Celebrity Stylist Surprises Struggling Single Mom
BY HELAINA HOVITZ ON SEPTEMBER 29, 2014
Tammy Thomas, a single mother of two, left her Tomball, Texas home on Friday morning believing that she was going to be interviewed for an informational video on female empowerment.
Upon arriving at the Page Parkes Center of Modeling & Acting, she very quickly realized that she was actually, in fact, being gifted with $10,000 of designer clothing, courtesy of celebrity stylist Sam Russell and his Giving Closet. This fairy godfather, who has dressed everyone from Sophia Bush to Stevie Wonder, received donations from M&R, Sole Society, Konplott Jewelry, Saks Fifth Avenue, and others, who rallied to help give a very deserving young woman new hope.
At least, everyone else thought she was deserving.
“I don’t feel like I did anything to deserve this at all, but Sam said, ‘You’ve been through a lot, and we want to let you know you’re not alone.’ I could accept that. It’s been very lonely, and very hard,” she said.
Tammy is the last surviving sibling in her family—one was murdered, another committed suicide, and a third died at a very early age. More tragic still is that fact that Tammy lost everything, including her childhood pets, in a house fire that occurred on Christmas Eve when she was eight years old. When she celebrated her birthday earlier this month, her mother did not bother to call.
“She has known bad luck most of her life,” Sam said. “I wanted to share some of my good luck with her.”
Tammy has been raising 13-year-old son Zachary David and two-year-old Avelyn Faith entirely on her own, so the decision to return to school after a ten-year haitus was not an easy one. Still, she knew she had to go for it, and began studying biology in hopes of creating a better life for them all.
When asked about Friday’s haul, Tammy said that she received more clothes from Sam than she’s ever had in her life.
“He gave me dresses, blouses, jewelry, hand lotions, makeup, everything that you can imagine to make someone feel beautiful,” she said.
Russell, who heads up the Wardrobe Department, was initially inspired to start these giveaways after catching Oprah’s Next Chapter series. This giveaway took him into double digits.
While her new wardrobe will undoubtedly play a key part in helping her create a new beginning, Tammy says that the surprise holds an even deeper significance.
“I grew up with a mom who didn’t wear makeup. I never saw her in heels, and I only saw her in a dress once, at my brother’s funeral. I need to dress like this for my daughter,” she said. “I want to be an example for her, to be feminine, beautiful and confident.”
Sure enough Avelyn Faith slipped her mother’s new bracelet off her wrist and right onto hers.
“She was like, ‘Oh I’m so pretty,’ and you could see it all over her face. She lit up with such a sweet smile.”
Avelyn Faith proceeded to kick on mommy’s shoes, toss her diaper bag over her shoulder like purse, and waddle around the apartment.
Tammy was nominated by Page Parkes, a talent agent who who first encountered Tammy when she was just a teenager. Sadly, her modeling dreams were shattered because her parents couldn’t afford the costs that came with it, but, by chance, the two women later ended up as neighbors, and their children became friends.
“Zac was one of the nicest, most grateful boys I had ever met. I knew she was a great mom despite her lack of money to give him things,” said Parkes, who has represented Channing Tatum, Charlize Theron, and Angelina Jolie. “I was raised by a single mom and admire Tammy for her strength. She deserved this confidence boost!”
Just days ago, Tammy felt like she didn’t have anyone to turn to and nobody to ask for help. She says that she believes this is a sign that things will soon get better.
“Now, I realize there are people in my corner,” she said. “I realize I’m not alone.”
Hollywood Stylist Gives Survivors New Hope
Posted: 03/13/2014 11:24 am EDT Updated: 05/13/2014 5:59 am EDT
There’s no debating that when it comes to finding a job, appearance matters. In fact, studies have shown that well-groomed, “better-dressed” candidates have a significant leg up on their competition.
But being buried in medical bills — and coming from modest means — makes it hard to shop for new clothes to wear on a job interview. Christine Pechera, a young woman living in Los Angeles, and Angela Williams, a 40-year-old single mother of four living in Detroit, both faced life-threatening illnesses and survived. When they were finally deemed healthy enough to rejoin the workforce, however, all they had to wear were the old, ratty clothes they’d worn at the hospital. Neither of them had the financial means to shop for professional clothes to wear on their interviews.
