Is this fashion with a social conscience or just clever marketing?

Image: Getty Images

The challenge with millennials (myself being one of them) is that they would rather work less and have more experience than work consistently hard for money. The age of corporate neutrality has ended for reasons that may not only be due to the millennials but also to a general change in attitudes – that the world needs to be a better place and  that corporations should stop being uncaring sycophants to profit. Brands need to do more. That being said, millennials are changing corporate DNA most specifically in how they contribute to society. For corporations it’s now riskier to be neutral than to take a stance.

The population is tired of corporate greed and fashion brands including Gucci, Burberry, Balenciaga and Lacoste have caught on to this trend using their platforms to “do good” and “give back”. The question is, do the brands sincerely commit to a new strategy of doing good, and sustainably so, or are they simply latching on to a current trend that feels right in order to seduce the millennial in a very superficial way? So what is the motivation behind this new approach?  A brand’s survival depends on how it is able to maintain its relevance.

In the wake of the 17th US school shooting this year, Gucci have shown their support for the anti-gun movement in the US by donating $500,000 to the March For Our Lives movement . In a public statement the fashion house professed “we stand with March For Our Lives and the fearless students across the country who demand that their lives and safety become a priority”.

A model walks the runway at the Gucci Spring Summer 2018 fashion show during Milan Fashion Week on September 20, 2017 in Milan, Italy.
A model walks the runway at the Gucci Spring Summer 2018 fashion show during Milan Fashion Week on September 20, 2017 in Milan, Italy.
Image: Getty images

I applaud Gucci for its stance on the highly controversial issue of gun control, but how sustainable is it? Is it a flash-in-the-pan marketing strategy or is it a sincere and genuine attempt to reconstruct itself as a corporation? Does a donation of $500,000 have any meaning in terms of Gucci's $12.7-billion profitability?

 Balenciaga has highlighted its “philanthropic” nature in the brand’s Fall/Winter 2018 show at Paris fashion week. Teaming up with the World Food Programme, the Spanish fashion house explored  a new collection made for extreme weather in the form of textured layering and oversized parkas.  Balenciaga brought awareness to the WFP by displaying the charity’s logo on printed tees, bumbags and baseball caps. 

A model walks the runway at the Balenciaga Autumn Winter 2018 fashion show during Paris Fashion Week on March 4, 2018 in Paris, France.
A model walks the runway at the Balenciaga Autumn Winter 2018 fashion show during Paris Fashion Week on March 4, 2018 in Paris, France.
Image: Getty Images

The brand has donated $250,000 (from its $1-billion net worth) and promised 10% of the retail price on each piece sold to the UN charity – but only until July. Why not longer?

As with Gucci, Balenciaga’s philanthropic attempt lacks substance. Bringing awareness to the WFP is great but there is no action. So isn’t the campaign actually just a well-thought- out marketing strategy?

Burberry’s last Autumn/ Winter 2018 collection under creative director Christopher Bailey was dedicated to LGBTQ. The brand updated the iconic tartan print to include rainbow-hued stripes in support of LGBTQ communities and charities. According to Bailey “there has never been a more important time to say that in our diversity lies our strength, and our creativity”, making his last collection emblematic of tolerance and inclusiveness. Burberry’s rainbow check is a genuine attempt to bring awareness and celebrate LGBTQ communities and those marginalised by their difference.

A model walks the runway at the Burberry Prorsum Autumn Winter 2018 fashion show during London Fashion Week on February 17, 2018 in London, United Kingdom.
A model walks the runway at the Burberry Prorsum Autumn Winter 2018 fashion show during London Fashion Week on February 17, 2018 in London, United Kingdom.
Image: Getty Images

Lacoste’s latest “Save our Species campaign” is bringing awareness to endangered species by temporarily replacing the brand’s iconic crocodile logo with that of 10 endangered animals. The number of shirts produced for each animal was calibrated to the population of those remaining endangered animals in the wild. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has partnered with the French company for three years to use the brand’s wide reach and well-known platform for good. Half of the campaign's profits will go to the IUCN and the other half will go towards generating awareness for endangered species.

Image: Lacoste

Awareness is amazing but it is action that makes the real difference, which is what these fashion brands are failing to understand. Millennials in particular are technologically focused and respond to experience. Creating an experience becomes far more memorable and appealing than throwing money at the problem. Some of these brands have underestimated the intelligence of millennials – we’re easily able to identify the lack of substance and depth in these campaigns. I’m cynical. I think these campaigns are clever marketing strategies, some more genuine than others.  In order to make a real difference these brands can’t just talk the talk. They need to walk the walk too.

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