Designers and manufacturers have become increasingly active in supporting and promoting breast health awareness in the last year. Like retailers, vendors see this issue as an important tool to build consumer loyalty by declaring their social consciousness. Many say, too, that the industry's success in AIDS fundraising has opened the door for a leadership position in other issues that affect their customer base and the industry itself.
"Breast cancer has touched so many people's lives," said Fern Mallis, executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which recently launched a t-shirt initiative to raise money for breast cancer research. (See box.) "Many of our members have watched a parent, a friend, a spouse face breast cancer. They know how important education, research and early detection can be."
For some companies, the overwhelming female presence in the fashion industry -- both as employees and as customers - led to their involvement with breast cancer organizations. "I felt that Seventh Avenue was so significantly female that it was a disgrace we weren't involved with breast health awareness," said Holly Lehrer, a partner at moderate dressmaker Jessica Howard. For the past two years, Lehrer has served as industry liaison chairpersonfor the New York Race for the Cure, securing the support of companies including Anne Klein, Nicole Miller, Ellen Tracy, Carolee, and her own firm.
The success of the race and the importance of the issue led several companies to double their financial commitment this year. Nicole Miller, which donated baseball caps to be sold at this year's race, spent $10,000 producing them. Newcomer this year, Ellen Tracy, designed and donated 1,000 t-shirts to be sold at the race for $5 each. Similarly, Anne Klein also increased its contribution to the event. Still, Lehrer is disappointed that more fashion companies aren't involved. "There is so much more we could do if we pulled together as an industry," she noted.
Accessories maker Carolee designed two pins to benefit breast cancer groups. The first, a runner pin, benefits the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation; the second, a heart with a pink ribbon, benefits the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Both are sold at retail stores nationwide for $25, with $5 from every sale going to these organizations. "This is a company that is all about women, and breast cancer is something that touches every woman's life," said Carolee spokesperson Wanda Lockwood. "Carolee has been involved with various causes over the years. These efforts are always good ways for salespeople in the stores to acquaint customers with our company. When a customer sees the breast cancer pins, they feel good to know that we're involved with more than just jewelry."
Tiffany & Co. wants to convey a similar message to its customers. Beginning last year, the company stepped up its involvement as a national sponsor of the Komen Foundation. First,the firm produced gift sets featuring its fragrance to benefit the Komen Foundation. These promotional items were sold at more than 400 retailers carrying the Tiffany fragrance line, with $10 from each sale going to Komen. The company also distributed information at its retail counters on breast self-exams, the Komen information hotline (1-800-I'm AWARE), and locations for mammograms.
This October, Tiffany will launch a new gift set featuring its purse spray cologne and other cosmetic essentials. The company has also increased its fundraising pledge to Komen to $150,000, noted Susan Sussman, vice president of the fragrance division at Tiffany.
Vendors have launched independent fundraising efforts of their own. This past April, Debra Schatz helped launch the first "Sale for Lifetime," an industry-wide, designer sample sale to benefit five New York breast cancer organizations. Schatz, a breast cancer survivor herself, owns Wear-It Now, a company producing breast cancer accessories and t-shirts, as well as The Collective Elite, which operates sample sales for accessories firms. Schatz put up the front money for the event, which raised over $40,000 for breast cancer groups. Lovable Co. plans to continue the collar tag event it launched last year, said Kathy Reynolds, executive vice president of the Atlanta-based intimate apparel maker. The company placed collar tags highlighting the breast health issue on its garments over a two-month period. "Our livelihood depends on women," Reynolds explained. "This was an opportunity to give something back to our consumers that would show appreciation and regard for them." Lovable also wanted to stand out from its competitors and build brand loyalty. "We feel a direct connection to the women in America who might buy our products," noted Reynolds. "A bra purchase is still one of the most brand-loyal purchases a woman makes in the apparel area -- 80% of women surveyed say their purchasing decisions in this area is based entirely on the brand. So, it's important to us to build a relationship that is outside the normal manufacturer-consumer dynamic."
J.H. Collectibles sees its involvement as an extension of the fashion industry's ability to set trends and reach consumers, said Linda Ugenti, fashion director. "The fashion industry has always had such a strong voice with the public that we can extend that influence into wider issues," she noted. The company is sponsoring a benefit cocktail reception at its showroom on September 28 in conjunction with Bloomingdales, the store's exclusive Studio Gear makeup collection, and Carolee. Ugenti said this picks up on an effort launched by Bloomingdales' fashion coordinator Sandi Alpert last spring.
According to Ugenti, invitations will be sent to consumers via Bloomingdales from the store's client lists for the three sponsoring companies. Only the first 200 women will be able to attend the evening at a cost of $20 each. The evening will feature a breast health seminar, as well as a trunk-show highlighting the three lines. Carolee and Studio Gear are each donating 10% of their sales. Ugenti hopes to raise $10,000 for the Louis Vinet Breast Cancer Research Center at Beth Israel Hospital.

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