Friday, May 14, 2010

Money crisis to help grow morals in fashion

 In the recent months with the financial crisis spreading all around the world, it’s hard not to think about fashion as something rather unnecessary. With people struggling with losing their jobs and not being able to afford the most basic products, it’s not in fashion anymore to talk about such a frivolous thing as a new crocodile bag. Even the biggest fashion houses and designers are battling the crisis, making loans in banks and trying to stay in business. At the same time they realize it’s not necessarily ethical to sell as expensive clothes as they would before.
In September 2009 the report in Italian newspaper Il Foglio revealed that great Italian fashion houses and world renowned designers are in serious financial troubles. The research presented on this topic exposed the authors’ opinion that it’s been a market’s revenge for highly priced products that were simply "unbearable”. On the list of most affected fashion houses were: Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Cavalli, Valentino. All of the banks, which used to lend them money without any questions, now issued bills. Valentino Group recorded a deficit of 483 million euros for last year. Prada also has a huge debt to pay - estimated at 450 million euros. As a result of deepening difficulties great designers had to give up and admit what they have always denied before: the prices of their products were horrendous. The costumers depopulated the boutiques due to excessively high prices which have forced the fashion houses not only to the 20-percent reduction, but even to change of the entire strategy and creative style. Designers have decided to put a greater impact on the most classic lines, because it was more likely that in the era of recession people would prefer to buy classics.
The financial crisis has brutally walked on a delicate high fashion market. The designers had to cut where they could - and not only the centimeters around models’ waists, in order to somehow carry out their brands and fashion houses through these difficult times. The designers lowered the prices what for the clients meant good deals but they as well had to struggle with a new trend that came into the picture.
Slow wear
The crisis of luxury brands seemed to help the local and much smaller stores. With people looking at every penny they spend on clothes, they are not likely to buy another mass produced sweater which would last only until the first laundry day. Much better idea is to invest in smaller amount of clothes but with better quality. And this is what people started to realize during last year. Why spend all of this money on luxurious clothes, when instead they could buy something made locally with a great quality for much less amount of money. According to the specialists recession helps to shape a new, politically correct fashion trend called Slow Wear. The name refers to the created in Italy Slow Food, which is a movement working to promote the tradition, and fast acting against homogenization of taste. Slow Wear is a similar phenomenon: it is referred back to basics, buying things of quality and environmental protection. But as we all know raw food might not give us as a big eating pleasure as consumption of a hot and tasty burger. Interesting question is whether that would be similar with the Slow Wear trend? Are we going to rush to the nearest H&M store after buying one originally hand made sweater as Sarah Jessica Parker did on the Sex and the City when straight after trying some raw food dishes, she hurried to get a slice of pizza? I imagine it all depends on how the clothes would look like, how much would they cost and then whether they could compete with the high street shops.
"Consumerist revolution is underway, began even before the crisis" - says Martine Leherppeurr, trendspotter on one of the most important fashion fairs, the Paris Pret-A-Porter in her interview with French Press Agency last year. However, the "ethical fashion" - and thus one that is based on fair trade practices and the use of organic materials from plants - still remains a niche. With 1 100 designers and brands presented at the fair in Paris in 2009, only 60 accounted for this trend. On the other hand, this indicates a growing demand for 'sustainable', 'ethical' clothes. At the same fair, three years ago, no more than 20 brands from around the world waved environmentally friendly flag of ethical correctness.
One of the socially responsible brands in Paris has been experiencing a real boom for the period of past 2 years. La Fee Parisienne offers a knitwear collection made in France. Their sweaters are entirely finished by hand with double yarn. Their current collection consists of 40 sweaters available to buy at The Galeries Lafayette in Paris, where the brand was given a corner for their own creation. What an amazing honor for such a small brand. Lara Bruneau-Lauré - Concept designer from La Fée Parisienne explains: “The customers have practically fallen in love with our products, they loved our colours and the playful view that we develop in our collections. The Galeries Lafayette had cashmere corners everywhere and on each stage, but the customers came back to La Fée Parisienne's corner for our very personal identity and for the quality of our cashmere”.
"Awareness is growing ethical. Women want quality and want to know from what source comes what they buy “- continuous Bruneau-Laure. The price of its "balanced" sweaters range from 300 to 1000 euros per piece. "People buy less but buy better" - Lara adds. It looks like the global crisis has helped to move the emphasis on quality rather than quantity, supporting the trend of responsible ethical purchasing fair trade products. Consumers are looking for the trendy things that are unique and diverse, yet made of good fabrics.  With clients learning the ecological ways in fashion, it’s easier to recognize a hand made product created locally in Paris than a dress sewed somewhere in Taiwan or China by a difficult to determine person. With more and more news coming out about large brands producing their clothes somewhere in Asia, people have started to question the big amount of money they spend on something that’s supposed to be luxurious and one in kind. Especially when there is more ecological and responsible way to shop.
