COMMITMENT’S IN FASHION
Byline: Karyn Monget
NEW YORK — When Ralph Lauren was asked about the importance of breast-cancer awareness and funding research for a cure, he replied: “I am committed to this effort.”
And to be sure, this is a major commitment.
Elaborating on his thoughts, the designer, in a statement, related: “Almost 10 years ago, my friend, Washington Post editor Nina Hyde, came to me to enlist my help in the fight against breast cancer. Nina, who was suffering from the disease, battled her illness with great courage and with the confidence that someday it would be conquered. It was her hope and strength that motivated me to establish the breast cancer research center at Georgetown University Medical Center that bears her name.
“I feel very strongly that breast cancer is not just a women’s issue. It affects all of us — the brothers, fathers, husbands, children and friends of the women who are dealing with the disease,” Lauren stated. “I realized early on that the energy and visibility of the fashion community could be a major force in bringing breast cancer awareness to the forefront.”
Lauren further noted that the “success of our fund-raising campaigns such as ‘Super Sale’ and ‘Fashion Targets Breast Cancer’ has surpassed my expectations. Millions of dollars have been raised to enable the Nina Hyde Center to develop into a facility that is recognized worldwide.”
“The goal still remains: finding a cure,” Lauren said.
In 1989, Lauren — together with Katharine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post — founded the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research at Georgetown University’s Lombardi Cancer Center. Hyde died in 1990. The first Super Sale fund-raiser was sponsored by Lauren and the Washington Post in 1990 to raise money for the research center. The Super Sale is held annually and contributes over $1 million each year to the center. A record $1.6 million was raised through last year’s event.
Additionally, Lauren spearheaded an international “Fashion Targets Breast Cancer” T-shirt campaign in 1995. Funds raised in the U.S. go to the Nina Hyde Center, while money raised in South America and the U.K. from the sales of the T-shirts benefit local breast cancer research centers, as well as the Nina Hyde Center. Over $2 million from the sale of the T-shirts has been raised since 1995.
Lauren is hardly alone in this commitment among apparel industry executives to battle breast cancer. And while, for some, the disease may be too fearful to link their names with, many others point out that altruistic motives meld well with a sensible approach to business.
Terry Lay, president of the Lee Apparel jeanswear coalition of VF Corp., said, “Eighty to 85 percent of total jeans are purchased by women. We really care about our consumer base, a large part of which are women, not only because of the jeans they wear. We care about their lives.
“Breast cancer is an important issue for a number of our employees, either survivors, family members or friends who in some way have been touched by this issue,” said Lay. “This clearly was played back to us, when we made a choice about what we wanted to do as a marketing company. We are able to use our connection and dollars to promote awareness.”
Lee introduced Lee National Denim Day last year, a program in which employees at participating companies — stores and other business concerns — wear Lee jeans for one day in October. They each are asked to contribute $5 for breast cancer research. The proceeds go to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. This year’s official date is Oct. 10.
This year, the Lee operation expects contributions to reach $2 million with over 9,000 participating companies. Participating retailers include J.C. Penney and Upton’s. Last year, $1.4 million was raised from 3,000 firms, he said.
Regarding the growing number of companies addressing breast cancer awareness, Ellen Rohde, Lee’s vice president of advertising and strategic planning, said: “It’s the Hollywood thing to be involved with breast cancer awareness right now. When an issue gets connected in such a broad way, many people want to be involved.”
Asked if she believes it’s become too commercial an issue, Rohde replied, “I’ll feel comfortable with that statement when they find a cure.”
Ken Zimmerman, president and chief executive officer of Kenar, noted, “For two years, we were very active in AIDS charities. I got involved in breast cancer awareness for many reasons. But the bottom line is my whole business is about women. My wife, Arlene, said, ‘Do something for your customers.”‘
In July, Kenar held a fund-raising dinner-dance and fashion show in Southampton and donated all of the proceeds of the tickets — $60,000 — to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. The company also gets its message across with a moving billboard ad on a truck that travels around New York from May through October, featuring supermodel Linda Evangelista and a tagline saying: “Kenar supports the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Make a difference. Make a donation.”
This month, the sportswear company introduced a group of silk nightshirts with a pink-ribbon logo that is merchandised in a coordinating silk pouch. Suggested retail is $49, and the proceeds will go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, he said.
Asked if he thinks breast cancer is getting enough attention from the fashion industry, Zimmerman said: “There are companies with enormous clout, but they’re not doing anything. All of these people are tied up in a political image. But everybody has had a friend or relative who has had breast cancer or died of it.
“The more the media writes about it, the more likely a ceo might think it’s not negative to associate a brand with a disease,” Zimmerman said.
General Motors is even partnering with the Council of Fashion Designers of America to get the breast cancer awareness message out. The program began last year, and this year a sneak preview of design concepts of four “Ultimate Vehicles” — designed by Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors, Cynthia Rowley and Nicholas Graham of Joe Boxer — will be shown here during the CFDA’s 7th on Sixth fashion shows Nov. 2-9. The actual cars will be unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January 1998.
