While working as a stylist for Ford Models a decade ago, Rachael Russell Saiger often found herself surrounded by clothing samples and excess back stock destined for storage bins or landfills. Surely, she figured, there were people in the community who could benefit from these garments. Despite having no experience running a charity, Russell Saiger founded the nonprofit Style Saves in 2011 at just at 23 years old.
“I was seeing how samples were being thrown to the side or thrown out,” says Russell Saiger, now fashion director of the Miami-based jewelry brand Miansai. “The thought was that we could recycle them and give them to students in need or kids who didn’t have access to those things.”
But Russell Saiger would soon find that her knowledge of and connections in the fashion world would be just one part of operating Style Saves. To run a successful charity, she had to learn logistics like fundraising, marketing, public relations, hospitality, and event organizing. “Back then, I didn’t fully have an understanding of what was involved. I kind of just went for it. Giving back to the community means being an event producer, being good at marketing and fundraising—there [are] a lot of other components.”
Russell Saiger started small and called upon her many industry contacts. Her mission grew to outfitting disadvantaged youth with clothing, school supplies, and other necessities. After launching a fashion show fundraiser at Soho Beach House during Miami Swim Week 2011, Style Saves provided 50 children with back-to-school uniforms and other supplies. Over time—and with the help of Isabela Rangel Grutman (a model, style influencer, and wife of Miami hospitality mogul David Grutman)—Style Saves has expanded exponentially. Now in its thirteenth year, the organization receives more than $1 million in annual support.
Every $50 donation sponsors a student with everything he or she needs to start the school year, including clothing, sneakers, a backpack, and a 22-piece supply kit. Style Saves is now outfitting 15,000 South Florida students from kindergarten to twelfth grade each year at its annual back-to-school weekend at Wynwood’s Mana Convention Center. Kids can shop Style Save’s uniforms, accessories, and supplies as they would in a department store—but their parents don’t have to fork over hundreds of dollars at the cashier.
To meet demand, Russell Saiger and Rangel Grutman began manufacturing their own private label of Style Saves–branded school supplies, backpacks, uniforms, and sneakers two years ago. “When we were working with different donations and local wholesalers, there wasn’t consistency with the sizing and measurement systems,” Russell Saiger says. “Now that we’re manufacturing and producing everything ourselves, we’ve been able to drive the organization in a direction where we [can] expand and invite more kids.”
The nonprofit’s work doesn’t end with the start of the fall semester. It benefits students for prom and during the holidays, and has expanded to offer food assistance, maternity needs, and initiatives in Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, and Honduras, too. From designer sample sales to large-capacity dinners, there are fundraising events year-round as Style Saves prepares to expand to new cities and launch a mentorship program to teach students about interviewing, résumé building, and other fundamental life skills.