Ethical luxury brands

 Corporate social responsibility has become a huge trend in recent years. With the ecology issue and human rights not being respected, there is a pressure on companies to act responsibly. In 2007 the World Wildlife Fund has published a report about the Luxury Brands. The research has been conducted on the 10 largest brands in the world. Big fashion houses such as Tod’s, Hermès and LVMH - a group which owns brands like Louis Vuitton, Moët & Chandon or Hennesy. And others included L’Oreal, Coach, Tiffany & Co, Swatch, PPR, Richemont and Bulgari. Members of the WWF performed a solid research of well-known luxury brands, their acceptance among customers and their impact on environment. “Authentic luxury brands are those that provide the greatest positive contributions to all affected by their creation and that identify their consumers as having the means and motivation to respect both people and the planet.”  That’s how in the preamble of the report "Deeper Luxury", the authors describe the luxury brands.
Luxury brand is regarded by consumers for the better good than that available to all. That is why those brands are required to have a greater interest in the problems of today's world. Luxury products, such as the name implies, are meant to provide consumers with a breath of success. However, success does not mean the same to everyone. As is clear from the studies and the recently observed changes in trends, as consumers become more mature and begin to pay greater attention to the conduct of social responsibility policy, their perception of success changes as well. Nowadays, everyone, especially the successful people want to show their concern for the environment and on other social issues. Some companies have adapted to set the new trends for consumers both in the field of social and ethical advertising. Consumers around the world are beginning to pay greater attention to what they are buying. Not only the prestige of the brand and the price of the product are important anymore, but also how the product itself affects the environment. Therefore, for instance more and more cars in the United States are powered by hybrid engines. Fashion for hybrids also has come to Europe, where car ads for instance for Toyota Lexus appear both in cosmopolitan cities as well as on the slopes in the Alps.
WWF's examined the companies from different angles, observing their commitment to the environment, contacts with the local community, business activity outside the sphere of luxury goods. Individual results showed the positive impact of enterprises. L'Oréal and PPR (French company with brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, Sergio Rossi and Balenciaga) showed their influence not only among the luxury goods’ consumers, but also among the mass recipients. Those two companies also gained good results in the category of contacts with their stakeholders. While Hermès and Swatch scored low due to the lack of a code of ethics.
As the report conducts, exclusive companies are becoming increasingly interested in socially responsible business issues. The final results, however, were surprisingly negative. None of the companies have received a good grade in their evaluation. Four in ten companies received satisfactory plus. Those were L'Oreal, Hermès and LVMH. The worst on the list turned out to be Tod's. The representative of Italy received a failing grade.
Tod’s example
In June 2007, actress Sienna Miller has become the face of Tod’s to promote their fall collection. Miller, considered a fashion icon, has signed a contract with the company for advertising Tod's accessories. It was a first time for the Italian brand to use a celebrity in their advertising campaign. The use of the stars’ image in the ads is beneficial for both parties. Consumers often choose a product based on a celebrity endorsement. Both celebrities and companies need to take care of their image. What happens if a company whose products are advertised by a star doesn’t have a positive impact on consumers? Of course all the negativity is transferred to the person advertising it. WWF's report draws attention to this problem. It calls to the stars for a thorough examination of the company, before signing the agreement on cooperation. Sienna Miller as the face Tod’s, which had poor scores in the report on responsible business, could become less convincing as a person. Consequently, the image of Miller as an actress and artist could be weakened. In May 2008, Tod's has announced that Sienna will not be their face for the next season. This time actress Gwyneth Paltrow was chosen. The Luxury Brand Report notes that because the stars have an impact on consumers, at the same time they have an impact on a company whose products they endorse. Stars are a very important part of the company's success, particularly in the luxury goods sector. They remain a big element of the brand’s value while creating precise images of the products in consumers' minds. A celebrity wearing a specific kind of dress or jacket is an amazing force in shaping current trends. Audience imitates their behaviors, buying shoes worn by their favorite actress, aligning themselves with the brand. When stars will be associated with the brand of a bad reputation, their credibility may suffer.
