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Luxury Brands & Philanthropy: Knight in Shining Chanel Suit

We live in a real world with real problems, some natural, many man-induced. There is something very human about reaching out to another person when they need you the most – this emotion and its ability to move people is well understood by luxury brands who are on a mission to save the world!

Men and women of virtue are revered and even worshipped across cultures for their acts of selflessness – cases in point – Buddha, Jesus, Prophet Muhammad, Joan de Arc, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Dr. King. Each generation has its own crusaders who grab the attention of our human consciousness. Many more who do good deeds are never noticed and vanish into thin air. What was considered a personal or community’s responsibility of taking care of the less fortunate now had better coverage through the modern governing systems. Businesses, which were for long considered non- human entities, generating employment and profits, were added to the responsibility muster. Business houses had to be pressurized to get in line and be responsible for their actions, first by acknowledging employees, then being accountable for whatever it supplied to the consumers. With higher awareness of consumers and increased pressure, companies were compelled to give back to the very societies they benefit from, thus giving birth to Corporate Social Responsibility.

New Gucci Packaging

Fashion and luxury, for a very long time, functioned as a family owned, closely knit model with immense respect and support to employees. In ‘The Gucci Story’, a book chronicling the empire’s rise and fall and then rise again, employees testify on being treated like family by the legendary Guccio Gucci and his sons. Soon the big bad boys of investment bankers took shine to the profitability of these businesses and went on a shopping spree, buying out families and turning the slower, handmade art form into global businesses. Soon, the accountability seekers, started demanding more than just beautiful couture.

Attaching itself to causes relevant to the times, either through outright donations or by making changes to their current practices, and many a times developing special range of products, sales proceeds of which generate funds for the selected cause, luxury opened its heart. Quite recently, Gucci changed its beautiful glossy laminated packaging in deep brown-gold paper to partly recycled and deeper brown materials, thereby cutting down the pressure on the environment for paper.

Hermes & Sidaction 'Life in a Pocket'French institution Hermès had created a special edition tie in support of AIDS charity Sidaction called ‘Life in a pocket’, which sports a small concealed pocket to hold a condom. LVMH, on the other hand, has multiple energy conserving processes. Its buildings are created to use lesser energy, thus reducing the carbon footprint. Many luxury brands’ websites draw our attention towards their solidarity to arts, heritage, culture, medical research, child related programs and support of new talent.

The critically acclaimed movie, Blood Diamond, portrayed the ugly truth behind the clear, flawless and sparkling world of gems by certain luxury fine jewellery brands. The red carpet at the Oscars that year saw actresses leaving behind their sponsored baubles in protest. Since then (though it still goes on very much) brands using gems and metal list their ethical standards on their corporate sites. Tiffany & Co. recognizes protection of the environment as a moral and a business imperative assuring the gushing brides-to-be and their grooms that the gems are sourced in a socially and environmentally responsible fashion.

MAC Viva Glam has been at the forefront in fighting AIDS, while Estee Lauder is now known as much for its Pink ribbon raising awareness on Breast Cancer as their stunning cosmetics and fragrances. L’Oreal undertakes many socially responsible initiatives, supporting girl child education, promoting newer talents in the field of sciences for women and also runs a fully-fledged academy.

Mumbai Sea Link lit up in pink lights for breast cancer awareness

“Its yellow, its ugly, it doesn’t go with anything, but it could save your life” – Karl Lagerfeld, the iconic designer of Chanel and his own namesake label generously offered his name to promote a road safety campaign in France which made it mandatory for drivers to sport a reflective, yellow vest. The world applauded the self-depreciating Lagerfeld for his important message. 

Karl Lagerfeld Yellow Safety Vest

When America experienced the biggest attack on her soil and New York City lost its greatest landmark and many innocent lives in the twin tower tragedy, luxury came together under the banner ‘Fashion for America’, an initiative by Council of Fashion Designers of America Inc. (CFDA) and Vogue. The sale of the mended heart t-shirt generated $2 million to help the victims and the bruised city get back on its feet. CFDA’s president, Diane von Furstenberg, a staunch supporter of social causes, believes fashion has a responsibility to come together and make a difference whenever the world is in need.

In a study by an Asian market research company, Albatross Global Solutions & Ruder Finn Asia, which surveyed 1,100 luxury consumers in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to produce their China Luxury Forecast 2010, found that CSR was found to be particularly important among the more educated shoppers with higher incomes. More than two-thirds of Chinese consumers said a luxury brand’s CSR would affect their decision to purchase. Jean-Michel Dumont, chairman of Ruder Finn Asia, says the earthquake in Sichuan “was a turning point for CSR in China, whichever sector you are in.” The newly rich, luxury loving Chinese realized the importance of humanitarian acts when faced with devastation.

It can be argued that brands use CSR as a marketing tool leveraged to capitalize on some new fashionable cause as long as it makes business sense, but one cannot deny the fact that no other industry is as proactive or generous about social and environmental issues which face the planet. As we inch closer towards more difficult times, consumers and societies are becoming more and more aware of genuine ‘intent’ and ‘efforts’. Be it restoration of heritage sites or iconic movies which would otherwise be lost to time or even education for children – luxury brands are swiftly moving to more pressing matters which will make an impactful difference to the quality of human life… after all people who make such beautiful things would like their planet to be as beautiful!

Salman Z. Bukhari, Shiseido India Pvt LtdAn intelligent, hands-on marketer and brand manager, Mr Salman Bukhari joined luxury beauty brand Shiseido in 2010 to develop the entry plans for the Japanese company in the Indian market. The following year, Shiseido’s Liaison office was established where he assumed the role of Sr Representative Marketing Strategy & Brand Development. In 2013 he co-founded Shiseido India Pvt. Ltd. and was appointed the Marketing Director for Brand Development & Brand Building initiatives in the country in addition to operational tasks to get the company off ground zero. He was instrumental in launching Shiseido’s flagship premium skincare brand Za in 2014. In the past, Mr Bukhari has worked for and revived mass brands such as Lifebuoy and Fair & Lovely. He has been a lecturer for over 8 years on marketing at Mumbai’s H.R. College of Commerce & Economics. He has been a features contributor in, a leading luxury e-mag. Salman is an MBA Graduate from ESSEC Business School in Paris, France where he majored in Luxury Brand Management. He was the first Valedictorian (Major de Promotion) from Asia in the MBA program’s history. In his free time Salman tries to master Japanese cooking skills.