We recently connected with Rachael Russell Saiger and have shared our conversation below.
Rachael, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. Can you talk to us about a risk you’ve taken – walk us through the story?
One of our pinnacle events is our annual Back-to-School celebration. It’s been a highlight of our nonprofit for the past 10 years, as well as for tens of thousands of regional students and their low-income families. It’s an opportunity for the kids to receive quality back-to-school items, like uniforms, accessories and supplies, in an energy-packed environment with live music and fun activations over a period of two days. I can’t even being to describe the euphoria we see in the kids’ faces at this event.
With all the uncertainty that 2020’s climate presented us all, we were able to pivot our back-to-school model from an in-person event to an online experience. As with all organizations who were trying to navigate alternatives to in-person events during the COVID pandemic, we needed to find a solution that gave students an opportunity to receive necessary back-to-school items in a safe and responsible manner – not just for them, but also for the hundreds of volunteers who stepped up to help us out. And, we had to find an answer quickly.
Over five days, with the help of hundreds of volunteers, we were able to package individual school kits to families and ship out the packages directly to those in need. Despite the multitude of challenges that the pandemic presented us all, we still managed to give every student the care package they requested. Nobody was turned away. The shift to an online model had families completing a brief online form requesting specific essentials, including uniform and shoe sizes, and then volunteers would sort out the needs to create a tailored back-to-school package for each family. It was a complete about-face from our past model, but the online, contactless format worked and, best of all, we managed to still touch so many lives.
The event in 2020 was so successful that we decided to adopt that blueprint moving forward. In 2021, we provided kits to well over 10,000 kids, the highest number we’ve ever had. Students from over 300 schools in Miami-Dade and Broward counties participated, including various organizations such as Lotus House, Miami-Dade County Foster Care and the Guatemalan Maya Center.
As our nonprofit continues to look for avenues to reach even more families and students, the next step is creating a private label for Style Saves. With our branded apparel and accessories – instead of purchasing enough pieces through various wholesalers to accumulate at least 10,000 back-to-school kits – we’re able to have more control over the quality and process of each item. We’re manufacturing our own goods, from rulers to glue sticks to crayons to shirts to shoes and more. The best part is that we know the quality will be extremely impressive, lasting students through the entire school year and beyond. If you asked me 10 years ago, when Style Saves was first founded, if I saw the nonprofit thriving under these challenging conditions and able to create its own private label, I would never have imagined it. But, thanks to so many volunteers and generous sponsors and donors, we’re able to continually provide meaningful opportunities for our local students to thrive in school and are hopefully making an impact in how they see themselves and their limitless future.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
The nonprofit chapter of my life happened rather unexpectedly. In 2011, I took my little brother out to shop before his first day of high school. I think everyone else can relate to that excitement of buying new school clothes and supplies, but then I began thinking of those who didn’t have the accessibility and means to buy new things. It was a call for action to me, so I founded Style Saves with the hope of helping those in my community build confidence that would hopefully advance their future.
The timing couldn’t have been more interesting: I had just finished university and was beginning my career in styling with FORD Models when I started the nonprofit; my closest friends and family joked that I was the one who could have benefited from a charity instead of creating one.
I love working with kids and organizing events for Style Saves. Just as important, I love the south Florida community and find Miami to be a great base not just for fashion but also philanthropy.
Can you tell us the story behind how you met your business partner?
Isabela Rangel Grutman is our vice president, and I couldn’t imagine a better person to take on this role. She’s a truly compassionate, driven soul with a big heart, and was looking to contribute to a cause that coincided with her values. Too, she had recently gotten married in Wynwood and was really looking to create deep roots in Florida. It was apparent from our first meeting that she wanted to make a difference, starting with our youths. As we started talking, we saw how our visions aligned: Isabel intrinsically believed that fashion could be a strong vehicle for philanthropy, and she was invested in bettering her community.
Since Isabela came on board, we’ve doubled our numbers every year. What I love about working with Isabela is her incredible ambitions for Style Saves and its benefactors, plus her hustle mentality. She has experienced and seen how transformative a brand can be to a person and community, and she works so hard to achieve what’s oftentimes a lofty goal. It’s inspiring to see how she encourages us to get better every single year, and help more and more students and families.
Do you have any stories of times when you almost missed payroll or any other near death experiences for your business?
Like most of the world, 2020 was a year that forced us to approach situations with a new perspective and alternative solutions. An apt example is our Back-to-School celebration, normally an in-person, multiday experience that sees tens of thousands of students and their families accept essential school supplies, not to mention the hundreds of volunteers and vendors who generously lend helping hands. Because we were so committed to our cause, canceling the event was not even a possibility, but we needed to come up with a substitute idea – and fast. After several conversations with families, sponsors and our board, Style Saves’ Back-to-School celebration shifted to an online, contactless version to protect all parties, and it proved to be a successful model that still ensured youths were receiving necessary items to enhance their school experience. The model has been so successful that we’ve continued it in the following year and have decided to adopt it indefinitely.
In addition, we are working toward enhancing the quality of our goods by manufacturing and producing our own products, essentially creating a private label in which we can be assured the merchandise is constructed of high-level materials and handling.