Sam Russell [right] lived an exciting and lavish life as a celebrity stylist. Having dressed some of your favorite Hollywood entertainers which include, Stevie Wonder and Rainn Wilson, it wasn't until Russell thought he had reached his peak in life, until he noticed that it was time to do something else. And that is where the fantastic idea of The Giving Closet came about. Instead of dressing stars in high-fashion duds, Sam created a television show that allowed him to style single mothers in need. These women shared inspirational stories that featured struggle, yet not giving up. Russell received the green light from NBC San Diego and he's been making a difference one outfit at a time.
Read his inspirational interview inside.
1. Did the ego of Hollywood inspire you to start The Giving Closet?
Sam: My twelve years in Hollywood were very, very good to me Do not get me wrong. I moved to the DC suburbs in 2011 to be with my partner and focus more on The Giving Closet,. There was a shift in my awareness one day that called me to do more. Ever have one of those Oprah Winfrey a-ha moments where you look at something with the same pair of eyes but see it differently? I was in a million dollar home of an accomplished actress for a photo shoot that I had arranged. I had this knack for acquiring free clothes and pr swag and she always had her hand out wanting more. She pointed at a pair of shoes that day and frankly stated she wanted them. I was in her home, on a photo shoot I had set up to help her stalled career and was not getting paid for it. I just became very self aware, this is my life? If I am so good at getting free designer clothes for the well to do , why can't I use these resources to help someone in need? Once that thought washed over me, it all consumed me and changed the course of my life.
2. What designers do you get to dress the women in?
Sam: The support has been overwhelming. At first I got lots of snobbery from the pr offices and designers and then the attitude shifted. I think the Forbes interview helped that a lot. Generous donations have poured in from Tory Burch, Adrianna Papell, Sue Wong, Sienna Rose, Stop Staring, WM Design House, Konplott Jelwelry, Bee Charming Jewelry, Vilaiwan Fine Jewelry, shoe brands like Sole Society, New Balance, Tsubo, Jellypop, Bear Paw, Gwyneth, & Very Volatile.
3. What is your craziest or most inspirational experience when surprising a woman with a closet full of new clothes?
Sam: Surprising Christine in Los Angeles was one of the most inspiring. The video is on my Giving Closet page. She is a two-time cancer survivor, and today is cancer free. The doctors gave her a matter of months to live and she proved them wrong. She spends her spare time now convincing more minorities to get on the bone marrow registry. Buried in medical bills, Christine had no clue how to pursue her dream of becoming a screenwriter in Hollywood. With this mounting debt, all she could do was survive. With the help of Yahoo Ultimate Surprises, not only did her Giving Closet surprise include a complete wardrobe upgrade valued at $10,000--but we pulled some favors and got her a very important place to wear this work attire..yes...A JOB! She is now a paid intern for Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci, the creators of the new Star Trek movies.
4. Knowing that you've made a positive impact in these women's lives, how does that make you feel?
Sam: I am humbled when these come together. No money is exchanged and I am sponsored by no one. I do this as a passion and I want to be remembered for this. Not for the guy that worked with Stevie Wonder or the guy that worked with that actor or that actress. Giving Closet has proven that it re-inspires people. A single mom pounding the pavement interviewing for a job with only two pair of shoes can benefit from this. Felicia in Knoxville was surprised with 16 pairs of shoes from my traveling mission. She had a job interview a few days later and of course booked it.
I feel a much deeper connection to the universe and to my spiritual self when I give. If our famous socialite's can benefit from this abundant amount of clothing set aside for them, then why can't the people that idolize them & keep them in these coveted positions of "celebrity" also get a little help?
The Giving Closet is here to prove that Fashion Does Have A Heart
5. Having worked in the entertainment industry, what advice can you give to potential stylists that dream to work in Hollywood?
Sam: Every one's journey will be different. I waited tables in Long Beach for 2 years at night and did shoots in the daytime in Los Angeles to build my network. I commuted like a mad man and sacrificed. It paid off. Don't be afraid to work extra hard to make a goal come to life. Nothing is owed to you and no one will be happy you just landed in Los Angeles with a dream...Get In Line! Have gratitude for every large and small job presented to you.
And most importantly, separate your ego from your work. Manners go a long way, be consistent. There are a lot of bitchy stylists out there and you should not be one.Clients have enough on their plates, be easy to work with.
You will learn quickly in Hollywood that some people truly care for you. Others are just curious.
6. Do you have any upcoming projects?
Sam: I am working on a book of my life with the help of a writer from New Zealand, Getrude Matshe and I have written an amazingly true story of repressed memories, a visit from an angel in a horrific car accident to my modern day life made up of working in Hollywood and using my resources to change lives. Anything is possible. Its titled The Working Hour. We are spending this summer on edits, buts its mainly done. It was a very bizarre experience to do, seeing the pieces of the puzzle of my life come together explaining who I am. Everyone should sit down and tell their story.
7. Have you styled men for The Giving Closet?
Sam: This is very personal for me. A good man would know the importance of empowering a woman first. A happy mom can be a better mother. Her kids will then be better citizens for this society. The domino effect is why I started this for women in need.
I saw my mom go through abuse when I was a child and after a sudden heart attack took my dad in high school, I watched her stand tall on her own. With a great job in computers and a savvy eye for dressing well, my mom worked overtime to care for 3 boys and did it. Men too often abandon their wives and children and leave them to fend for themselves. Women can do it on their own without a man ( if that is the card they have been dealt) and I want to help empower them. With the help of various non-profits and social workers, Giving Closet searches for stories of women that need a hand up, not a hand out.