West Chester designer weaves charity into her fashions

Alexandra Taylor of West Chester with scarves she is selling to benefit the United Nations Foundation's Nothing but Nets effort. (Ed Hille/Staff)

At first glance, it looks like any other colorful scarf, awash in beautiful pastels with intricate patterns.

But a closer looks shows there is more going on than just fashion.

The scarf is covered with abstract lines of rows of oversize mosquitoes. The use of the insect in the design is intended to raise awareness of - and money for - a campaign to help save thousands of Africans from malaria.

The scarf's designer is West Chester resident Alexandra Taylor, 23, who has combined her training in fashion with an interest in humanitarian issues.

Taylor has launched a line of scarves, some featuring mosquitoes and others incorporating mesh fabric intended to replicate mosquito netting. She plans to donate money from each sale to a United Nations Foundation campaign called Nothing but Nets.

"I knew I wanted to do something that combined my love of fashion with a humanitarian component," Taylor said. "I heard about the campaign when I started college, and I knew that's what I wanted to do."

After graduating in May from Parsons the New School for Design in New York, Taylor returned to her parents' house in West Chester. She does her design work on a laptop in her bedroom, and launched her website selling the scarves last month.

"I really wanted to return home to my roots, because this is where it all started for me," Taylor said.

As a student at West Chester Henderson High School, she took part in fund-raising events for charity. "The chance to give back, even on a small scale, was important for me growing up," she said.

At school, she produced fashion shows that donated money to a different charity each year. And as president of the Chester and Bucks County LEO Clubs, she organized pancake breakfasts that helped raise money for groups ranging from the Salvation Army in West Chester to the West Chester Area Senior Center.

Grace Threadgill, her fashion teacher at Henderson, recalled how impressed she was that Taylor could take on so many charitable causes. "How she juggled things, I was always amazed," she said. "She was always thinking outside the box, and she was always giving back. She was a giving person."

Shortly after arriving at Parsons, Taylor learned of Nothing but Nets, which is run by the foundation in Washington. It seeks $10 donations - an amount that buys one insecticide-treated mosquito net. The nets are used atop beds at night to prevent mosquito bites. Some nets can cover entire families overnight.

Taylor said she was startled to learn from the World Health Organization in 2006 that a child in Africa died every 45 seconds from malaria.

Taylor knew she somehow had to help, but it wasn't until her Parsons fashion thesis in 2009 that she realized she could use her talent and make a statement. She was asked to design a line of clothing for the project. She went one step further and created clothing that used elements such as netting and mosquito graphics to call attention to the problem. Her clothes were noticed at New York's Fashion Week - and by the U.N. Foundation.

"We just thought it was wonderful that she combined her passion with spreading awareness for malaria," said Andrea Gough, manager of Nothing but Nets.

Taylor met with the organization last summer and came up with the design for the scarves in the fall. The scarves, manufactured by a New York company, sell for $42 to $102, and she will donate $10 from each sale to the U.N. Foundation.

"Growing up in a family with eight kids, you learn to share and to care for others and to give back, so that is what I am trying to do," she said.


Contact staff writer April Lisante at 215-854-2208 or alisante@phillynews.com.