CSR & ethical fashion part III- when luxury brands make a difference

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

We all know this wise saying, but one fashion brand made it its credo. Mail&Guardian online summarized the company’s mission statement as follows:

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to make a giant hand-carved fish pendant with a black horn chain-link necklace and you feed him for a lifetime.“

Instead of trying to save third-world countries with donations, the new luxury label Maiyet from New York gambles on a philanthropic business model. The fish that was described above was made in Kenya, debuted on a runway show in Paris and can be purchased at Barney’s in New York.

This video shows how Maiyet brings the work of their global artisans onto the Paris Fashion Week:

According to Amer1e “ a balance of ethical fashion and quality craftsmanship, is what sets NY brand Maiyet apart from other designer labels.“ But in my previous blog entries “CSR and ethical fashion part I and II” we have seen that there is  wide range of fashion brands that discovered the power of CSR and incorporated this “philosophy” in their business models.

So what exactly is the difference here?

The fishy tale has indeed an interesting twist: Maiyet was co-founded by Paul van Zyl, former anti-apartheid activist and human rights lawyer who set up the International Center for Transitional Justice and worked at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Daniel Lubetzky, social entrepreneur and founder of PeaceWorks Inc.

Maiyet doesn’t have the same brand value that Gucci for example has, but other than Gucci this new luxury label only partners with artisan businesses that have the potential to stabilize their communities. They partner with artisans in Colombia, India, Italy, Kenya, Mongolia, Peru and South Africa to create collections of handbags, shoes, jewelry and apparel.

Paul van Zyl writes in his guest blog that

 Maiyet aims to promote entrepreneurship, prosperity and dignity in the places it works (…) by using the power of the market to allocate capital to promote peace.”

In order to ensure success of the success for their artisan partners, Maiyet joined a partnership with Nest, an independent non-profit organization that aims at training and developing artisan businesses.

What sets Maiyet apart from other brands is their set of principles and rules that apply to the whole business and not just one section of it. Van Zyl adds that Maiyet tried to find businesses that focused on economic empowerment and poverty alleviation, businesses that empowered women and where Muslims and Hindus could work together.

Van Zyl continues:

Where is the competitive advantage in developing economies? We thought: look at Kenya, India, Peru … there’s artisanship but it’s underutilised. If we could incorporate what these people did in a brand and offer them design direction, access to markets and finance, we could unlock their value. The idea was to find things that people in developing countries could do well and competitively in a global economy.“

Vivienne Westwood and Gucci have a long tradition of quality and their brand represents a certain value but CSR never was the quintessence of their business. In Maiyet’s case it is different, they build on sustainability and social responsibility. They “ celebrate the rare and the unexpected”, because the idea behind the skills of local artisans are underestimated and unexploited.

There are two core differences that distinguish Maiyet according to Paul van Zyl:

It’s just that the design process is infused from the beginning with an unusual sourcing strategy.(…) Secondly, our strategy is geared towards fundamentally overhauling and improving [small businesses], not placing periodic orders … It’s not a quick hit. Not this year Columbia is fashionable, next year it’s Indonesia.“

This brand makes a difference and sets an example for other fashion brands that are still struggling with CSR. Maiyet belongs to a new generation of fashion brands that proves that an overall eco-friendly and philanthropic concept can be successful and help third-world countries to use their potential.

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One Response to CSR & ethical fashion part III- when luxury brands make a difference

  1. lilmeu says:

    Hey Mirella!
    Thank you for continue writing about ethical fashion and CSR! As I already said last week, I consider this topic to be very interesting and important in our society. We just cannot consume luxury goods like clothes if we exploit the workers in developing countries. Thus, CSR becomes more and more important because the gap between rich and poor people also gets bigger.
    First of all, I really like the quotation with the fish and that you continued to pick up this metaphor in the following passages. You seem to have a writing talent in high gear, well done! 🙂
    Moreover, I appreciate that you insert the video right in the beginning instead in the end. The reason is that you offer the reader an exciting introduction into your topic. Therefore, I am interested in continue reading.
    You also have chosen your quotations quite smartly because they fit the topic very well! I don´t need to repeat them because they are quite clear but I like the way how you contrast the opinions of different professionals.
    However, it would be nice if you focus on CSR in the fast fashion branch like “H&M” next time. Last night I watched a documentation called “h&m check” which was very interesting! (http://www.daserste.de/information/allround_dyn~uid,3wfdmjwzy8v11ivu~cm.asp)
    Unfortunately, this was your last blog post.
    All in all, you did a very good job during the summer semester and I am very glad that you enriched our “fastexposure” webpage with your blog posts. Thank you! 🙂

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