Founded by Jane Kaczmarek and her husband Bradley Whitford when she was on Malcolm in the Middle and he was on The West Wing, the Clothes Off Our Back Foundation holds online auctions for celebrity memorabilia – mainly used clothing that stars have worn to award shows, etc. – to raise money for children’s charities.
Fashion Team 89: Jane Kaczmarek by TVGuide
How did the Clothes Off Our Back Foundation get started and what is it’s goal?
In 2002, Jane Kaczmarek and Bardley Whitford had the idea to ask all of their celebrity friends who were on the Emmy Award show circuit to donate their red carpet attire because the clothes could never be worn again. They collected clothes from 20 celebrities including the cast of Friends, Will & Grace, Everybody Loves Raymond, Malcolm in the Middle, and The West Wing, all the shows that were nominated in 2002.
We ran an online auction, and it raised $100,000.00 for four charities which was amazing. Then we did it again the second year, and after two years of just doing the Emmys I talked to Jane about it and told her it was such a brilliant idea, that we should do this full time because there are a lot of award shows around the country and the world. She said great, let’s do it.
For the past six years we’ve grown Clothes Off Our Back from just taking red carpet attire and auctioning it off to experience packages, gift bags, items from photo shoots, and basically anything you can think of between sports, music, and celebrity fashion. We focus on raising money for children’s charities.
We built our own auction infrastructure a few years ago. So in addition to raising money for our charities, we also run auctions for other groups and help them raise money as well.
What are some tips for holding celebrity auctions?
We’ve learned a lot from using a variety of auction sites and auctioning off a variety of items. Nonprofits have a lot of success using our site, because ClothesOffOurBack.org has a lot of bidders from around the world and they know that the items are authentic. The items are actually from the celebrity; we got them from the source. So that’s important.
Pricing items is also very important. Some nonprofits price items way too high and they’re never sold. From our experience you need to have items that are appropriate. If we have any Emmy auction, we’re not going to have any sports items. It’s best to have a theme. We do an auction every year for the TF Alliance. They have an event called Comedy for a Cure. They always focus on people who are comedians, not things out of left field. You need to focus and you need to know your audience and what they want.
Do you find that nonprofits usually price items too low?
It depends. When we started in 2002 it was a different world and a different economy. All the nonprofits have realized that things have shifted. Evening gowns don’t sell for $50,000.00 anymore. Clothes Off Our Back has adjusted, so now we also sell autographed scripts. We just had one sell for $200.00. We finished a shoe auction last night where some shoes sold for $50.00. We had some sell for $3,000. You just have to know your audience. I think pricing items too high is a bigger issue than pricing too low.
Are your auctions online or live?
Everything we do is online on our Web site, ClothesOffOurBack.org.
So other nonprofits can hold auctions on your site?
Yes. We run everything so they don’t have to build the auctions. We hold them and do the building work, not the collections work.
What are you doing with social networking sites to promote your auctions?
We have a Twitter profile and are on Facebook. Whenever we send a newsletter to our database, we post it on Twitter and Facebook. We go to fan sites. We email people. We do notifications. We weren’t sure how to feel about Twitter in the beginning, but it’s actually been great because there are so many followers and the celebrities encourage their followers to bid and sometimes have contests. It’s much more immediate and has been helpful to us. Facebook has also been interesting. We don’t necessarily take straight donations like other causes do because we sell items, but for awareness it’s good for us.
Do you ask the celebrities to Twitter about the items they donated?
It depends on if the celebrity is on Twitter and how active they are on it. Sometimes they do it on their own and sometimes we ask. Sometimes we don’t. It just depends on the relationship we have with them. Marlee Matlin is very active on Twitter. Over the holidays we did an auction with Hallmark holiday ornaments to raise money for Feeding America.
She had a couple of ornaments that she had signed so she encouraged – I don’t know if there was a contest or what – but she encouraged her Twitter followers to bid and all of a sudden within a matter of hours one morning, her item went from $25.00 to $500.00. So that’s the power of the Internet, which is what we like.
Everything we do is online because we have bidders from around the world. Not just the United States, but Canada, United Kingdom, Belgium, South Africa, France, Netherlands, Australia, you name it. If you have an Internet connection and a credit card, you can participate on our site.
You’ve been a longtime member of ContactAnyCelebrity.com. How do you use the site?
We use it especially when new actors or celebrities come on the scene and we’re not familiar with their representatives. We’ll go on to see who they work with. We also have personal relationships with a lot of designers and agents, publicists, managers, and assistants.
Any tips about how to ask celebrities for items?
Every case is different and depends on whether you have a relationship or not. Followup is very important. Some people think they can get something from someone who is famous, throw it up on an auction site and make $10 million. It doesn’t work like that. More often than not there’s a strategy, planning and work. That’s why Clothes Off Our Back expanded and created our own auction site, so we can have an online community of people. They know our items are authentic and they know the money is going to a variety of causes.
Do you try to get your auctions mentioned in the press?
We do some press. We send out press releases and our newsletter. The media has been great because it’s such a good story. Jane Kaczmarek was brilliant with this idea because you can’t ever wear these items again. She said let’s do something good with them. And that’s what we do. When you’re watching the Emmy Awards and the celebrities walking down the red carpet, we tell you which items you can buy. So it helps the designer, it helps the charity, it helps everyone.
What did they use to do with the dresses before your charity?
I don’t know for sure. It probably depended on the item. I think some celebrities kept them. The designers probably kept them for their archives. I’m just not sure. Maybe they were used for photo shoots. I’m sure there are a lot of stories about where some of those dresses ended up!
What are some of the auctions you’re working on now?
We just finished a shoe auction last night which was great. Elton John’s shoes were the highest bidder. They sold for $3,600.00. It was amazing because we have bid extensions on our site. So we had auctions go for an hour over. The item that had the highest amount of bids, not the highest dollar amount but amount of bids, was Holly Madison’s shoes. There are 50 bids on that pair of shoes which was amazing.
We have some jewelry coming up next week. In August we’ll do the Teen Choice Awards and the Emmy Awards, our annual Emmy auction and then of course the holidays. There are always things that come up. We encourage people to sign up for our newsletter at ClothesOffOurBack.org so they can always know what we are offering.
Any final tips?
Michel: In this economy, everyone knows how tough it is for all of the charities out there. So if they want a partner to help them, call Clothes Off Our Back.