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From Evernote: Sustainability is back in fashion


Sustainability is back in fashion

by rweinert


(Illustration by William Rankin) [Enlarge this image]


Sustainability is back in fashion

Published: March 24, 2009

NEW DELHI: Call it the death of the "It" bag or the decline of capitalism — either way there has been a dramatic change in the business of luxury.

Only a year ago the spread of high-end goods was growing geographically and demographically. But now the credit crunch and bank chaos has halted the grandiose plans of big brands.

With Brazil's debts soaring, China coping with layoffs, India's fast-growing economy slowing and Russia's financial status toppling, the BRIC countries, or Brazil, Russia, India and China, are no longer viewed as a luxury utopia. Stores may not be closing yet but, across the globe, the frenetic pace of openings has stalled.

The toughest question is not about what is happening in the markets but what is the definition of true luxury — a catchall phrase used to describe a $1,000 handbag or a branded lipstick.

But suppose that luxury were separated from fashion, with its constant desire for change and built-in obsolescence? Then the essence of the luxurious would be a private joy in something that was crafted to last.


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The sari is a fine example of the enduring power of a piece of cloth. Young Indian women may have started to abandon the country's national emblem in favor of Western clothes, or have given the sculpted "cocktail" sari the thumbs up for nuptial celebrations. But at its most tranquil and beautiful, the sari is an object of desire that is nurtured and passed on to the next generation. It has an image that any luxury company would long for.

The spirit of the sari is not the only thing that India has to offer high fashion. How can powerful brands teach anything to a country that understands the luxuriant greenery of a Mogul garden or the delicate craft that goes into a hand-loomed shawl?

The cultural heritage of India and its vast work force makes it a rare place that can produce handmade goods at the highest level — which is why a haute house like Hermès works with Indian craftsmanship.

Two different strands are converging in fashion: a yearning for lasting value and an urge to know more about the way that fabrics are sourced and clothes are made. This is the sea change in a fashion world where the fate of the planet is becoming more of an issue than the latest foibles of  celebrities.

"Sustainability" and "responsibility" are the new buzz words. The first is a necessity in a market where credit is no longer as easy to find as a cappuccino. Significantly, Barneys New York has put its dynamic retail force behind sustainable and environmentally friendly clothing. The company, which has always searched for upcoming designers, has now put a focus on organic knits, eco-friendly cottons, grown-to-sewn denim and even recycled gold jewelry.

For the forward-looking in the industry, ethics is the new elegance, and doing things right carries more weight than doing things fast. Having the time and the money to care about where clothes come from is set to be a key feature of 21st-century luxury.

Responsibility is an emotive word in the fashion world, which is coated with frivolity — even if there is a mighty business offstage. Yet thoughtful designers like Stella McCartney, with her genuine green spirit and environmentally friendly clothing, are behaving responsibly. And while at the Main Street level most companies are more interested in sales figures than philosophy, luxury chief executives should be given credit for signing off on eco-friendly stores with solar panels and recycled fittings.

Is all this just another fashion fad, to be thrown into the trash can when the next big idea comes along? Research suggests otherwise, given the current intellectual ethos, the social movements and the concern about climate change.

In "Deeper Luxury," a paper published by the World Wildlife Fund-United Kingdom in November 2007, the authors Jem Bendell and Anthony Kleanthous sounded a clarion call to the luxury industry. Its premise was that the affluent, global elite, who are the core luxury consumers, are aspirational — but for a better world rather than just a better-designed handbag. They are looking for deeper brand values that encompass social and environmental issues, the authors said.

How does this changing luxury environment fit with India, where the splendor and squalor of seven-star hotels and "Slumdog" shantytowns co-exist? In its soul and in its religious faiths, asceticism and purity have always been prized as much as the opulence associated with the historic Raj or today's Bollywood "bling."

It is hard to believe that the arrival in India of big-name brands will threaten social cohesion, especially as they co-exist with upscale local designers. But as the Western luxury companies look for a place in vibrant, expanding, modern India, maybe they will find that there is something to learn — as well as something to sell.

Suzy Menkes is fashion editor at the International Herald Tribune.

