s struggle with lung cancer.

Karan is a member of the Coty Hall of Fame and recipient of the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award and Glamour’s Woman of the Year award.

How has your fashion style and philosophy changed over the course of your career?

For me, fashion has always been about “dressing and addressing.” It all started when the AIDS epidemic broke out in the late 1980s, and the fashion community came together to launch Seventh on Sale to raise funds and awareness for the disease that was taking the lives of so many talented designers. Now more than ever, we must address such issues.

My philosophy and purpose has always been inspired by cultures, creators and artisans from all corners of the world, connecting past, present and future. I launched the nonprofit organization Urban Zen to create a community of change through philanthropy and commerce. I want consumers to be aware that their purchases provide the power to help others in need.

How is the UZIT program enhancing health and well-being?

UZIT came about after witnessing the ones I loved suffer and going through their experiences by their sides. Launched in partnership with yoga instructor Rodney Yee, the program has trained members of collaborating healthcare and yoga communities in the healing modalities of yoga therapy, reiki, essential oil therapy, nutrition and contemplative care.

The goal is to change the healthcare system by bringing care back into health care. Rather than just treat the disease, we need to treat patients, their loved ones and their caregivers. We also must express care for the doctors and nurses that are part of the story; they need gentle care every bit as much. We are all on this journey together.

Therapists at centers such as the University of California, Los Angeles, rehabilitation unit have seen results with patients suffering from stress, claustrophobia, headaches and back pain through these techniques. Many patients report feeling more relaxed, sleeping better and experiencing less pain and anxiety than they had ever experienced with medication.

Do you see some positive trends in fashion today?

More people are paying attention to sustainability in fashion today than ever before, and more designers are using materials and fabrics that respect people and the planet; for example, by using quality materials that endure. Recycling fabrics and materials is one way to contribute to sustainability. We work with the Apparent Project, which recycles cereal boxes to make beautiful necklaces, as well as with Paula Coles, who makes bags out of T-shirts.

Can fashion effect social change in the world?

I view fashion, design and style all as platforms for conscious change. I use fashion to raise awareness and inspire change in the areas of well-being, conscious consumerism and integrative education.

Today, there is a greater emphasis on preserving our world cultures and maintaining the authenticity that comes from traditional artisans and artists. A collaborative mentality of “we” is far healthier than one of “me”.


Connect with April Thompson, in Washington, D.C., at AprilWrites.com.


This article appears in the October 2018 issue of Natural Awakenings.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Letter from Publisher

Adopting some of the ways of our grandparents and great-grandparents, such as reusing items and conserving resources, can contribute toward habits that are better not only for the planet, but also for our health.

Wellness Body, Mind & Spirit Expo Brings all Modalities Under One Roof

The North Shore Wellness Body, Mind & Spirit Expo unites people from all over the region, making new connections with alternative health practitioners easy, stress-free and fun.

Why You Aren’t Who You Think You Are

Each of us perceives reality through the filter of a personal self, an “I” that is unique in the world, thanks to the unique experiences we’ve had since birth.

Vendor Opportunities Available for VegOut Health Fest

Radio Station FM 102.1 will present the second annual VegOut Health Fest from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., May 11, at the Miller High Life Theater Rotunda, in downtown Milwaukee.

Deepak Chopra to Appear at the Pabst Theater

Join New York Times bestselling author Deepak Chopra as he addresses topics like how to control one’s own reality and manifest dreams at the highest level, all while providing practical ways to experience transformation and healing.

Celebrate Earth Day with Rock the Green and Milwaukee Riverkeeper

From 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, April 27, Milwaukee Riverkeeper will proudly host their 24th annual Spring River Cleanup with nearly 4,000 volunteers joining together across the Milwaukee River Basin to get outdoors, pick up trash and help to achieve swimmable, fishable rivers.

Local Author Captures Wisconsin’s Artisan Cheesemaking Legacy

Kristine Hansen traveled extensively throughout the state interviewing cheesemakers and learning about how they continue traditions going back several generations.

One Day Is Not Enough—Celebrate Milwaukee Earth Month

Throughout the month of April, the Urban Ecology Center will promote sustainability initiatives through Milwaukee Earth Month.

National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin Receives Grant

National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin, a nonprofit serving blind and low-vision people across the state, has received a grant from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation to create opportunities for individuals to participate in the National Fitness Challenge.

Bringing Up Kitty

Adorable as new kittens are, they need the right conditions, from bedding to food to scratching surfaces—and a proper introduction to their new home—to thrive.

Loving Nature

In a time in which digital devices often rule, kids will happily head outdoors for adventures involving gardens, bugs and birds that spark their interest and creativity.

Potluck for the 21st Century

Using phone apps as well as workplace and neighborhood contacts, friends and strangers are coming together to share healthy, home-cooked meals.

Add your comment: