Sweet Home Southern Tier
Entrepreneur’s Passion for Fashion and Philanthropy Leads to Unique Nonprofit
Emmi Saufley grew up in Elmira, NY, attending Hendy Elementary School, Ernie Davis Middle School and both E.F.A. and Elmira High School, including attending BOCES (Board of Cooperative Extension Services).
“I did go to BOCES for Fashion Design those last two years of high school and I absolutely loved it!,” Emmi says. “Oddly enough, the fashion design part – I was not thinking of that as an option my sophomore year of high school.”
Emmi was attending an Open House at BOCES with her mom when she found the Fashion Design, Merchandising & Marketing program.
“I had no idea fashion design was there and I was, like, ‘Wow, this would be so much more up my alley than Cosmetology”, because that’s what I was looking at,” she said.
The BOCES fashion business program, which has been offered since the 2005-2006 school year, is a technical discipline focused on computer-aided fashion drawing, fashion construction and production methods, pattern manipulation, textile technology, merchandising and retail display.
Although fashion design hadn’t been on her radar, Emmi took on the program with enthusiasm.
“I don’t know anything about sewing. I don’t know how I would even start, but I was so ready to learn and dive right in,” she says.
Photos provided by Emmi Saufley. Top L to R: Fashion Club founder Jordan Brooks and Emmi strike a pose; Emmi modeling the first coat she ever made at a Fashion Club fashion show; Emmi and her mother Kristen Saufley. Bottom L to R: Emmi's senior collection for BOCES at the Arnot Mall; Emmi with her father Greg Saufley and brother, Michael Saufley.
After graduating from Elmira High School in 2016, she headed to Tompkins-Cortland Community College for an Associates Degree in Business Administration. When she graduated in 2018, Emmi returned to Elmira to plot her next steps.
While working at a local eatery she reconnected with classmate and friend, Katrina Hardiman, and one day while catching up they came up with the idea to create a business that combined their passion for fashion and philanthropy.
“We just talked about how we can use fashion and give back to the community, and somehow form that into something spectacular,” Emmi says.
They decided to create a nonprofit to meet those needs, and that’s how Runway For A Cause came to fruition.
Runway For A Cause is a 501(c)(3) that provides an outlet for creative artists to showcase their talent via fashion shows, which raise money for causes throughout the Southern Tier region and beyond. The nonprofit’s team is dedicated to providing an opportunity to those who have the drive to strive for success while improving their community and charities around the world.
“For my personal goal, I thought I’d have my clothing line first and be fully established. Then I wanted to have my fashion shows choose a different charity every year and give 100% of the proceeds back to that charity,” Emmi explained. Her clothing line, Le Kim, currently features women’s business casual pieces.
“The nonprofit, kind of, flipped that when we started. So, I would put in my own personal collection and be one of several designers showcased in a fashion show and showcase my work that way.”
So, in the fall of 2019 Runway For A Cause was created and Emmi, along with co-owner and fellow designer, Katrina Hardiman, invited designers they had studied at BOCES with to join them for their first fashion show fundraiser.
Photos provided by Emmi Saufley. Top L to R: Runway For A Cause cofounders Emmi Saufley and Katrina Hardiman; Emmi with Lindsay Whitney, RFAC's head hair and makeup coordinator and also a committee member; the RFAC team includes designers, models, production and entertainment professionals, and volunteers that include community activists as well as family members. Bottom L to R: 3v3 basketball winners from an RFAC fundraiser in August 2022; Emmi presenting a check to Chemung County Habitat for Humanity on behalf of RFAC.
“A lot of our first year was made up of BOCES alumni,” Emmi says. “That was how we were able to start and have a fashion show up and running within six months.”
The Runway For A Cause team, which includes clothing designers, models, and production and entertainment professionals, along with volunteers plentiful with family and friends, worked together to hold a series of fundraisers like car washes, 5Ks and Krispy Kreme sales, to pay for the costs of producing the first fashion show.
“These people, we already knew, were interested in fashion. They knew how to design. They knew how to make the clothing. So, we took on those people, and they loved it! This was another platform for them to showcase their work.”
Runway For A Cause allowed the group of young, talented creatives to build connections amongst each other as well as through the fundraising efforts of the organization, with the support of the communities that most of the team has grown up in.
“For me, staying in this area was going to be the best way to grow this organization,” Emmi explains. “Staying within my hometown, making sure that I made these solid connections, first … has been the most beneficial to this organization.”
This year, Runway for A Cause will hold its Third Annual Fashion Show Fundraiser on November 12 at "The L" in Horseheads to benefit My Refuge House. The show will feature looks from 10 fashion designers, most of whom are from New York State and the Southern Tier region. Runner-up of Season 2 of the HBOMax reality design series “The Hype”, Knoxx aka Brittney Brooks will contribute to the fashion show.
Emmi met Knoxx, owner and designer of DVMN PIGEON NYC when she attended L.A. Fashion Week in March 2022, and says the up-and-coming fashion designer was very helpful during her time in LaLa Land.
“I took that time to hang out with her and pick her brain on some things,” she says. “She connected me with a company called Passion for Fashion, a pattern-making company, which is huge when it comes to being a designer and being able to send your pieces off to a production company so they can make it. That’s my goal. That first step of having a pattern-making company is huge!”
“Being able to grow my network and make that connection was a big deal. It was the biggest step forward in creating my own line and get somewhere, so I owe that all to her.”
Since starting in 2019, Runway For A Cause has raised about $15,000 for charities that include Habitat For Humanity, school supplies for local youth in need and other worthy causes, as well as to cover the costs of their fashion shows.
"We helped about 8 to 10 families our first year from our toy drive. Then our second year we partnered with local photographer Kelly Boston owner of Milk & Honey Photography, Vitality Salon & Bridal, Life Love and the Makings Of, and Cashmere’s Magic to host a toy drive/clothing drive fundraiser," Emmis says. "With that we were able to give back to The Jungle in Ithaca, Supporting Area Families Everyday, and Chemung County Habitat for Humanity, reaching over 10 families across the state."
She's excited for the community to check out this year’s fashion show.
“They can expect a very diverse group of people. They’ll see a very open, endless creativeness on the runway. Our designers this year are coming from all different kinds of backgrounds.”
Attendees can expect womenswear, menswear, clothes for kids and streetwear and she promises that the different themes, color schemes and creative inspirations will blow the audience away.
“Even though fashion and fundraising isn’t the first combination you’d think of, that creative arts area of what we’re doing impacts so many people,” Emmi says. “The overall goal is to impact as many people as possible.”