Then, a twist of fate brought these ladies the surprise of a lifetime: $10,000 worth of designer clothes, courtesy of celebrity stylist Sam Russell and his Giving Closet.
When Russell presented them with dresses and shoes from Tory Burch and Adrianna Papell, he gave them much more than just a new wardrobe: he brought them confidence, hope, a way to feel beautiful again and a chance at financial independence.
Christine, who lives in Los Angeles, was more than deserving of this gift. She had become a champion for cancer related causes while still in the hospital herself, believing she only had weeks to live. She survived thanks to a last minute bone marrow donation, but, once she was released, had a hard time finding work among the other crisp, stylish, well-heeled interviewees.
“I didn’t have the work experience that most people my age had accomplished. It looked like I’d have no way out of my situation, no matter how hard I tried,” she said.
Enter fairy godfather Sam Russell, who has dressed everyone from Sophia Bush to Stevie Wonder.
“Something about Christine was so selfless. You talk to her, and you see that she’s a good soul,” said Russell. “We’re always catering to actors and celebrities, throwing all this free stuff at them. Why can’t we do that for every day women like her?”
After years of feeling like “damaged goods,” Christine finally feels beautiful again.
“During treatment, I lost my hair, I became bloated, and then too skinny, I had dark circles under my eyes. I felt so unwanted and unattractive,” she said. “This made me feel beautiful, like I was amongst the living. No hospital gowns and sweatpants anymore!”
In addition to the new wardrobe, Russell used his connections to help get Christine a paid internship with production company KO Paper Products, and she began working on the show Sleepy Hollow.
“I could step out of my house with a confidence I hadn’t felt in years. It seems like such a small thing, but when you’re just climbing out of a dark place in life, it means everything to feel joy and freedom again,” she said.
That was one year ago. Today, she’s still volunteering at cancer fundraisers and helping to spread awareness for bone marrow donor registration. Last week, at Cancer for College’s yearly benefit event, she took her annual photo with Will Ferrell and moved him to tears when she spoke.
Photo courtesy of Cancer for College.
Last Friday was also a big day for Angela Williams, who Russell surprised in Detroit.
It’s been a tough road for the divorced mother of four, who has undergone multiple surgeries for severe kidney obstruction and a heart murmur. Despite her own health problems, she insisted that her mother, whose chronic pain had become unbearable, move into the home she shared with her four children so she could help take care of her.
When Russell called the nonprofit Jackets for Jobs and asked them if they could suggest a deserving woman for him to gift, they pointed him right to Angela, and he jumped at the chance to surprise her.
“Despite her obstacles, her kids are all on the honor roll, in study groups and at home with mom doing homework,” Russell said. “If you’re single, broke, and have no man, with four kids in a challenged city like Detroit, managing to keep them all in line and off the streets is an amazing accomplishment.”
After the extreme weight loss that resulted from multiple surgeries, all of her old clothes were huge, and any money coming in went right to her children. She never bought anything new for herself.
On March 6, she was told she was going to do a public service announcement for Jackets for Jobs, and while she did expect to be met with several cameras, she wasn’t expecting the 50 dresses, 15 pairs of shoes, and five handbags that awaited her.
When she modeled the new outfits for her youngest daughter, eight-year-old Jade, her “little ladybug” said her mommy looked like a queen.
“You won the clothing lottery!” she squealed, putting on her mother’s new heels as they took a lap around the room together.
Angela is currently pursing her dream of becoming a culinary chef, and The Professional Careers Academy has promised her a job once she graduates. Fortunately, she says, she’s got presentable clothes to wear.
“If I didn’t have to wear uniforms to class Monday through Friday, I would already be dressed up every day,” she said. “When I can finally go back to work, I’ll be ready for the world. Yes, I’ll be ready for them.”
