A Minneapolis style maven is on a DIY crusade to make philanthropy truly fashionable.
On a recent Saturday morning, Sarah Edwards was up early loading her yellow Jeep Wrangler with sequined jackets, faux fur wraps and enough jewelry to bedazzle an ’80s sweater. The 28-year-old had enlisted a crew of fellow fashionistas to spend their day at an unlikely destination: a local nursing home. Led by Edwards, they surprised the residents with a day of makeovers and a glamorous photo shoot.
“My mom always told me, ‘You’re better than no one. Help others in need,’ ” she said. “And I really believe that’s what makes the world go ’round.”
In the Twin Cities fashion scene, Edwards stands out: her wavy blond hair tied back with a boho scarf, a neon kimono wrapped around her body, a black diamond engagement ring on her finger.
By day, she’s in advertising; after work she’s a stylist with a philosophical fashion mind, a budding philanthropist and a renegade event planner who puts normal people on the runway. She’s a millennial, too — you know, the generation lamented for being self-involved, money-obsessed and prone to oversharing.
Edwards loves style, yet she’s obsessed with imbuing her projects with substance. Her latest is called I AM Kindness, which promotes volunteerism and goodwill, whether it be by handing out gift bags to bus drivers or giving seniors fab makeovers.
But does someone who changes outfits more often than Beyoncé have time to lead a philanthropy movement? Spend a day in the life of a woman who thinks there’s always time to be a good samaritan — and to look good doing it.
5 a.m. Alarm goes off, yoga.
7 a.m. Green juice and conversation with fiancé Jared Lukes.
8:45 a.m. Roller-blades to work.
With the Scissor Sisters blasting through her headphones, Edwards launches herself into the morning sunlight wearing a gold lamé backpack and glittery sweatshirt. Rolling through intersections in downtown Minneapolis, the stylish Edwards is hard to miss.
“I get called out all the time for my fashion choices,” she said. “But I like catching people off guard.”
After arriving at Pixel Farm, where she is the digital production company’s marketing director, Edwards makes her first outfit change of the day. (Striped black-and-white dress, yellow-and-teal head scarf, chunky red beaded necklace.)
“You know it’s going to be a good day when your boss says you look like Johnny Depp,” she said with a laugh.
Once known as the office’s bohemian rocker receptionist, her creativity and work ethic helped her move up quickly.
“Sarah is different from other millennials,” said Pixel Farm President Paul Sadeghi. “She’s a little bit old-school.”
Noon. Lunch, people-watching in the skyway.
1 p.m. Networking, meet with potential clients.
Like many a millennial, Edwards, who grew up in Grand Rapids, Minn., was bogged down after college by student loan debt. She worked two waitressing gigs, often serving the downtown creatives who’d just come from jobs she desperately wanted herself.
She knows how to get people’s attention. After interviewing at Pixel Farm, she sent a thank-you note that included a bio mimicking the employee profiles on the company’s website. She got the job, of course. Recently, she received a 32 Under 32 award from the Advertising Federation of Minnesota.
5 p.m. Skips happy hour.
5:30 p.m. Hands out flowers to strangers on Nicollet Mall.
Fashion scenes are prickly by nature. Edwards admits that the community she loves can be “tough,” rife with egos and catty attitudes.
“Fashion has a reputation of being full of shallow and snobby people,” said Tara Murphy, executive director at nonprofit MN Fashion. “I know that is not always true, so when I see someone in the fashion scene reach out to a group often ignored by others in the industry … I am grateful to them.”
Edwards caught fashionistas by surprise with I AM MPLS! in 2010, an annual fashion-focused variety show that integrates music, art, comedy and a runway show featuring nonprofessional models. One was a prison nurse. Another was a Special Olympics competitor. (The next show is Dec. 12 at Aria in Minneapolis.)
Next came I AM Kindness. Her creative charity group might hand out flowers on Nicollet Mall one day and create art projects with homeless kids on another.
She “has really inspired a lot of creative professionals to step up and use their specific talents to benefit others in ways that they may otherwise not have even thought of,” said Kate Iverson, partner at Permanent ADG.
A recent recipient of these good deeds was Mary Senko, 84, a resident at Catholic Elder Care in northeast Minneapolis.
“I felt pretty glamorous,” Senko said. “Sometimes we need something like this to get us feeling better. I know I did.”
Edwards’ approach is catching on.
“At our best, that’s what the fashion industry should be doing: helping people feel better about themselves as a result of our talents and areas of expertise,” Murphy said. “Not tearing them down for their lack of perfection.”
6 p.m. Walks the puppy.
6:15 p.m. Calls Mom.
The greatest challenge at hand, and her most important role to date, Edwards said, is transitioning from the life of a free-spirited twenty-something to a soon-to-be stepmom to two young boys.
“When I was single I would eat a bag of popcorn for dinner,” Edwards said. “When you’re part of the family, dinner is important.”
Engaged for almost two years, Edwards and her fiancé say there’s no rush to wed. Edwards said she has a hard time envisioning spending money on a wedding. “This is very unsexy, but we could fix up our basement instead,” she said.
7 p.m. Changes clothes for the fourth time.
8 p.m. Dinner. No iPhone in sight.
At Northeast Social, she’s in her bohemian comfort zone wearing an out-of-season H&M dress, a gold elephant necklace, a golf-ball-sized Alexander McQueen skull ring and gladiator sandals.
While she’s part of the most digitally connected generation ever, Edwards spends very little time with her head buried in her phone’s warm glow.
“It’s a respect thing,” she said. “The pressure of social media to make our lives look interesting is kind of silly sometimes.”
She shared another philosophical quote: “Comparison is the thief of joy,” she said. “With social media, everything can look so perfect, but that’s usually only half the story.”
10:30 p.m. Picks out tomorrow’s outfit.
11:30 p.m. Lights out.
Edwards’ walk-in closet in her northeast Minneapolis home is a scene straight out of the ’90s teen film “Clueless.” In the movie, Alicia Silverstone has all of her clothes cataloged on a computer screen so she can easily construct the perfect outfit.
Edwards is beta-testing a website created by her fiancé that will do just that.
Is it really possible to bridge this kind of high style with real substance? Is there meaning in platform shoes and a kimono collection?
“Fashion is a philosophy, a way of life, for me,” she said. “It feeds my soul and gets me excited the way a musician gets excited about music.”
At the end of the day, Edwards changes into her least fashionable outfit: an oversized white T-shirt.
“Fashion has no rules,” she said. “I can’t be fashionable all the time.”
Aimee Blanchette • 612-673-1715