Giving is the new receiving.
As many brands turn to philanthropy and consumers assuage “fashion guilt” with items that offer percentage-based donations, having a cause-based element in the retail formula is smart business. When choosing between two brands of equal quality and price, 90% of U.S. shoppers are likely to switch to a cause branded product, according to a Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study. This giving spirit has even coined the Tuesday after Thanksgiving as Giving Tuesday, held shortly after Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Statistics show consumers are indeed turning a kind eye to giving. According to a Unilever Consumer study, 33% of consumers are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good. And Catalist’s Revelations at the Register noted that 72% of consumers have donated to charity at the register and 65% of consumers felt positively about the retailer after giving.
Millennials are particularly attuned to social causes and care where/how the products they buy are made, and whom they help. In fact, 73% of Millennials recognize the Fair Trade Certified seal, and 54% are more likely to purchase a product based on the seal.
As consumers (particularly Millennials) demand information and transparency, philanthropy works particularly well online as sites can provide links to the causes, offering further information and often putting a human face to a beneficiary. In-store philanthropy works best when retailers host trunk shows and invite representatives from a single or various charity to answer questions and help drive business. Packaging and cause related marketing cards also work as silent salespeople to close a deal. All are feel-good, win-win options.
There are various ways to work a philanthropic model, all beneficial. Some brands opt to help developing communities, setting up one-for-one buy-one-donate-one models to the needy or establishing manufacturing facilities to help people (usually women) gain control of their lives. Some designers seek medical-based charities with personal meaning, selecting diseases that have inflicted themselves or loved ones. Other companies put the consumers in charge, letting shoppers select from hundreds of affiliate charities to find those that resonate the deepest.
Designs That Donate is an online site where the consumer—not the brands selling on the site—is in the driver’s seat. With over 100 affiliate charities, the consumer selects from a pull-down which charity will receive the money that Designs That Donate applies for each sale. Percentages range from 5% on an online daily basis to 20% at live events. “When people purchase through Designs That Donate, especially for a gift, the recipient will get a card with the giver’s name, the charity they’ve selected and a Designs That Donate ribbon,” says founder Keri Starker, who is also a jewelry designer and launched the site three years ago as a way to give back and help consumers do the same. Consumers can filter the merchandise through various trends such as Live with Love, Connect With Love, Customize with Love, Save with Love, etc.
While Designs That Donate works with multiple brands, Bux180 works with over 2,000 retailers, including Target, Ann Taylor and more. It started out offering member cash rebates on each purchase, plus savings and Daily Deals coupons. But it recently expanded with a philanthropic component allowing consumers to donate their “cash back” to a selected nonprofit organization if they so choose. Like with Designs That Donate, consumers can search by charity type, location or suggest additional charities that might not be on the site.
While all large stores have philanthropic models in some form or another, Nordstrom created an entire give back retail brand called Treasure&Bond, which donates 2.5% of net sales to nonprofit organizations empowering youth. “Treasure&Bond has been a great way for us to give back to nonprofits in the communities we support and the brand’s purpose, as well as its laid-back, Americana aesthetic has really resonated with our customers,” said Jennifer Jackson Brown, president of Nordstrom Product Group. “Thanks to our customers, Nordstrom has been able to bring Treasure&Bond into more departments throughout the store, which enables us to give even more to organizations that are doing such important work to support young people.”
Nordstrom recently announced a $719,000 donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and Canada, marking the largest gift to-date from Nordstrom through Treasure&Bond, and bringing its total donation from sales of the brand to more than $1.4 million since 2014.
When it comes to “handbags that help,” FEED instantly comes to mind. With 95.6 million school meals already provided to children in the 62 poorest countries, FEED—founded in 2007 by George W. Bush’s niece Lauren Bush Lauren—traditionally used totes to help the global hunger efforts, stamping each bag with the number of meals its purchase provides. While FEED starting out with earthy/utility canvas styles, new pieces have a chicer, more subtle, approach. A colorful designer collaboration with Rebecca Minkoff (a $295 Rebecca Minkoff x FEED tote provides 74 school meals) is one such example. Another is FEED’s new all-leather Trailblazer collection, which aims to be a woman’s primary bag, not just a weekend or shopping tote.
Jewelry designer Joan Hornig’s brand Philanthropy is Beautiful donates 100% of the profits from each piece purchased to the purchaser’s charity of choice. To date, the Joan B. Hornig Foundation has donated more than $1 million to more than 900 worthy initiatives around the world addressing issues such as education, medical research, social services, the arts, animal rights and environmental protection. While Hornig wholesales to store such as Bergdorf Goodman or the MAD Museum of Arts and Design, she launched an e-commerce site this year.