March 6, 2014 at 11:07 pm
by URSULA WATSON
Detroit woman surprised by $10,000 wardrobe
Angela Williams — Williams was surprised Thursday with a $10,000 wardrobe by celebrity stylist Sam Russell, founder of the non-profit Giving Closet. (Steve Perez / The Detroit News)
Detroit— Angela Williams got the star treatment at the Samaritan Center on the city’s east side Thursday.
Williams was surprised with a $10,000 wardrobe by celebrity stylist Sam Russell, founder of the nonprofit Giving Closet.
Dressed in a blue, lace sheath dress and pretty pink pumps, Williams of Detroit was told she was going to do a public service announcement for the nonprofit Jackets for Jobs, for which she was once a client.
With several cameras pointed at her and with Russell by her side, she learned the 50 garments, 15 pairs of shoes and five handbags on display were, in fact, hers.
“This lets me know that dreams do come true,” Williams, 40, said through tears. “I am at a loss of words.”
Williams is the kind of woman Russell said he felt compelled to help.
The Austin, Texas, native said for more than 12 years he worked in Hollywood, working his fashion magic on such stars as music legend and Detroit native Stevie Wonder, “Mad Men” actor Jon Hamm, Chuck Lorre, producer of “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory” and many more.
Russell said he uses his resources and contacts to get all the items donated by designers. This is his ninth wardrobe donated to a lucky recipient such as Williams.
Russell, who founded Giving Closet in 2011, said he wanted to do a wardrobe-giveaway in Detroit and reached out to Jackets for Jobs, which has offered more than 15,000 women and men attire for job interviews and employment and tips on how to improve their interpersonal skills and professionalism.
Its founder and CEO, Alison Vaughn, said Williams stood out because she was so engaged, asked questions and really seemed to absorb the information offered by Jackets for Jobs.
Vaughn’s mother, Betty Henderson, the career wardrobe director for Jackets for Jobs, said having the right attire can make a major difference. “It is all about confidence, building your self-esteem, loving yourself and presenting yourself well, in whatever it is that you do,” Henderson said. “And clothes have a lot to do with it.”
Williams, who worked as a caterer for 10 years, has been out of work for a year. She gleamed as she talked about her children — two who have ADHD and all of whom are on the honor roll.
“It gives me hope,” said Williams, whose children are 17, 14, 13 and 8. “I am just overwhelmed right now. I am so happy to have this opportunity.”
Celebrity Stylist Paying It Forward
Posted: 05/20/2013 4:39 pm by Reyne Hirsch
Celebrity stylist Sam Russell knew how to make his clients look great on the red carpet. He had years of experience and relationships with some of the most sought after designers.
While styling celebrities was his day job, he always felt like there was something else he was meant to do. What if he could put his talents to use towards those down on their luck? Perhaps he could help women dress for success by filling their closets with clothing and accessories that would help get them back on their feet.
Russell’s idea went beyond a passing thought. He formed “The Giving Closet” and began searching for potential recipients for a wardrobe makeover. It didn’t take long before word got out and his charity found recipients.
As we all know, people need in need are not limited to residents of Los Angeles. Russell learned of the plight of others via non-profits and social workers and began taking his gift giving nationwide. He enlisted the help of local television news producers to help with his surprise. Reporters would tell recipients they were going to take part in a story about makeovers. Little did they know this would go far beyond a little cut and color. Russell would step in at the end of the segment and reveal their new wardrobe.
His relationships with designers helped him to secure donations of clothing, shoes, handbags and accessories, often valued over $10,000 per person.
His gift to these women isn’t just a bag of nice clothes. He says:
It’s personal. I take into consideration skin tone, body type and lifestyle. People going back to school and working part-time jobs don’t need fancy evening gowns. I am about practical and looking good. I put together 20 to 24 pieces of clothing, jewelry, tops, pants dresses, shoes and handbags. It all interchanges and fits into everyday life.
Russell’s charity has visited cities such as San Diego, Nashville TN, Lancaster PA, Baltimore MD, Long Island, NY and Los Angeles CA. His giving has also gone beyond “just” a wardrobe. He partnered with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (writers for Spiderman, Star Trek, the new Hawaii 5-0 and Fringe) to give one woman a makeover AND a job.
