Next month in Houston, Texas, anti-abortion advocates will gather for two hours of prayer, lunch and spring wear — made possible by Dillard’s Memorial City, which will be fitting a team of 10 Heroic Media supporters to model nautical-themed outfits — to raise money that will fuel an anti-abortion campaign in the Houston area.
The event, scheduled for April 9, will be the second fashion show the Fortune 500 company, headquartered in Little Rock, Ark., has sponsored for Heroic Media, the Austin, Texas-based anti-abortion media group that creates television, billboard and Internet advertising targeted at pregnant women and, lately, specifically aimed at African-Americans.
Heroic has actively promoted its message in Florida, placing a controversial billboard in Jacksonville and enlisting Florida resident and likely 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to raise money for a similar campaign in Orlando.
Both Heroic Media and the Dillard’s branch insist that the partnership is not political. Dillard’s Memorial City manager Stephen Brophy says the store accepted the request to sponsor a fashion show because another branch had done one at a previous store and it was successful.
“We try to not get too political,” Brophy says. “We’re about fashion. We try to appeal to the masses.”
Brophy says he doesn’t know much about Heroic Media and isn’t aware that its focus is abortion issues. He asked The Florida Independent if Heroic Media supports abortion rights.
Last month, a now-infamous billboard erected in Manhattan by Life Always — owned by the founder of Heroic Media and headquartered out of the same Austin location — was deemed so controversial it was taken down almost immediately. The billboard, which featured the message “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb,” has been linked to a media campaign accusing Planned Parenthood of specifically targeting African-American babies for abortion. The mother whose daughter became the face for the billboard demanded the image be taken down; Life Always had legally used the image it purchased from a stock photo supplier.
A similar billboard was placed previously in Jacksonville.
As The Texas Independent has reported previously, Heroic Media founder Brian Follett has likened Planned Parenthood’s abortion work to “genocide,” but that has not stopped potential GOP presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin from speaking at high-priced Heroic fundraisers.
The L.A. Times reported last month that Sarah Palin spoke at four Heroic Media fundraisers in 2010. The paper noted that the Jacksonville billboard about the supposed dangers for African-American babies in the womb was paid for by proceeds raised at a Palin event, and the language on the ad was inspired by a statement the former Alaska governor made, urging the audience to protect “our littlest sisters in the womb.”
Heroic Media spokesperson Kimberly Speirs says the guest speaker at next month’s fundraiser in Houston will be an African-American woman who decided not to get an abortion. Speirs also says that the guest was once voted teacher of the year at a Houston school district, but would not release the woman’s name.
Last fall’s sold-out Dillard’s fashion show in Austin was attended by nearly 200 people and raised approximately $45,000 to go toward an Austin-focused campaign, Speirs says. She won’t speculate on how many attendees are expected at next month’s fashion show in Houston –- registration is still open through March 31 — but Brophy says he is expecting between 400 and 500 attendees.
Heroic Media is charging $50 to get into the event and is asking attendees to purchases flower-themed sponsorships: A $5,000 “rose sponsorship” secures eight tickets to a private reception before the event, as well as the opportunity to model in the style show. Though Speirs says any Heroic Media supporters can model, as long as they are supporters of Heroic’s mission. A “firewheel sponsorship” costs $2,500 and pays for six tickets to the private reception before the style show. An “Indian paintbrush sponsorship” buys four tickets to the private event, for $1,500. Attendees also have the option to sponsor tables for $350.
Brophy says Dillard’s does not usually make a profit at these sort of events, which the Houston store has previously sponsored for the likes of Houston’s Lakeside Country Club, but they usually break even. He says that often the models end up purchasing the clothes, which at this event will either come from Peter Nygård’s or Antonio Melani’s fashion lines.
“It’s a win-win,” says Brophy, noting that in exchange for free entertainment, the store gets free advertising.
Dillard’s corporate office did not respond to requests for comment.
For its part, Heroic Media just seems to be a fan of Dillard’s style.
“Everyone loves Dillard’s,” Speirs says, noting that the corporation was chosen for its respectable brand and for the quality of its clothes.
The event will be about clothes, Speirs says, but it will also be about furthering Heroic Media’s mission — talking women out of abortion.
“We do not ever tell anybody what to do,” Speirs says. “We show alternatives [to abortion] through education and positive messages.”