Hornig got the idea when she worked in finance and attended lots of charity events. After noticing that attendees spent more time looking at everyone’s jewelry than listening to the charity speakers at the podium, she launched her own line to “add meaning” to jewelry sales. Items range from sterling silver to precious metals and stones. The new “Lettuce Give Back Collection” is inspired by vegetables and healthy choices.
Ethical fashion website Maison de Mode, founded by Amanda Hearst and Hasan Pierre, is running a pop-up inside Bloomingdale’s for a month (coinciding with Earth Month). Featuring items like a $570 bucket bag produced in Swaziland, a percentage of sales are donated to the non-profit Nest, which connects fashion brands with global artisans in places like Mexico or Indonesia.
“Craft is the second largest employer of women in developing economies (agriculture is first), so we create the opportunity for women to earn an income from home, where they can also better attend to child care,” says Kristin Lane, Chief Marketing Officer of NEST. “Many of these traditional crafts are in danger of dying out, so to preserve them, we also help artisans translate these craft techniques into a more contemporary design aesthetic. Where women don’t have trend knowledge that extends beyond the local market, we facilitate hands-on targeted mentorships to help the designers grow.”
Songa Designs, which works with women in Rwanda, posts videos of women thanking their customers and showing how their purchases have helped improve their lives (go grab a tissue!).
Philanthropy can also cause consumers to be more engaged and return. “We see a trend in individuals who are introduced to ALEX AND ANI through a CHARITY BY DESIGN product as their first piece tend to have more longevity with our brand,” says Kate Richard, SVP Brand and Creative, ALEX AND ANI. “That excites us because it means we can continue to live out our mission of giving back and make a greater impact through people who care about what we are doing.”
INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT: One area of increasing concern is to help globally, and not merely by kicking money back to those in need. Providing impoverished people (often women) with jobs helps their esteem, financial situation and future independence. A consumer increasingly aware of global events makes this easier to promote and foster. Some brands will use hang tags, packaging inserts, or stories on the website to show the people being the projects. With ever-changing geo-political issues, consumers can help aid select countries or demographic groups.
Selecting groups to help can be timely as well. My Beachy Side, for example, employs Syrian refugees in Turkey to crochet the “footless” sandals. Founded by Turkish businesswoman and former New York editor of Turkish Vogue, My Beachy Side works with local NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) to employ hundreds of women—some living in Southeastern Turkey near the Syrian border. Lowest in OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), Turkey employs only about 30% of its female population outside the home. We are giving both Syrian refugees and Turkish women opportunities to better their lives.
Even helping one person in a developing country is a positive step. Scarf and accessories company Printed Village crowd sources its print designs, offering $500 plus 3% royalty on sales. “Many of our designers are in developing countries so this is a huge benefit,” says Printed Village’s Michelle McCormack, SVP Creative. Printed Village levels the playing field so that anyone, no matter your age, location, education or status in life can earn money through design.
THINK LOCALLY: With so much philanthropy helping international causes in developing countries, sometimes our local situation can get overlooked. The Giving Keys helps the homeless in America. Based in downtown Los Angeles, workers help stamp keys with inspirational messages such as HOPE or BELIEVE. The concept is “Pay It Forward,” encouraging people to “embrace the word and pass along to someone who needs it more than you.” The message encourages self-wear as well as gift-giving, and the website is filled with testimonials of people helped by the keys.
UPCYCLED MATERIALS WITH A CAUSE: Jewelry company Brass & Unity manufactures jewelry from previously fired brass shell casings, offering a portion of the proceeds with Veterans who need help. It’s a personal mission for founder Kelsi Sheren, a military vet who had to leave Afghanistan with PTSD. Brooklyn-based Article22 “buys back the bombs” in Laos, where local artisans turn the undetonated bomb scraps into jewelry, which in turn funds the work of further land-mine clearing squads.
ONE FOR ONE: The “buy one and we donate one” model is the basis for shoe company TOMS, which more recently expanded into handbags and sunglasses. While it’s hard to dispute giving impoverished kids shoes, some do argue that giving shoes hurts local shoemakers. To that end, TOMS also has its Social Entrepreneurship Fund, helping local companies get off the ground and reinvest income back into the companies to help them grow further. In addition, sales of TOMS handbags support Giving Partners with Safe Birth Kits, which, to date, have helped 70,000 mothers in impoverished countries.
Another on-for-one type of model is high-end online optical retailer David Kind, which recently launched its $95 Eyewear Trade Up Program. Customers send in their previously-purchased eyeglasses, and David Kind gives them a $95 credit toward a new pair while donating the old glasses to people overseas through New Eyes for the Needy.
SURVIVAL STORIES: In a fashion industry dominated by women, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation is an obvious recipient of many charitable efforts. Jewelry designer Lizzy James founder Elizabeth Levine is a breast cancer survivor, and actually the line was born during her tinkering around during her medical treatment after having to give up her previous career.