Sophie Ackert, dressed in an outfit donated by Pac Sun, thanks supporters of her fashion show to benefit the town of Wilmington, Vt., still recovering from the August 2011 Tropical Storm Irene. —Katie Kent photos
Twelve-year-old Newtown resident Sophie Ackert put together her love of fashion and the love of her vacation hometown and came up with a highly successful fundraiser, held Sunday, September 9, at the Fraser Woods Montessori School on South Main Street.The fashion show was Sophie’s community project as she prepares for her Bat Mitzvah in October at B’Nai Israel Synagogue in Southbury, and the more than $3,000 dollars raised at the event — three times her goal — as well as four large boxes of clothing, will all benefit the community of Wilmington, Vt., where her parents, Eve and Dave Ackert, own a vacation home.
A year after Tropical Storm Irene swept through New England, Wilmington continues to recover from the devastating floods that knocked businesses and homes there off of foundations and battered other buildings. The loss of 40 businesses has contributed to the loss of jobs for nearly 200 residents of that town, said Eve Ackert.
Maya Neuhoff walks the runway at Fraser Woods School in an outfit assembled from Pac Sun donations.
The late August 2011 storm left Wilmington with contaminated soil, water, and air for many weeks, Ms Ackert said, and prevented the family from returning there until late December. Fortunately, their vacation home is situated on a hill and sustained no damage. But the ruins of the town that they have loved for the seven years they have been visiting were heartbreaking, she said.”I love Vermont,” Sophie said. “My memories of being there are so awesome. It’s so open, and my house there is really different from ours here,” she said. To see the ravaged town and favorite shops in such disrepair, and to see residents still waiting for help in repairing homes and businesses was hard, said Sophie. “They weren’t wealthy people to begin with,” she said.
The family wanted to help and discovered the Wilmington Fund, which is assisting in the rebuilding of businesses there. “Vermont needs the tourism, and counts on these small businesses,” Ms Ackert said, “and the Wilmington Fund is helping them to get loans and grants.”
The desire to aid Wilmington coincided with Sophie’s charge to come up with a Mitzvah project. She had had in mind hosting a fashion show to support charity ever since she started thinking about the project.
Sophie Ackert, far right, gathers with friends, from left, Michaela Stowell, Julia DiMartino, and Samantha Stanton to select outfits to model at the fashion benefit show she hosted Sunday, September 9, as her Bat Mitzvah project.
“I want to go into the fashion business,” Sophie said. “I’ve been sketching dresses for years and love it, and then I started sewing some of my own things at the South Norwalk Fashion School summer camps the past two summers,” she said.”She has always been a clotheshorse,” agreed her mother, who said that initially she did not support Sophie’s plan, believing it to be too complicated to undertake. But Sophie persisted and got her parents on board. Even so, said Ms Ackert, she did not anticipate that the project would get as large as it did.
Between 65 and 75 people attended the September 9 show to view and purchase clothing donated by dozens of top brand retailers.
“My dad helped me a lot to get going,” Sophie said. “He got a list of e-mails for top executives in merchandising from a list I made for him of brands I like, and I sent out lots of e-mails to different people at each company,” she said. She was thrilled to receive responses from nearly 90 percent of the companies she approached, and thinks that at least one-third of the companies were able to assist her with donations of clothing.
“I asked for sizes for 11- to 14-year-olds, because I knew that I and my friends would be modeling,” Sophie said. Bass and Tommy Hilfiger also sent men’s clothing, after ascertaining with Sophie that those items would work for her show. “I figured my dad and maybe some of his friends could model those, so it worked out,” she said.
It was the beginning of August when Sophie began soliciting donations. By mid-August the merchandise started arriving at the Ackert home, and by the time September arrived, a 200-square-foot space in their attic was packed with clothing for the fashion show and sale, as well as silent auction and drawing items, jewelry, and gift cards. It was not just national merchandisers supporting Sophie’s efforts, though.
“Almost every area business was willing to help out, with money or food or with things for the auction,” Sophie said. The buffet brunch served Sunday was also thanks to food and beverage donations from area businesses, such as Panera Bread, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Whole Foods, Ms Ackert said.
Entry to the fashion show and brunch was $15. Any clothing that Sophie and her friends had not selected to model for the fashion show were set up on tables for purchase. “One table had things for $10, and another one had clothes for $20,” Sophie said, bargain prices for the top-end merchandise. The silent auction items, such as a basket of Willa Skincare products ($150 value), a Hurley backpack filled with Hurley brand clothing ($300), a Michael Kors bag ($300), and select outfits ($75–$250) created great interest.
A slide show of information and photographs of the Tropical Storm Irene devastation provided by Craig Brandon, author of Goodnight Irene, as well as photographs of the Wilmington damage by Dave Ackert, was shown as guests enjoyed the breakfast buffet and settled in for the show. Thanks to the efforts of Fraser Woods custodians, a fashion runway was assembled in the school’s common room, allowing the models to properly show off the trendy outfits they had created.
Clothing that did not sell will be donated to Twice Blessed, a nonprofit consignment shop in Wilmington, when the Ackerts visit in late September. The consignment shop will try to match people in need with clothing, Ms Ackert said, at no cost to the resident. All of the money raised at Twice Blessed goes back into the community in some form, she added, which meshes nicely with Sophie’s Mitzvah.
Gift cards for food items and some of the cash will go to the Deerfield Valley Food Pantry, as well.
The generosity of companies that included Lee Jeans, Nike, Nautica, Pac Sun, Michael Kors, EMS, Anthropologie, Macy’s, Jensen Automotive, LL Bean, and many more was amazing, Sophie said. “To have executives of these huge companies e-mail me back and thank me for what I was doing was crazy,” She said.
“I never thought I would make as much as I did; I never even thought I would make the $1,000,” Sophie said. “It was fun, but more stressful than I anticipated, and a lot more fulfilling than I expected,” she said. “I’m really glad I went through with this project. Raising this much money for it was great. I feel really good that we found a place to give the clothes and that they will go to people who need them, or the money will go back into the community. It was awesome.”