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.
(…) 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.