The window displays at 129 Lafayette Street, at the crossroads of Soho, NoLIta, and Chinatown, aren’t advertising the big summer sales that its neighbors are. Instead, a sign reads: “How Are You Changing New York?”
The storefront has been commandeered by Soon Forward, a charitable program founded by neighborhood resident Emanuele Della Valle to help the homeless and the struggling local shops of zip code 10013. Since its launch in 2019, Soon Forward and its network of volunteers have given 100,000 meals to the Bowery Mission and donated 100 Sheltersuits to the area’s unhoused residents. More broadly, its website explains, the plan is to “build partnerships between local non-profits, individuals, and corporations to incite change.”
This weekend at the Lafayette Street pop-up—he likes to call it “a digital Barneys of charity”—Della Valle will be talking up Soon Forward’s latest initiative. Shield is an exhibition of capes created for the homeless by the Italian fashion designer Moreno Ferrari. “Our dream,” Della Valle says, “is for a bunch of Italian brands—the premier luxury goods makers—to put together money for Moreno to go to Italian factories and get the capes made.” Not unlike the Sheltersuits that Soon Forward distributed last year, the capes are designed to withstand the elements. A reversible bottom layer features multiple pockets, built-in lumbar support and an anatomical hood, and high-tech thermal padding for warmth, and the second layer vest is cut in a reflective rainproof fabric.
The rainproof vest is one element of the two-part Shield cape.Photo: Jelani Roberts
New York has 10,000 unsheltered people.Photo: Jelani Roberts
Della Valle and Moreno would like to make 10,000 of the capes, which is about the number of unsheltered people currently living in New York. And they’re better placed than most to turn their dream into reality, even if it takes non-local corporations to get it done. Della Valle, an entrepreneur, is the son of Tod’s owner Diego Della Valle, and Moreno has experience in design studios everywhere from CP Company to Adidas to Boss. “It would be the best promotion for Made in Italy ever!” Della Valle says.
Rome’s famous Colosseum has been the beneficiary of Della Valle père’s generous donations, but his son prefers charity work on a more human scale. “I watched a lot of family members doing active volunteering, even when there was little money around. My grandmothers were the pillar of this and they gave the goodwill bug to a lot of us,” he says. But why not launch a mission-led brand, as others have done? Why use a non-profit model? “Soon Forward is a good name and a good logo and if its mission will always be kept as a non-profit, it can certainly be adapted and molded to fit the ever present fashion collabs with proceedings going to specific causes,” he adds.
And Soon Forward’s plans don’t end with the capes: A quick scroll through its Instagram account reveals studies for public restrooms for the homeless as well as a digital neighborhood currency—working name: Streetcoin. Della Valle has another big idea, and he’s giving it away for free: “Volunteering as dating is a phenomenal idea for an app,” he says. “There’s none of the awkwardness of a first date when you’re volunteering.” That’s something that could really change New York.
Shield is on display at 129 Lafayette Street in New York through the weekend.
Another view of the Shield exhibit. Photo: Jelani Roberts