Graduate student earns Orange Circle Award for fashion-forward philanthropy

By Georgie Silvarole

March 24, 2015

Timi Komonibo once considered herself a hoarder — of clothes.

Komonibo, a graduate student studying public diplomacy, a joint program between the Newhouse School and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, has since turned her clothing obsession into an award-winning nonprofit. Her creation, Style Lottery, hosts clothing swaps that promote sustainability by reusing garments. The leftover clothing is then donated to local organizations in the hope that nice clothes will help empower women.

Syracuse University will honor Komonibo and her two team members—alumna Nieves Alvarez ‘14 and Alexis Morrison, a graduate student at Maxwell—on Thursday with an Orange Circle Award, which recognizes members of the Syracuse community for their exceptional altruism and community service. SU is also honoring Ruth Schlesinger Sherman ’73, chair of the Friends of Leadership and Public Service High School in New York City, which is affiliated with Syracuse University.

Style Lottery started when Komonibo would swap the contents of her closet with classmates at the University of Texas at Austin. The more she shared, the more she realized how much she enjoyed it and realized its potential. She founded Style Lottery in the fall of 2013.

“We’re trying to get people away from being hoarders,” Komonibo says. “They’re just clothes — everything is replaceable.”

Style Lottery hosts public clothing swaps and then partners with area organizations, such as Exodus 3 Ministries and Girls Inc., to donate its remaining inventory. Style Lottery also selects hardworking women from struggling communities and rewards them with a shopping spree and a styling session.

“I started seeing the connection between fashion and swapping and philanthropy,” Komonibo says. “I kind of became a crusader for swapping.”

Winning an Orange Circle Award validates Komonibo’s passion, which she hopes will spread

“Winning this award kind of puts fashion philanthropy on the map,” Komonibo says. “Not a lot of campuses are making that connection between fashion and philanthropy—we kind of exist to be the bridge between the two groups.”

Style Lottery has hosted several events in Syracuse where anyone in the community is invited, as long as they bring a few items of their own to donate. They’re allowed to shop for free, and Komonibo says more often than not, people are shocked at the selection.

“(We have) had to build trust with people—they really trust that we have a good inventory,” Komonibo says, adding that nothing stained or ripped ever goes on the Style Lottery floor or into the donation pile. “Once you kind of know that good stuff is going to be there, you start to let go of the good things in your own closet.”

Alvarez, Style Lottery’s communications strategist and a Newhouse alumna living in Brooklyn, says she fell in love with the idea of Style Lottery thanks to her love of fashion. She still works remotely for the nonprofit and was thrilled to hear about the Orange Circle Award.

“I think the award is a huge deal for us, because it kind of cements the difference we’ve made in Syracuse,” Alvarez says. She recalled the time last spring when Style Lottery outfitted eight women from Exodus 3 Ministries for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration event in the Carrier Dome.

“Timi had partnered with (Exodus 3 Ministries) and did a style session with them, and actually helped them get styles for the Martin Luther King, Jr. dinner,” Alvarez says. The women shopped in Style Lottery’s open closets and had their hair and makeup done, and it was easy to see the positive effect it had.

“Clothing can be that boost that you need to get to the next step, and it can also be a barrier if you don’t have it,” Komonibo says.

One thing Style Lottery is focusing on for the future is sustainability. Komonibo credits Sean Branagan, the director of the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Newhouse, for getting her to think about how Style Lottery can continue to exist after she graduates.

“Sean was really the one who sat down and helped me, and that was my first time kind of seeing Style Lottery as a startup,” Komonibo says.

Branagan says he’s excited to see Style Lottery, and its founders, flourish.

“Success isn’t measured by awards,” Branagan says. “What you become is wealthy in your life—in the people you’ve impacted.”

The Orange Circle Award ceremony is 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 26 at the Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel and Conference Center. Style Lottery’s next event is 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, March 26 in 304 A&B in the Schine Student Center.

Georgie Silvarole is a sophomore newspaper and online journalism major at the Newhouse School.