“I just can’t use all of my fashion contacts and resources anymore for these Hollywood types.” said Russell. “They are paid enough and really don’t need me. Real people need me.”
Yes Sam Russell…they do!
Learn more about The Giving Closet by visiting their website and catch episodes of past Giving on their Facebook page: The Giving Closet
Can Dressing Well Increase Your Income in 2013?
We’ve all heard the phrase “Clothes Make the Man”. This expression was first recorded more than 400 years ago by Erasmus, a Catholic priest, theologian, and social critic, but many have repeated it since. From the writings ofShakespeare to Will Smith in Hitch, we’ve heard this proverb for years.
Can your wardrobe influence your income? The experts say “yes!”
A number of independent studies maintain that clothing can affect a first impression dramatically. Is it possible, then, to determine how someone is paid based on what they wear? For men, the answer is nearly always yes according to a 2011 salary report from Payscale. For women, the answer is more complex: According to somestudies, dress doesn’t influence higher income for women as much as it helps to ensure security in their current roles. Forbes writer Laura Sinberg warns that dressing ‘too sexy’ can make a woman seem less competent.
Regardless of your position on the data, in the spirit of the New Year I’ve invited six image consultants to share the advice they give clients on how to improve their salaries by improving their wardrobes. Each of them has helped clients make more money by wearing the optimal clothes.
Sam Russell, The Giving Closet
For the past year, Sam has provided disadvantaged women with $10,000 apiece in work and personal clothes. He’s accomplished this by convincing fashion designers and PR handlers to reroute some of the “PR Swag” they customarily give to famous people to help people in need. Here are a few of their stories:
- Mary Anne escaped an abusive relationship and found herself alone in Southern California with a child and no work skills. Then Sam surprised her on anNBC morning news show in San Diego with a wardrobe upgrade. She immediately landed a new part time job, started a company teaching etiquette to young kids and with her new swagger, landed a new boyfriend as well.
- Shenee is a single mom of five in Long Island. She is now in school and juggles a full-time job. With dreams of becoming a lawyer, Shenee landed a job promotion recently and is saving for a car. She proudly wears her New Balance shoes at the bus stop, and now dresses like a leader at work.
- Sierra, a young mom of four, found herself in a very abusive situation. She escaped, and with the guidance of a non-profit in downtown Baltimore, she is getting back on her feet. With dreams of becoming a singer, she was surprised and delighted with a $10,000 wardrobe upgrade and quickly landed a clerical job and has moved into her first apartment.
Whether advising young starlets such as Sophia Bush, Emmanuelle Vaugier, DJ Sandra Collins before their press appearances or helping established stars to “pop” at a special event, Sam Russell has proven that women can increase their incomes with clothing, while also proving that fashion can have a heart.
“Giving” the “Ultimate Surprise”
The City of Angels is full of dreamers who come to Hollywood with big aspirations of industry success. Unfortunately, not everyone who enters Los Angeles becomes the actor or screenwriter they once desired to be. This is not the case this holiday season for one lucky dreamer.
On December 10, 2012, the Yahoo original series “Ultimate Surprises”** will end season 3 with a bang! Wardrobe stylist Sam Russell’s passion project caught the eye of Fishbowl Worldwide Media executive producer, James Tooley. After a decade in Hollywood working behind-the-scenes with the greats, Sam’s new mission is to now travel the U.S. surprising women in need with $10,000 worth of work and personal attire. He finds women through non-profits and social workers, calling each recipient a “survivor”. “I just can’t use all of my fashion contacts and resources anymore for these Hollywood types. They are paid enough and really do not need me. Real people need me,” humbly explains Mr. Russell from his home now in Washington, DC.
His fifth (5th) surprise give-away will have an added twist. Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci (writers of the New Spider Man & Star Trek, creators of Hawaii 5-0 & Fringe) will make a guest appearance giving this one lucky woman something she did not see coming—a JOB! Yes, she is being surprised with a job to wear this new wardrobe upgrade. Two-time cancer survivor Christine Pechera’s dream is to become a screenwriter. Today, she is cancer free. Pechera is also busy with bone marrow drives and raising awareness about getting more minorities on the bone marrow registry. Soon she will be out of graduate school and Hollywood’s behind-the-scenes gurus have chipped in to make December 10th a very special day for her.
