Tuesday 16 August 2016

Why One Writer Fell Out Of Love With Benetton

Brand loyalty is a vital part of fashion marketing. It's why you see so many Superdry clothes on the street. The logos are clear, plain and obvious. You know what you're getting.

You're also investing in a certain image, of course. Those of us who wear sports brands are advertising that we have at least thought about the idea of doing something athletic, even if that does turn out to be watching the footie in the pub.

But then there are the brands that allow you to align yourself with a more socially responsible agenda. H&M have for years tried to become the conscious choice–not, it has to be said, with 100 percent success. But one brand has a history of shouting out about social injustice, through the awesome power of slightly dodgy pullovers. That company is Benetton.

You could be forgiven for slotting Benetton into the 'do you remember?' files. But back in the day, the brand and their edgy, direct advertising were everywhere. United Colors Of Benetton preached equality, and campaigned for AIDS research and against racism in a way that reached out to a high street audience. Sure, they were sometimes controversial (one poster depicted the moment a young guy died of AIDS-related illness, surrounded by his distraught family) but the headlines and the profits kept rolling in.

That stance made Benetton fans out of a lot of people, who bought the clothes partly with the understanding that their money was going to a company that cared. One of them was Stylianee, who wrote movingly about her relationship with the brand on What Eve Wears. She bought Benetton for the same reasons that all of us that invest in ethical fashion do: the clothes were long-lasting, and the company behind them seemed to have a soul.

But Stylianee's story is one of heartbreak. She realised that, over the years, Benetton has become just another fast fashion brand. She says:

Benetton, the brand I always admired for its creative and provocative marketing campaigns, its visual bravado for love and equality, its Social Responsibility Strategy, the UNHATE Foundation and so on so forth, that Benetton that fascinated me, it perspires (sic) that it was doing exactly the opposite of what it was preaching: it was producing in sweatshop conditions and it was polluting the environment without batting an eye.

Worse yet, she discovered that Benetton was one of the brands found to be making clothes in Rana Plaza. They would eventually pay compensation, but only after a bruising PR exposé that pulled apart their caring, sharing image and showed them to be just another greedy fast fashion outlet.

There's some good news that comes from this. Stylianee now organises Fashion Revolution events in her native Greece. She also keeps an eye on her old favourite, as part of the #WhoMadeMyClothes? initiative. She notes that Benetton seems to be moving production to the Balkans and Eastern Europe, perhaps over the outcry post-Rana Plaza.

But her story is one that's worth sharing, especially if you're a fan of one particular clothing line. Do they do what they say, and source responsibly? Or has the bloom gone off the rose, leaving something that smells a little rotten? If in doubt, check the label, do a little digging... and prepare to fall out of love with your favourite brand.


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