|Toxins in kid's clothes: not a good look.|
No, I'm not talking about the way Burberry are smartening up public perception of the brand after years of punishment as the check of choice for chavs. I'm talking about something a little more worrying: the toxins in their children's clothing range.
OK, I should point out that Burberry are not the only big name in the frame here. You know, I hope, about Greenpeace's Detox campaign: a long-running initiative to get fashion companies to fess up to the waste nasties that their factories dump into local water supplies, and to do something about it. Now, in a new twist to the saga, they tested kid's clothes from a wide range of high street children's clothes, looking for the chemicals that they called Little Monsters. The result was un-nerving. Every sample contained trace elements of toxins. They're not dangerous in the short term, but there's no evidence as to what long-term exposure could do. And, of course, the factories that produce the clothes are pumping out these chemicals in industrial quantities directly into local water supplies.
Burberry sniffily responded to Greenpeace's call to action with a boilerplate brush-off, saying:
“The safety and welfare of our customers is paramount and Burberry complies with all international environmental and safety standards. Burberry products do not pose a danger to customers.”
The response from Greenpeace was swift. The Burberry shirt they had tested was part of a campaign modelled by Romeo Beckham, which gave the veteran campaigners a big lever to pull on. Reaching out to their social media feeds brought major results, as hundreds of concerned parents on Facebook and Twitter urged Burberry to act. A clever PR stunt saw mannequins walk out of Burberry's London flagship store in protest, and the pressure grew on the company day on day.
After only two weeks, as Burberry saw their newly won credibility poisoned as effectively as they had poisoned Chinese rivers with their factory off-spill, the company caved. They signed up to the Detox pledge, promising to rid their supply chain of Little Monsters by 2020. This is a massive victory, and shows us a couple of very important points.
Firstly, it shows just how protective clothing companies are to their brand. Any harm done to the friendly public face of the company has an immediate hit on the one thing they really care about: sales.
Secondly, that weakness is one that can be effectively leveraged to get highly impressive concessions. As companies like Zara that have faced the Detox campaign in the past have seen, social media means that a little bad publicity can spread wide and fast. Greenpeace are past masters at protest and activism: the humble PR flack at a high street fashion chain doesn't stand a chance against an organised and intellegent campaign designed to stink up their name.
You could argue that Greenpeace are using blackmail tactics to get what they want, finding a pressure point and squeezing. But then, if Chinese communities get their rivers back and our kid's clothes don't contain questionable toxins, the result is very much worth a little boardroom embarrasment, wouldn't you say?