We happened to arrive at the event just as Wilde and co-designer Burchfield stepped out of their taxi. Despite being ridiculously beautiful (her green eyes are exquisite), Olivia seemed much more like a cool, normal girl hanging with her bestie than the A-list movie star that she is. Perhaps it’s because she takes her role as activist and philanthropist seriously and happens to be just as comfortable toting her messenger bag around Haiti as walking a red carpet. How many actresses who’ve scored the number one spot on Maxim’s Hot 100 can say that?
Naturally, Olivia and Babs were both carrying the limited edition Message Bag, an army green, canvas bag that doubles as a cross body and a backpack. The bag retails for $138 and is sold on Shopbop.com and in Alternative Apparel stores. A portion of the proceeds benefits the Academy for Peace and Justice, a secondary school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti funded by Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis’s charity, Artists for Peace and Justice.
The event took place at the James Hotel, where Erica Domesek of P.S. I Made This helped members of the media customize their bag with stencils and studs. Before Olivia headed to the DIY table to stencil O.W. onto hers, we had a quick chat with her and Babs to learn more about what their work in Haiti means to them.
Fashionista: Tell us about your collaboration with Alternative Apparel.
Olivia Wilde: Babs and I have worked with [the Academy for Peace and Justice] since 2008 raising money for their various projects through a local organization on the ground. We started to feel that the traditional means of fundraising was getting tiresome. You know, just asking people for money. We thought about mixing passions of ours: philanthropy and fashion. We were dreaming of having a product that would have a purpose and the proceeds of which would go to this school.
How did you decide on creating a bag?
Barbara Burchfield: A bag is something that we constantly use in Haiti on our trips every other month. Olivia had an old vintage army bag that we used all the time and threw everything in from bug spray to stuff for the kids. A bag also represents kids being in school. Kids fill their school bags with all their personal things and what they need. It kind of represents our low-key style.
What would people be surprised to know about Haiti?
OW: It is known for its artists. There is an incredible artist community. It is also one of the most beautiful places on earth. It is a gem of the western hemisphere. We are always encouraging people to discover that for themselves– to visit and swim in the crystal clear oceans, see the beautiful cliffs and waterfalls and not to write off Haiti as a disaster and depressing place.
Would you ever consider designing more in the future?
OW: Yes! I was a total novice. We came to Alternative with the dream to help us recreate this army bag of mine, and they totally modernized it and made it really cool. I’m a big fan of their clothes. They’re so flattering! So, as far as being a designer, I am a total student but I would absolutely love to do it again. I would also love to encourage people to be conscious about the way they are exploring fashion. People shouldn’t feel guilty about buying clothes but should buy with a conscience and keep in mind where their money is going to go.