CSR & ethical fashion part I – Vivienne Westwood’s African mission

Last Monday I discussed whether Corporate Social Responsibility should remain voluntary or become mandatory. This time I am focusing on CSR in the fashion industry, particularly among luxury companies. At the beginning of my blogging on Fastexposure I talked extensively about fashion, marketing and advertising strategies and mass consumption, and although I thought that fashion as a topic was pretty well exhausted, I still found great potential in it and decided to link it to CSR in order to complete the circle.

Why luxury brands?

Well, in the past we have exposed Zara and learned about their wage regulation policies and their environmental friendly store concept. We also do know that H&M, Primark or New Look are widely involved in CSR practices including ethical fashion. But what do we actually know about the luxury market? Are luxury brands equally committed to responsible business practices and sustainability?

Yes, they are.  Influentially well-known British designer,Vivienne Westwood, godmother of Punk and grande dame of the UK Fashion scene, works in a partnership with the International Trade Center’s Ethical Program, Ethical Fashion Africa. With the ethical collection, which is in its third season of production, Westwood aims to address the problems of poverty, female inequality and environmental degradation. She is guided by the principle that those problems cannot be solved through mere charity, but work. Therefore the motto of this collaboration is: “ This is not charity, it is work.”

Through the project Westwood has provided work for women who live in the most deprived areas of Kenya, helped them to create lifelong skills and income. The long-term goal is to make sure that Kenyan collaborators establish their own design practices, thus creating a cycle of employment for the next generation of workers in order to improve the living standard.

Ethical fashion is about the “ethics of responsibility”, says Simone Cipriani- head of the Ethical Fashion Initiative of the International Trade Center(ITC). In an interview with the Business Of Fashion(BOF) blog Cipriani explains the term “ethical fashion“ as following:

 I think ethical fashion is being responsible for people and for the planet. The social dimension is about extreme poverty and exclusion from the wealth of the world. We are responsible for it because if we change it, it becomes better also for us.“

Cipriani believes that Ethical Fashion Programme isn’t just a way to make consumers feel good about themselves, but it also serves the purpose of addressing substantial problems like poverty.According to him it is not a niche initiative.

However, the concept behind ethical fashion cannot remain idealistic, it hast to work as a business and a product that people want to buy. Here Simone Cipriani argues that a product has to fulfil certain conditions in order to be sold. It has to be beautiful and within a certain marigin or price. But this is just the bottom line.

He adds:

(…) there is a new bottom line which(…)is how the value is built in the whole value chain. the majority of the value lies in the last rings of the value chain, the biggest share of the pie(…).“

Not only Vivienne Westwood whose African collection of bags and accessories ends up in designer stores across the globe but also Fendi and Stella McCartney work with locals in Kenya and produce sustainable fashion.

Westwood who is highly aware of the climate change sees a connection between creating jobs and addressing environmental issues in a sense that people who a have a fixed and stable income and therefore more control over their lives can choose not to have to exploit the environment because there is another way of earning money now.

There is a growing number of luxury companies which implement similar CSR strategies in their business model and although this particular program might not be a “niche initiative“ ethical fashion still can be considered as a niche market.

Cipriani answered the question “What will it take to get this message understood by fashion companies?“ posed by BOF as follows:

The system through which you build the value in fashion is wrong.(…) management, and is about being fair to people, first of all, then it’s about managing the market, then it’s about finance(…)How can you be responsible to people if you neglect what happens in the first stage of the value chain? It’s about organising and allocating resources in such a way that this profit is also shared with the first stages. This is ethical fashion.“

It seems as if fashion companies still have to learn a lot, but they are on the right track. CSR can benefit both parts, that is the people who are producing the items and simultaneously improve their living standards as well as consumers who know the story behind the product and can be sure that no one had to suffer. Changing the world through fashion sounds maybe a bit fanciful at this stage,but it certainly can make things better if other luxury brands follow suit. Not only managers have to think about that but also consumers have to assume responsibility. In 2007 Vivienne Westwood revealed:

If you ask me what I think people should be getting next season, I’ll tell you what I’d like them to buy—nothing. I’d like people to stop buying and buying and buying.What I’m saying is buy less, choose well.“

This video summarizes the idea of the Ethical Fashion Africa – project and might make you more aware of its importance.

 

Next week I will inform you about Gucci’s CSR efforts and I’ll discuss with you the question whether CSR has really reached the luxury brands or if they just skim the surface responsible business.