Sam’s non-profit is titled “The Giving Closet” and debuted on NBC San Diego Sept. 1, 2011. This charity has surprised a woman in San Diego, CA; Lancaster, PA; Baltimore, MD; Long Island, NY; and now Los Angeles, CA. Sam is a bi-coastal wardrobe stylist that has worked with Stevie Wonder, Chuck Lorre, Sophia Bush, Donna Mills, The John Wayne Cancer Institute, & The Learning Channel. He also won the Maggie Award in 2004 for leading the magazine Femme Fatales to win most improved publication. Sam shares, “I was a regular on the early morning show for NBC San Diego for two years coming on to speak about fashion trends and stocking stuffers. I then had one of those Oprah Winfrey light bulb moments. I can do so much more with my resources. So now I do.”
Popular fashion brands that made this give-away possible include Tory Burch, Darling, Adrianna Papell, Sienna Rose, jewelry from Vilaiwan and Konplott , a generous donation of shoes from Sole Society & New Balance, and a line of facial products from Dermaesthetics USA in Beverly Hills. “It’s exciting to prove that fashion actually does have a heart,” said Russell.
Ultimate Surprises expands the successful Yahoo brand franchise, allowing friends and family to spring heartfelt and over-the-top surprises on the people they love. Whether it’s fulfilling a wish, celebrating an anniversary, reuniting with lost friends or proposing marriage, life’s biggest moments are the ones you share with those closest to you. With the help of a team of experts, these special events are transformed into unforgettable surprises that are so outrageous and personal that you’ll be dying to see the look on everyone’s face when it happens. In February 2012, “Ultimate Proposal” had nearly one million unique visitors per month, making it #25 of the top 25 shows on the Web.
See the surprise here: screen.yahoo.com/proposal-episode-12-christines-life-021018517.html
Mother’s Day Edition – May 18, 2012
Shenee Crespo’s days start early, often well before the sun rises and her five children are awakened for the mad scramble that is their morning routine. There’s breakfast and getting the younger ones dressed and ready for daycare.
Crespo doesn’t have a car, so when she isn’t able to catch a ride with a co-worker, she spends four hours on public transit each day, commuting back and forth to her job on Long Island as a corporate biller. Then it’s home to cook for her kids, help them with homework, study for her online college courses and squeeze in a session of Zumba via their PlayStation to help manage her neuropathy (a disorder of the nervous system) before going to bed and doing it all again the next day.
She often struggles to make ends meet. After paying her family’s living expenses and also helping her mother financially, she has little left over to spend on herself. Crespo, a bubbly and curvaceous woman of African-American and Puerto Rican descent, owns only one pair of jeans and two pairs of shoes.
But with the help of celebrity stylist Sam Russell, Crespo’s wardrobe — and spirits — both recently got a major boost after being surprised with a $10,000 fashion giveaway.
“This is like a dream. I never do anything for myself. My children always come first,” said Crespo. “So I’m beyond grateful for this awesome surprise.”
And to understand the power of this gift, you have to understand the man who made it all happen.
Celebrity stylist Russell dresses some of Hollywood’s brightest stars, from music legend Stevie Wonder to actors like John Hamm and Sophia Bush, to name a few.
But beyond pulling together head-to-toe ensembles for red carpet events or onscreen roles, Russell makes sure his clients are well taken care of in the “swag” department — you know, free stuff.
The unfortunate truth is that the rich, powerful and famous folks, who can actually afford the items, are usually the first (and often only) people who are gifted the goods.
“I have requested so much swag over the years for celebrities, celebrities’ girlfriends and boyfriends, handlers and family — I basically became ‘The Swag Guy,'” Russell told The Huffington Post.
The relationships that Russell has cultivated over the years within the fashion and beauty industry give him easy access to anything from a tube of lip gloss to a luxury designer bag.