Sienna Miller is an example of a celebrity who uses her image to promote the well-known brands. As shown in the Tod’s example, stars should be careful with which brands to get involved with. In 2008 Sienna Miller didn’t decide to prolong her cooperation with Italian brand – Tod’s. There was no statement from Miller saying that her choice might have had something to do with the WFF report but we might assume that it did especially due to her ambassador work for Global Cool charity. Sienna Miller’s “slip”, however, drew attention to the problem suggested by the WFF in their report. Celebrities shouldn’t decide on starting cooperation with a company without a previous check of its background.
To be or not to be green
Ecological actions increasingly promoted in media are from month to month more difficult to ignore. Society is learning and is also beginning to understand how important for our environment pro ecological behavior is. Celebrities cannot afford not taking part in environmental activities anymore. Let’s look at an example. When in British and American shops Anya Hindmarch’s I'm not a plastic bag was launched, all the celebrities and fashion conscious people started shopping. Several thousand bags got sold within half an hour. A new trend was born. And it has started with a natural cotton bag which was to take the place of disposable commercials. I'm not a plastic bag became a must – have bag for fashionistas all around the world. Now everybody wanted to have it. In the glossy magazines we could have seen the pictures of stars walking in the center of London with not the latest Gucci bag but a bag made from natural unbleached cotton, which costs only 5 pounds. It was not a dreadful bag, but nice-looking, and now, also trendy to have. Ecology became fashionable. A simple bag, which was created with an idea to persuade people to give up plastic bags, became an object of worship for every woman on both sides of the Atlantic. Now three years after its premiere it’s still one of the most popular bags in the world. The only places where it’s still possible to get it are online auctions. On e-Bay its value sometimes rises up to 200 pounds per bag. On Portobello Road in London's Chelsea district, you could buy fake I’m not a plastic bag in different colors. And here the problem occurs. We must ask ourselves a question - is buying fake bags a socially responsible action? Of course not, but in that moment nobody thought about being responsible. The fashion came in first and because the difference between the original and the copy was almost invisible, consumers preferred to buy a fake other than nothing. Chris Arnold, creative partner at ethical marketing company Feel spoke to BBC News Magazine about the problem: "So what if people buy it because it's a fashion statement. If the person who uses the bag is shallow and driven by fashion, it still helps the planet because they haven't used a plastic one”. Using I'm not a plastic bag draws attention to the problem and not only to its owner but also the people around who know what a bag represents. As the proud owner of the bag, I know that the bag is fashionable, but what’s more important it forces us to think about the ecology problems and helps us to become more responsible consumers. Hindmarch’s bag has started a trend toward the pro - environmental activities that are ongoing until this day. Let’s recall by example Penelope Cruz, who advertises mineral cosmetics from L'Oreal with no preservatives, which are healthy for users. There are more and more collections of clothes and shoes made from organic materials. And those are not anymore made only by Stella McCartney or designed and promoted by an actress Natalie Portman. Nowadays we can find pro - green collections at chain stores like H&M or Marks & Spencer. We have to wait several years to see in what direction would this trend go, and whether it is more than just a momentary tendency.
It’s been two years since the WFF report has been published and it doesn’t look like less people would buy Hermès’ silk scarfs, especially when its financial report shows that sales went up by 8.5% for the last year! Nike trainers are still one of those most popular out there even though there are numbers of incidents taking place in South – East Asia, where under aged children sew new models. That is why we must ask ourselves whether fashion really could be considered an ethical business?
On one hand there are people who don’t care about the origin of their fur coats and clothes in general but due to the crisis vast amount of people who love clothes and accessories started to think where their clothes come from and not only the label started to be important.
It’s been a year since the biggest crisis in years attacked economies around the world. Did it change the spoiled fashion world? The recent numbers show that great Valentino could be back in the game soon. Sales for December 2009 and January 2010 increased by 10% according to Andrew Roberts from Bloomberg BusinessWeek. The good results made the group aspire to open new stores in 2010. It looks like the costumers got tired of the crisis and wanted to splurge a little after dry months.
Let’s hope that this crisis brought at least two good things into the fashion world. People started considering fashion as something able to be responsible and ecological. There is an obvious assumption that not all the people who bought I’m not a plastic bag, actually bought it for its message but maybe in the end they’ve learned something more about the subject.  With such great designers like Stella McCartney, Lara Bruneau-Lauré and local stores making clothes from natural materials, we can finally choose to buy ecologically. There is optimism that we – the costumers – could be responsible too. It looks like at least for now fashion and ecology have become strong partners. Let’s hope for the sake of our planet and our wallets that this partnership is going to evolve and stay with us forever. 

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