A GM spokesman said details haven’t been finalized, but noted that plans generally will include a reception for the media and an 800 number where people can call in pledges for the Nina Hyde Center. Last year, the CFDA and GM’s ConceptCure program — which contributes funds to various cancer charities — raised $708,000 to fund breast cancer research by auctioning five autos, which had been designed by five designers: Nicole Miller, Richard Tyler, Anna Sui, Todd Oldham and Mark Eisen.
Phil Guarascio, GM’s general manager of marketing and advertising and a corporate vice president, said: “We didn’t wake up one morning and say, ‘Let’s do this.’ It was an outgrowth of our involvement with the fashion industry, an opportunity from a marketing standpoint to connect with a customer base and what is important to them.”
Meanwhile, GM signed a multiyear agreement with Cynthia Cooper, the Most Valuable Player of the Women’s National Basketball Association, to be a GM spokeswoman to help promote GM brands and the auto maker’s ConceptCure program.
Carolee Friedlander, president and designer of the costume jewelry that bears her name, said, “We just celebrated our 25th anniversary. What do you do when you are 25 years old? You give back, and what better way than to help breast cancer.”
Carolee’s ways of giving back include a commemorative album with photos and personal stories of 25 high-profile women who in some way have been affected by breast cancer — either through family, friends or themselves. The women include Lynn Sherr, an investigative reporter for ABC’s “20/20,” and Kelli Questrom, who is married to former Federated Department Stores chairman Allen Questrom.
The album was introduced this fall at 400 department store doors worldwide. Suggested retail is $250, of which $170 will go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, she said.
“On top of that, we are staging events at stores October through November,” Carolee said, noting that the portraits in the album will be part of a traveling exhibit to Marshall Fields in Chicago, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus in Los Angeles and Neiman Marcus in Dallas. The portraits were part of a window display at the Bloomingdale’s flagship here last week to kick off the opening of a Carolee in-store shop.
“I’m a fanatic about breast cancer awareness. One has to be passionate about causes that improve their lives,” said Carolee.
Mary Ann Domuracki, ceo of Danskin Inc., said the activewear company has two programs on its 1997 breast cancer awareness agenda: A book entitled “Caterpillars to Butterflies,” an aspirational overview of Danskin’s annual Women’s Triathlon Series, and a sports-bra collection introduced in January with hangtags that give information on how to do a breast self-exam.
Domuracki said 50 percent of the retail sales of the book, which sells at a suggested $20, will go to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. One dollar will be donated to the Komen foundation from the sale of each sports bra sold in October. Suggested retails for the sports bras are $28 to $32.
George Horowitz, ceo of Active Apparel Group, which produces the licensed Everlast activewear, said, “We’ve been a sponsor of Race for the Cure for three years. This year, 40 women from Active Apparel ran in the race Sept. 14.”
Horowitz added that his firm donated 440 Everlast T-shirts for breast cancer survivors at the race, which is held annually in Central Park, and donated 800 to 900 sweatshirts and sports bras — at a wholesale value of about $12,000 — to be sold by Race for the Cure organizers.
“There’s always self-promotion in these things, but we really don’t push it,” Horowitz said. “We are able to do it through the funds of the company to help — so why not?”
A spokeswoman for the Champion division of Sara Lee Corp. said it is giving a percentage of sales of its licensed WNBA apparel to the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations. She would not give a specific number, but noted that Champion donated $25,000 to NABCO from apparel sales at the semifinal game between the Phoenix Mercury and the New York Liberty this summer.
“The consumer response has been overwhelming, so much so that we are introducing a holiday line that will include mesh shorts, hats, jerseys and fleece products,” she said. The company will continue to donate a portion of the line’s sales to NABCO.
Indeed, for some companies, participating in breast cancer awareness programs remains a sensitive issue. For example, in intimate apparel, some executives will admit privately that they are concerned that positioning their brand — particularly a bra brand — with a disease would cast a negative image on their business.
However, some do have active programs. Joyce Baran, vice president of design and merchandising at Strouse, Adler Co., noted that 5 percent of wholesale sales of a shapewear group called Slim Look will be donated to the American Cancer Society for breast cancer research.
“We’ve made a commitment to make these donations on an ongoing basis — not just October,” Baran said. The line of seven styles was introduced for fall selling.
Rigby & Peller, a British foundations brand represented here by Sterling Brands, will feature a hangtag this month with information on breast self-exams, said a spokeswoman.
Sleepwear designer Karen Neuburger has created a sleepwear group of double-brushed interlock called “Wake Up and Smell the Roses.” In addition to pink-ribbon motifs, the print also features the words “mother, wife, lover, girlfriend, neighbor and best friend.” Suggested retail is $35 to $58.
“We donated 200 pajamas to the annual Super Sale this fall at the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research,” said Neuburger, noting that 10 percent of each pair of pajamas sold this month will go to the Washington-based research center.