Will economic nationalism become fashionable?

As world leaders prepare to meet in London Wednesday for the G-20 Summit to discuss the global economy, protectionism in various forms is rearing its head from the U.S. to Europe to China. The debate has engulfed industries including textiles, cars and even Coca-Cola, and the question is whether fashion and luxury goods could find themselves caught up in the whirlwind.

Designers, executives and other industry observers played down the likelihood of the industry reversing its long march to globalization and pluralism, in line with President Obama’s about-face on the initial “Buy American” clause in the U.S.’ stimulus package, and China’s efforts to fight protectionism via a global acquisitions spree.

Still, the specter of fashion nationalism bubbled up recently in Denmark, where Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen sat in the front row at Copenhagen Fashion Week last month and full-page ads in the Dansk Daily distributed at the runway shows trumpeted, “Support your local designer, buy Danish.”

“It was targeted at a consumer audience,” said Eva Kruse, executive director of the government-funded Danish Fashion Institute, which ran the campaign. “It’s to say when you’re going into shops and buying clothes, when you have a Hugo Boss shirt in one hand and a Danish brand in the other, choose the Danish. Support the industry.”

The ad, which may also be placed in Danish fashion magazines this spring, sparked debate among Danish fashion players, with the Gallery trade show, which ran concurrent with the runway shows, threatening to pull copies of the Dansk Daily from its fair.

“This is narrow, really provincial thinking,” said Rasmus Storm, owner of the Copenhagen-based concept store Storm. “I completely understand people trying to protect their businesses, but at the end of the day, the guys who will survive this crisis are those who are forward-thinking, finding new solutions, who are doing a better job every day when they go to work. You can run ads, but at the end of the day, it’s about the product and the brand.”

Kruse claimed the ad’s primary goal is to encourage consumers to start spending again. “The home market is a big market for any brand, but for us this is a way of giving shopping a focus,” she said. “It’s to say, ‘Please go and spend some money.’”



Nationalism has also surged in Britain, with calls for British jobs for British workers, a British-themed issue of I-D magazine and the often jingoistic tabloid press throwing in its two cents on how to get the economy moving. In January, the Daily Mirror launched a “Buy British” campaign encouraging its readers to buy British goods ranging from Marmite spread to Imperial Leather soap to Fred Perry polo shirts.

The newspaper said local tycoons including Richard Branson and Alan Sugar are behind the campaign. “We must buy products that are made here…supporting a British firm creates work for someone,” asserted Sugar, who plays Donald Trump’s role in the U.K.’s equivalent of “The Apprentice” TV show.

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