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6 Responses to CSR & ethical fashion part I – Vivienne Westwood’s African mission

  1. lilmeu says:

    Hey Mirella!
    Your blog post is very interesting because you combined CSR and fashion. I never thought about Corporate Social Responsibility in the fashion branch and therefore, it was really nice to read your article!
    In the beginning, I thought that luxury fashion made by Vivienne Westwood, for example, cannot be produced ethically right and environmental friendly because such designers often use expensive and rare materials, like animal fur to produce a fur coat. As a result, I have to critize this aspect because I am an animal lover. Creating such clothes and accessories using parts of animals is just not ethically right. It would be nice if you focus on this point more detailed.
    Additionally, I really like that you informed me about the concept and philosophy of Vivienne Westwood. I didn´t know that she is involved in charity events and is interested in ethical issues in such a way! Especially her ethical fashion of the “Africa Collection” is a meaningful improvement in the fashion branch. She should be a role model for other designers to behave more responsible and ethically right!
    All in all, I like the various mixture of your visuals (video, pictures, …) including their quality and your style of writing! You should stick to this theme, it is very interesting and you can broaden our horizon if you inform us about CSR and German designers next week, for example.
    Well done! 🙂

  2. Eva Schruff says:

    Nice blog post, Mirella!
    You chose a really interesting topic and I have to admit that I (just like lilmeu) was skeptical in the beginning about the combination of CSR and luxury fashion. I guessed you would introduce a superficial development aid project which was only about sending money or goods to poor Africa and that’s it. However the project you introduced to us really aims at changing something as it only supports self-help and therefore is a sustainable project.
    Besides, I really like your writing style. The frequent use of quotes just fits perfectly to your text and are well chosen. I especially like Cipriani’s opinion about what ethical fashion is and the last quote of Vivienne Westwood as they reveal that both of them truly believe in ethical fashion and helping these people. This makes the project very authentic.
    Last but not least, it would have helped me to fully belive in this project, if you had included opinions of other people than those who are involved in the project. This would make the attempt even more authentic. This topic is also discussed in the article “Is British designer Vivien Westwood, Kenya’s friend or foe?”.
    Thanks a lot for sharing! I will definetly read your next post about Gucci.

  3. Pingback: This week on FastExposure « fastexposure

  4. xxanh says:

    Dear Mirella,

    Thank you so much for writing about fashion!!! I am really glad that you combined fashion and CSR strategies in your blogpost. Not only that I enjoyed reading about fashion, but I also learnt something new about CSR practices among luxury brands. I know that companies like Starbucks, H&M or McDonalds are involved in CSR practices, but me as well, wanted to know if luxury brands are also implying the concept of CSR. I like that you explained based on the case of Vivienne Westwood how present CSR actually in this field of luxury fashion is. You gave the reader an informative overview of Westwood’s campaigns and her motives to practice CSR. I also liked that you used a lot of nice images and even include a video, which makes your post much more appealing. But I would have liked if you had include or at least referred to an opponent opinion of CSR campaigns of luxury brands. Because, even me as a fashion loving person has to admit that CSR and luxury fashion is a high controversial pair of shoes. Luxury brands have to be careful with homages concerning CSR. Maybe you will include it in your next blogpost. I am looking forward to your next one-I am already curious about your next post about Gucci’s CSR efforts. All in all, brilliant blogpost! Well done.

  5. juleswilma says:

    hey Mirella,
    great post! It’s a very important issue you addressed here and I really like that you also referred to non luxury brands like Zara and H&M in the beginning because we have discussed it very detailed in class when this semester started and it’s nice to see that even it is some time in the past that you didn’t forget about it and brought it up again.
    Personally, I always thought that the luxury brands would even care less about CSR and ethical fashion than Zara or H&M because they earn so much money with the highly expensive clothes they sell and mostly the people who buy luxury clothes pay for the brand name and not for the cost of its production.
    So for me it was very interesting reading your post because it gave me a totally new perspective on that issue and I was very surprised that Vivienne Westwood is doing such a thing like an “Africa Project” to help the people living there. I really liked that you also quoted her to me it is something very unusual when a famous designer says that people should buy less. That was quite impressive. The video you included at the is a great summary and conclusion at once and it shows what Vivienne Westwood is actually doing in Africa and implies some impressive pictures as well.
    I also like the way how you related Vivienne Westwood’s “Africa Project” to the overall theme of “ethical fashion” which is becoming more and more important in our modern society, I believe.
    It also would have been interesting to know whether or not there are opponents of this project of Vivienne Westwood or if there are some negative aspects about it.
    But overall, you did a very good job here and I’m looking forward to your next posts!

  6. blinkweb.com says:

    Good post! We are linking to this great content on our site.
    Keep up the good writing.

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