As some fashion brands seek support amid Covid-19, others in a stronger financial position are able to offer it.
Brands and retailers from Allbirds to Ralph Lauren are participating in online auctions, donating a percentage of profits, and even selling charity T-shirts.
But those who can afford to redirect resources to philanthropy need to ensure the efficacy and impact of their donations, charity experts say. How brands engage with philanthropy during the pandemic could also set the tone for consumer perception and loyalty once global lockdowns lift. More importantly, misguided donations could mark a missed opportunity to help those who are critically in need.
“Charitable giving is important,” says Allbirds co-founder and co-CEO Tim Brown. “Too many brands simply put money into one-off donations without doing the work.”
Choosing your cause and providing sustained support
Charities directly related to Covid-19 have received overwhelming support since the start of the crisis. WHO’s Solidarity Response Fund is the main beneficiary, having received $1 million from the Graff Foundation, $750,000 from The Tiffany & Co. Foundation and $500,000 from the H&M Foundation, among others.
Brands with long-term partnerships or established foundations have been able to mobilise existing contacts. Ralph Lauren has pledged more than $10 million, split between the WHO, the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund for Covid-19 relief and its integrated charities, like cancer care charities the brand has worked with for more than 20 years. The brand has also provided emergency grants for employees facing special circumstances. “We tailored our approach to focus on the areas where we could leverage our connections and expertise,” explains David Lauren, chief innovation officer and head of the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation.
Supporting trending causes isn’t always the right way to donate. Rather, brands should choose charities that align with their own purpose and values says New Philanthropy Capital consultant Clare Wilkins.
One of the T-shirt designs produced by Asos and Help Refugees to raise funds for NHS Charities Together.
© Choose Love
British e-commerce retailer Asos collaborated with UK charity Help Refugees on a series of £15 T-shirts printed with large letters stating “Choose Our Carers” and “Choose Our NHS”, a reference to Britain’s National Health Service. The tie-up has raised £100,000 for NHS Charities Together and The Care Workers Charity. 100 per cent of the profits are donated and matched by Asos, totalling £8.20 per item.
But these methods have their detractors, especially given the short life span of lower-priced garments. “Even with the best intentions… it never feels like [a charity T-shirt] is built with integrity in order to last,” says Fashion Revolution co-founder Orsola de Castro.
Asos says the T-shirts were made in Madagascar and Mauritius before the pandemic using certified organic cotton grown in India and later printed with the graphic font at SMETA-accredited printers, Meesha Graphics, a highly automated supplier of eight years, based in Leicester, UK.
Help Refugees CEO Josie Naughton says the T-shirts help raise crucial funds and awareness for the charity. “We always make sure that everything is made responsibly. The question I know people have is — should we be making T-shirts? Does the world need new clothes? But it’s an incredibly complex question.” Working with Asos has helped to raise awareness for the charity, which is looking into making a range of products that are upcycled for people who don’t want to buy new clothes, according to Naughton.
Maximising impact, even for small brands
With mainstream charities receiving blockbuster donations from companies like Kering and LVMH, smaller brands have an opportunity to support more specialist organisations. French brand Coperni’s chosen charity, Emmaüs Connect, hopes to provide 3G internet, Wi-Fi and computers to 10,000 children and 5,000 older people and immigrants in France during Covid-19.
Italian brand Redemption has been donating 50 per cent of its profits to charity since its inception in 2013. Founder Gabriele Bebe Moratti says the company chooses charities that have low structural costs so a large percentage of the donation goes to the people in need. “Our second criteria is efficacy. Once the money has been donated, we follow through to make sure it is put to good use.”
Polling by the UK Charity Commission shows that public donors want to know how their money was spent and what impact it made, but brands should let the charity’s needs drive how donations are spent. While conditional donations are easier to track, Wilkins says charities need flexibility in a crisis, so donations should be unrestricted.
Staggering and sustaining donations benefits charities that will continue to need funds once the emergency period passes. Redemption donated €50,000 to San Raffaele Hospital in Milan and made smaller donations of around €5,000 to emergency responses. The brand will continue to split 100 per cent of its online profits between three NGOs until 31 August: Meals on Wheels and Best Buddies in the US, and ActionAid everywhere else. In April, Loewe pledged €500,000 to Plataforma de Infancia, a Spanish alliance of organisations protecting children’s rights and education; it will also donate €40 from each sale of its Paula’s Ibiza collection until August.
Loewe is donating €40 from each sale of its Paula’s Ibiza collection to charity.
Donating a percentage of online profits allows smaller brands to contribute to charities while trying to ensure their own survival. It also increases customer awareness of the causes they are supporting. Moratti argues that the two are not mutually exclusive. “If our customers want to buy a garment and the profits go to charity, the burden is on us, not them. Fashion enjoys very good margins — why shouldn’t we do more to help?”
As best practice, consultants like Wilkins encourage brands to build long-term partnerships with charities, where transparent communication drives initiatives. “Ideally, what we want is for brands and companies to focus on the impact the charity is trying to achieve, and how the charity is learning from its work and adapting and improving, rather than focusing on how that fits into the brand’s marketing efforts,” she says.
Key takeaway: Maximising support for charities requires long-term commitments, rather than one-off trending donations, charity experts say.
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