Donna Karan on the Cause That Inspired Her to Leave Her Brand Behind

Courtesy Donna Karan

The designer and philanthropist opens up about her charity organization, Urban Zen, and the importance of giving back.

As my career as a designer developed, and as I came to know more and more people with real, life-threatening issues, I began to think deeply about how to communicate to the consumer. The big picture is about more than design. I wanted to raise awareness around three issues that were close to my heart: preservation of culture, healthcare, and education. I call them “past, present, and future.” There are initiatives underway through my foundation, Urban Zen.

I’ve been practicing yoga since I was 18 years old, and I wanted to bring its spirit to healthcare. Through the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program, we provide training, yoga, meditation, palliative care, and support, not just for patients but for loved ones, doctors, and nurses as well.

Then came education: We collaborate with children’s organizations to create yoga, art, nutrition, and meditation programs, since kids’ well-being is fundamental to learning. As for the preservation of culture, this focus was initially brought to light when I visited Haiti after the earthquake. I was blown away by the creativity—everyone is an artist. We want to help cultures maintain their natural identities and to foster creativity within these communities.

I have a lot of work to do. That’s why I had to leave my brand, Donna Karan. Urban Zen is my passion, and it’s a promise to my late husband. I don’t believe in giving money. I believe in giving help.

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