But Russell knew he could do so much more with his influence and resources: Something big, something inspiring, something to show that “fashion really does have a heart,” Russell said.
So in September 2011 Russell launched The Giving Closet, his very own fashion giveaway mission, where he surprises deserving women with a fashion giveaway worth approximately $10,000, including clothes, accessories, beauty products and styling services.
Most companies are thrilled to help Russell in his altruistic pursuits, fulfilling his requests without hesitation and making sure he reaches his goal of securing thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise. But that’s not to say Russell hasn’t run into some obstacles.
“I’ve definitely had to deal with some snobbery — companies unwilling to extend their product to regular women — and I’ve also heard the ‘we don’t do plus-size women’ excuse,” Russell said.
Yet like something out of a storybook, Russell has managed to transform himself into the ultimate fairy (fashion) godfather.
By reaching out to various social care and nonprofit organizations across the country, Russell finds his recipients. Crespo is the third recipient of what Russell hopes are many more giveaways for the Giving Closet.
It was Crespo’s involvement with the 85-year-old Family Service League that prompted the agency to nominate her for the amazing opportunity.
“The best promotion for the agency and the work we do is through people that we have successfully assisted,” Larry Weiss, senior vice president of programs, told The Huffington Post. “So it’s wonderful to see Shenee being honored with something like this.”
Crespo credits the Family Service League for turning her life around. The agency was able to give her a computer several years ago, which allowed Crespo to take online college courses and fulfill her dream of getting an education. In fact, next month she will receive her Masters in Business Administration.
“My drive comes from the people that depend on me. Everything I do is for my children,” Crespo said. “I plan to go to law school next and then open my own law firm.”
Russell’s connection with Crepso goes beyond simply gifting her clothes. He understands the struggles of women like Crespo who have persevered through extraordinary challenges in life. He calls them “survivors” — and his mother was one. She, along with Russell and his two brothers, endured years of physical, verbal and emotional abuse by her husband until day he died, when Russell was 15 years old.
They made it through and now Russell’s doing his part to celebrate those who have done the same. “I’m just a vessel for this, it has nothing to do with me,” Russell said. “Shenee is a survivor. I’m doing this for all the survivors.”
Special thanks to the following companies for donating items for the giveaway: Sienna Rose, Paul Frank, Single Dress by Galina, Guy & Eva, Bed Stu, Elaine Turner, BEARPAW, Gwyneth Shoes, AMI ClubWear, Dermaesthetics USA and Whitening Lightning.
Written by Julee Wilson ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
This Giving Closet Surprise Give-Away Was Made Possible By The Generous Donations Of: Adrianna Papell , Sienna Rose, Single Dress, Marie Bruns Jewelry, Lockheart Handbags, Paul Frank, Paige Padgett, and Shoes from Bedstu, Jellypop, Naya, New Balance & Tsubo
Celebrity wardrobe stylist Sam Russell capped off his final appearance on the local NBC San Diego AM News program Sept. 1, 2011 with a grand finale: over $10,000 worth of wardrobe for one randomly selected woman from a local Dress For Success organization.
The woman selected made a live appearance on the 6:45 AM NBC San Diego program thinking she had won a new make-over.
Stylist Sam Russell shares, “I chose Dress For Success because I believe so strongly in their mission statement. Women re-entering the work force need a strong wardrobe, so I thought to myself if I can gift thousands of dollars in clothing to celebrities, why not help someone in need.”
Generous donations for The Giving Closet came from notable fashion companies and included an entire rack of clothing from Adrianna Papell, shoes from New Balance and Bedstu, handbags from Agabhumi and Baciami, and jewelry from Guy & Eva.
“I had to decide fast when approaching Dress For Success,” claims Russell. “Do I want to help a group of strangers and give them one outfit each or do I help one woman for the rest for her life? The choice was simple,” he says. This was Russell’s first fashion give-away, and he plans to travel the United States in search of outfitting one randomly selected woman on various morning news programs. Says Russell, “I have spent so many years focused on my local career that I now have become hungry to explore the possibilities of the next chapter of my life. Oprah Winfrey has been a constant source of inspiration for me that I started to ponder how I could best utilize all of the amazing PR contacts and brand managers I’ve been working with for so long.” He quickly adds, “Tapping one woman on the shoulder who is in need and saying I can help just seems natural.”