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From Evernote: A sugar-coated remedy for the crisis blues - International Herald Tribune


A sugar-coated remedy for the crisis blues - International Herald Tribune

by rweinert


Piper Gray, left, and Amy Lepley shopping at Economy Candy in Manhattan on March 15, 2003. (Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times)

A sugar-coated remedy for the crisis blues

Published: March 24, 2009


Raymond Schneider politely elbowed his way through crowds of customers as he made a beeline for the bulk candy bins at Dylan's Candy Bar in New York.

Since he was laid off in December, Mr. Schneider, a 33-year-old interior designer, says he has become a "gummy junkie," stocking up on sweets every time he shops for groceries.

"Sugar is comforting," he said as he scooped Red Licorice Scottie Dogs into a plastic bag. "There's nothing more stressful than growing financial insecurity everywhere."

The recession seems to have a sweet tooth. As unemployment has risen and 401(k)'s have shrunk, Americans, particularly adults, have been consuming growing volumes of candy, from Mary Janes and Tootsie Rolls to gummy bears and chocolates, particularly inexpensive ones, candy makers, store owners and industry experts say.

Theories vary on exactly why. For many, sugar lifts spirits dragged low by the languishing economy, store owners and industry officials say. For others, candy also provides a nostalgic reminder of better times. And, not insignificantly, it's relatively cheap.

"People may indulge themselves a little bit more when times are tough," said Jack P. Russo, an analyst with the retail brokerage firm Edward Jones of St. Louis. "These are low-cost items that people can afford pretty easily."

At Chicago's Candyality store in the Lakeview neighborhood, business has jumped by nearly 80 percent compared with this time last year, and the owner, Terese McDonald, says she is struggling to keep up with the demand for Bit-O-Honeys, Swedish Fish and Sour Balls. At the Candy Store in San Francisco, the owner, Diane Campbell, has tripled her orders for nostalgic candies like Necco Wafers and Mallo Cups in recent months. Many of her customers tell her that even though they are living on less, they're setting aside cash for candy.

"They put candy in their actual budget," she said.

Many big candy makers are reporting rising sales and surprising profits even as other manufacturers are struggling to stay afloat. Cadbury reported a 30 percent rise in profits for 2008 while Nestlé's profits grew by 10.9 percent, according to public filings. Hershey, which struggled for much of 2008, saw profit jump by 8.5 percent in the fourth quarter. Lindt & Sprungli, which specializes in high-end products like Lindt bars and Ghirardelli, said that even though it expected to close its luxury retail stores in 2009, it would remain profitable because of strong chocolate sales through middle-class retailers like Wal-Mart and Target.

"All is well in candy land," said Jamie Hallman, owner of the Sweet Dish candy store in the Marina district of San Francisco.

At the sugar-scented confines of Economy Candy on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, the owner Jerry Cohen said he increased his orders by 10 percent in January and February to keep up with demand. On a recent Sunday Mr. Cohen had about a dozen workers in the narrow store trying to keep the candy tables and penny candy bins restocked as shoppers — the majority of them adults — dug their hands into bins of Tootsie Rolls and Bit-O-Honeys.

"We have been wiping out inventory," he said. "They're reminiscing about the candies their parents used to have."

There may be historic precedent to the recessionary strength of the candy business. During the 1930s, candy companies thrived, introducing an array of confections that remain popular today. Snickers debuted in 1930. Tootsie Pops appeared in 1931. Mars bars with almonds and Three Musketeers bars followed in 1932.

Hershey, the dominant candy brand during the Depression, remained profitable enough through the 1930s that the company financed its own Works Progress Administration programs, said Pamela Whitenack, Hershey Community Archives director.

"Candy companies are relatively recession proof," said Peter Liebhold, chairman of the Smithsonian's work and industry division. "During the Great Depression, candy companies stayed in business."

Nostalgia may also be helping sales, as candy seems to conjure memories of times before bank collapses and government bailouts. Jackie Hague, vice president of marketing for the New England Confectionary Company in Revere, Massachussetts, which makes Necco wafers and other candies, says the company has received more letters, e-mails and telephone calls than usual from customers saying their candies had helped them "flash back to childhood."

Increased candy consumption may have already taken a toll on the waistlines of many New Yorkers. As Reba Pardieu, a science teacher, stood at the cashier at Economy Candy on the Lower East Side, she said she has been feeling anxious since her older daughter was laid off in December and her younger daughter, who recently graduated from college, had to settle for work as a dog walker. Budget cuts at her school have also forced her to pay for her own supplies, including the candy she was buying for a student project on D.N.A.

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