Simmons Leadership Blog

Donna Karan: Finding Philanthropy in Commerce

Chief Designer, Donna Karan, on what it means to be a change agent. Speaking at the Simmons Leadership Conference. In her own words:

My first lessons came from working as a sales girl in a clothing store. It's not about what you want, and what you design--it's about who she is, and what she wants.

I wasn't a very good student. I stayed back. I played in the art department and created my first collection there. I went off to Parson's School of Design. I got a summer job working for Anne Klein, and that changed my life. She took care of me. 
Anne got sick. A collection was due, and so was I (with my first child). I was 24 years old. My boss died. I had a new baby. What was I supposed to do? I stayed at Anne Klein for 10 years, then I wanted to get back to those clothes I'd been creating for me and my friends. 

And that was the start of Donna Karan.

DKNY was born when my daughter and her friends started wearing all my clothes.

We're on a path, we don't understand what our live's journey is all about. We're being led to do what we're supposed to do. Why am I Donna Karan? There's a name. And there's a person. I separate the two. 

What is it really all about?

In the beginning, I was dressing for myself and my friends--I had a lot more friends than I anticipated.

If you're doing something from your heart and your soul, call it selfish, it's genuinely what everyone else needs. We have broad shoulders, narrow shoulders, but, as women, we're carrying an awful lot.

I see women as caring, sharing people, who look beyond themselves. We're living in a world of chaos. I want to help find the calm in the chaos. 

After my husband's illness, I sought a more holistic approach to medicine. Through my experiences with my husband, I wanted to make a change in healthcare. Urban Zen was born. 

Its mission is to put like-minded people together who want to collaborate for change. We seek to put the right people in place to care for the patient, and people to care for the doctors and nurses who give their hearts and souls to their patients, too.

The point is to create a community for urban consciousness and change. We have the model in New York. My dream is to have that model all over the country. I'll create the model, like a shop, that can then be taken to other parts of the country and world.

With all the chaos around us, what we all need to do is collaborate, communicate and change. 

Women are the ones who shoulder this burden.

We're living in a life of call to action. This is the time, this is the moment. I'm asking all of us to find our passion. Discover what you feel is important in your own life--the changes that you think need to be made, and act. 

It takes a community. We are the people who can make that change. 

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