Sam Russell: Red Carpet wardrobe stylist gives back
Entering the fashion world as a model/actor waiting tables with no prior experience, Sam Russell joined the industry as an amateur and left a styling maven. However, tired of the soul-tearing ego of Hollywood, and inspired by his mother’s drive in overcoming struggle, he founded The Giving Closet and redirected his attention to helping women in need.
An Austin native, Russell daydreamed of working in show business, and with 13 years in LA, his dream came true. And, as with all fantasies that come to life, many of his experiences still come as a surprise, bringing him to the realization that his connections should be shared.
“From traveling with Stevie Wonder and window shopping with Sophia Bush to discussing “socks’ with Chuck Lorre before the Daytime Emmys & meeting our First Family, I had a light bulb moment one day and realized I could do so much good with my fashion contacts,” Russell told 429Magazine.
“Once that thought washed over me, it all consumed me.”
Frustrated with Hollywood and immersed in a world of people with so much, but incessantly “whining” about wanting more, Russell found the ego out of balance. Despite the synergy between his work and LA, he needed a break. With his partner, he moved to a four-acre country home reminiscent of his Texas roots in the Washington DC suburbs, and now commutes to NYC for work.
“Separating my ego from the work has helped my career tremendously.”
Russell’s work with women stemmed from growing up seeing his mother overcome her circumstances, despite being exceedingly abused by his father.
“My mom is a survivor,” he said. “I saw that through hard work, wise career choices and having a flair for dressing really helped her take better control of her destiny.”
In spite of witnessing the abuse his mother endured, he found himself in an abusive relationship for 3 ½ years. Seemingly an ideal relationship by outsiders, as his partner was a public figure, Russell explained it as an illusion and feeling trapped.
“It took him hitting me once to say enough,” he said.
“When I came to, I realized I needed to better apply what I have learned in my life and moved swiftly with my personal choices so I never had to wake up in that type of situation again. I am a survivor, just like the women I help,” he added.
“If you empower every woman on the planet, you empower every child and point them in the direction for a better future that they create.”
In 2011, he began a traveling mission to “re-route” fashion PR goods set aside for celebrity gifting to “real women in need.”
The Giving Closet seeks exceptional stories of selfless women through non-profits and social workers and surprises each chosen with a wardrobe upgrade valued at $10,000.
“I am here to prove that fashion does have a heart.”
Using fashion to boost underprivileged women’s morale, Russell explained that a new outfit could change not only someone’s attitude, but their destiny as well. Many of the women he has worked with through The Giving Closet have landed new jobs, promotions, and even new boyfriends.
“The new outfits inspire confidence and I get to be a part of that,” he exclaimed.
“This is my new calling—I am less interested in dressing the elite anymore. Real people need me and what good does it do to have all of these amazing PR contacts and to only use them for the privileged?”
He described one of the consistent highlights of his career as “looking in the eyes of a single mom that has been surprised with a Giving Closet giveaway, [and] seeing that hope come back into her soul.”
A major part of Russell’s purpose is sharing his experience with others in order to help them overcome and flourish. Speaking openly about being out since middle school, his near death car accident, the abuse he endured as a child, and how sexual abuse his influenced his choices over the years, he says he has only begun.
“I have made a lot of bad choices in my life, but those things do not define me,” Russell said about his abuse issues. “I am not defined by any of my mistakes; I am made up of my possibilities.”
As related to the LGBT community, he believes discussing sexuality diminishes the power it has in shaping choices. “It’s crucial that we have more gay, lesbian and transgendered role models,” he stated.
What Russell has taken from his encounters is to never mistake kindness for weakness and to draw personal boundaries. It’s ok to walk away when uncomfortable in an impossible situation.
“I learned that some people are truly friends that care for you, others are just curious,” he said.
Written by Jen Woo