Posted by: Viviana M. Rueda Image | April 18, 2008

For All: Luxury Branding and Social Consciousness

Last night I had the opportunity to participate in a focus group that was reviewing women’s ideas about brands and what makes a good community experience.  I’m being vague because I’m not sure how much I want to share about the project but suffice it to say that it’s about building a shopping and community experience that involves high-end brands and luxury.  MMMM….I know how to pick a focus group, don’t I?  by the by, if you never done  a focus group try it, it’s fun and interesting, although mind you…not all of them provide luxury settings with hors d’oeuvres and champagne.  Like I said, I know how to pick ‘em!

So as I went home I got to thinking about the amazing challenge for any business that wants to focus on promoting brands that not only speak to luxury but also have a certain level of social consciousness, while steering clear of potential PR nightmares (imagine if you aligned with a group that turned out to be of the ecological-saboteur ilk).  There’s a demographic of well-heeled consumers who want to feel like they make a difference in the world while they drive their $175,000 car and wear their $2,000 shoes that were hand made out of sustainable products (does this make sense to anyone by the way?) by a small community of Indians in the remote Andes.  Ah yes…the days of the Ferrari in the driveway, the house in Aspen and the country club membership are indeed changing.  Now you can have that AND save the planet.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I find it fascinating to look at how companies grapple with this dynamic.  Take for instance the whole “green” craze.  If I had some extra time in my 80-hour workweek, I’d love to understand more clearly what that means exactly.  ”We’ve gone green!” is all over marketing campaigns.  Frankly, it smells of “All our products are lite!”.  Remember that craze in the early 90’s, when everything was “light” or “lite” and when you realized it was all marketing hype you were like 15 pounds heavier?  Ah, hello…consumer beware.  Small wonder that people were confused about gaining weight from “light” potato chips!  The only thing “light” about them was the color!  Anyhow. 

Point is, that I find this new age of branding fascinating and if as a business person you could leverage this into your own life, well, done in the right way and in integrity, it really could make a difference in the world, in your personal life and in your business. 

And the cool thing is that a lot of people are jumping on the band wagon with the same thought.  For instance, in the realm of the beauty products world there are companies such as Kiehl’s, that partner with Moroccan women to produce their “Superbly Restorative Dry Oil”, which is made out of a nut from trees found in the  Sous Valley.  Not only does the initiative help the Cooperative in terms of establishing and growing local businesses but it also aids in the teaching women how to read and write and how to run the their own businesses.  The oil by the way is said to be very effective to treat scars and split ends.  Many other companies develop innovative beauty products using rare ingredients from far-flung places while taking care to use fair-trade practices and implementing business practices that help the local communities from which they get their products.  Here in the U.S., high-end handbag designer, Nancy Gale, has co-founded an initiative called “In True Fashion” that encourages American school children to explore entrepreneurship by giving them the opportunity to design handbags, which are then voted on by the public.  The winning design is then mass-produced by the handbag line, JAMAH (which incidentally means “Be Who You Are” in Swahili).  Pretty cool stuff, this creating awesome products and making a difference in people’s lives.  I LIKE this kind of branding.

Tip of the Week
See how many of the products that you use in your life are from companies that have cool and interesting community involvement initiatives.  You may not be independently wealthy and have an extra three weeks to volunteer in Somalia building schools, but wouldn’t it be cool to realize that you buy coffee at a coffee shop that promotes small farmers so that they don’t have to say for instance, plant illegal crops in order to sustain a good standard of living?  Or that the company that makes your body lotion is providing funds to help establish a community of businesswomen who in the past had zero opportunities to keep their families out of extreme poverty?  Something to think about.

Viviana M. Rueda
Creative Founder
Vivendi Fashionista

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