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Market Analytics May 14, 2020 7 min read

How has coronavirus furthered fashion’s relationship with social causes?

Mentions of 'charity' in communications are up 186% - we unpack how retailers are supporting social causes during COVID-19.

social causes

COVID-19 has seen retailers rise up to support those vulnerable to the virus and show solidarity to essential workers. We break down fashion’s connection to social causes and how retailers are supporting charities and striving to make a difference in the face of the pandemic.

There is a long history of fashion brands showing support for social causes, spotlighted over the past few years with brands pivoting to appear ‘woke’ to younger consumers. In 2019, it was reported nine in ten Gen-Z consumers believe companies have a responsibility to be transparent with environmental and social issues, making it even more crucial for fashion businesses to give back authentically. Defining cultural moments, such as the #MeToo movement, have seen fashion brands use their platforms to draw attention to such issues, as well as leverage advertising and merchandise to help people band together during turbulent times.

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Caring is cool but authenticity is cooler 

At the start of the year, StockX donated all proceeds from sales of sneakers, trading cards and merchandise associated with athlete Kobe Bryant to the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation in honor of him and his daughter Gianna. In February, retailers such as boohoo and In The Style emblazoned the words ‘be kind’ on T-shirts in support of the passing of UK TV Presenter Caroline Flack.

Charity merchandise can often wield high demand, becoming unassuming cult products. As the bushfires in Australia intensified, streetwear brand NOAH launched koala graphic tees available in two colors with proceeds of sales to WIRES, Australia’s largest wildlife rescue organization. In less than three days, the T-shirts sold out despite not shipping to customers for 2 to 3 weeks.

Supportive partnerships appear alluring with the exclusivity of charity merchandise combined with the younger generation’s perception of ‘caring is cool’. However, brands need to toe the line and remain sensitive to the cause as customers do not respond well to gimmicks – no matter how well-intentioned.

In light of the recent charitable efforts in support of COVID-19, Reese Witherspoon’s brand Draper Jones received backlash after promoting free dresses for teachers. It did not specify giveaways were drawn from a raffle and upset customers for being unable to meet demand. Fashion Nova also faced criticism after a tone-deaf tweet suggested customers spend their government-provided stimulus package at the fast fashion retailer.

Communications YoY 

Mentions of ‘charity’ or iterations of between January 1st to April 30th 3are up 186% in the US and 243% in the UK YoY.

In March, the spike in mentions around charitable donations also links to International Women’s Day, an event the fashion industry is becoming more active in supporting each year. The first mentions of philanthropic efforts to support COVID-19 in these markets appeared on March 12th when KOIO announced it would donate 5% of all revenues to the Red Cross to support healthcare services across the US and Italy.

As the region most affected after China, support for Italy flooded into retailers’ communications. Sergio Rossi donated 100% of online sales to support the fight against COVID-19 and Coccinelle launched the fundraising campaign ‘Coccinelle ci mette il cuore’ to help overcome the spread in the Lombardy region. As the virus became more widespread globally, retailers turned their attention to support their local markets, making charitable communications a mainstay across consumer inboxes.

While COVID-19 is front of mind for consumers and retailers alike, its essential businesses continue to advocate for the organizations they supported pre-pandemic, especially if it’s linked to their overall brand values. Sustainability and environmental commitments can’t afford to take a back seat, while nonprofits will benefit from retailers’ support during a time of crisis. Generosity from brands will not go unnoticed.

  • Astrid Mayu Us Email
    Astrid Miyu UK Email 12 May 2020
  • Dolce Gabbana Email
    Dolce & Gabbana Email

Showing support during COVID-19

Food charities

Feeding America: A US nonprofit nationwide network of more than 200 food banks that feed more than 46 million people through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and other community-based agencies.

No Kid Hungry: A nonprofit working to solve hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world.

The Trussell Trust: A NGO and charity working to end the need for food banks in the UK. It supports a network of over 1,200 food bank centers.

How retailers have supported:

  • Since April 4th, Madewell has promoted ‘for every dollar donated on our site, we’ll match your gift up to $25,000.’ The brand also has a selection of bandanas donated to the cause.
  • For every donation up to $100,000, the Hot Topic Foundation will match the COVID-19 response funds for Feeding America and No Kid Hungry.
  • A.L.C pledged non-medical masks to be sold through Intermix, 100% of proceeds from every set of three masks sold are donated to Feeding America.
  • The Girlfriend Collective announced it was able to help Feeding America provide over 265,000 meals to food banks across the US.
  • Sundae School launched a range of facemasks with 50% of proceeds donated to Foodbank For NYC.
  • From March through April, Diane Von Furstenberg donated 10% of proceeds to No Kid Hungry.
  • For the entire month of May, Lisa Says Gah will donate $1 from every order to the San Francisco Marin Food Bank.
  • Banana Republic launched reusable face masks, donating $10 from every sale to Feeding America.
  • 20% of sales at Victoria Beckham will be donated to Feeding America in the US and The Trussell Trust in the UK.
  • Flagpole gave customers $50 credit when they donated at least $10 to Feeding America.

The World Health Organization (WHO)

Headquartered in Geneva, The World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for international public health.

How retailers have supported:

  • Tiffany & Co. donated $500,000 to WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.
  • The Vampire’s Wife launched non-medical silk face masks with 100% profits going to WHO. The masks sold out within an hour.
  • Fabletics dropped a new collection in collaboration with Demi Lovato with $5 from every item sold donated to provide crucial gear to frontline workers in support of WHO.
  • Tommy Hilfiger committed $100,000 to charities benefitting WHO and other partners.
  • Vestiaire Collective held a coronavirus charity sale partnering with celebrities such as Kate Moss and Carine Roitfeld donating pieces from their wardrobes with profits going to WHO and local French charities.
  • Alexander Wang unlocked its archival vault for a 72 hour sale with 20% of net proceeds of the sale to be donated to WHO.
  • Moose Knuckles commissioned 12 artists to paint jackets with all net profits supporting WHO and local hospitals in New York, Montreal and Milan.
  • Scotch & Soda ran a ‘stay home sale’ with up to 60% off – all proceeds to WHO.
  • Ralph Lauren committed $10 million to support WHO and other organizations.

A Common Thread

Launched by Vogue and the CFDA, ‘A Common Thread’ is a fundraising initiative to provide relief to US fashion businesses impacted by COVID-19.

How retailers have supported:

  • Ralph Lauren committed $10 million to support the CFDA and other organizations.
  • Tom Ford offered 10% off online styling consultations to ‘give clients the highest level of service through these times’ with 10% of proceeds from purchases through these sales going to the initiative.
  • Ralph Lauren committed $10 million to support the CFDA and other organizations.
  • Tommy Hilfiger committed $50,000.
  • On Earth Day, The Real Real donated to the initiative to support the community.

Homeless Shelters

How retailers have supported:

  • LIVELY joined Brands x Better, a partnership aiming to give back to those impacted by COVID-19 and donated 40,000 bras to support women and girls experiencing homelessness.
  • Burton Snowboards promoted neck warmers as face coverings. For every one purchased, another will be donated to the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program.
  • Over the UK May Bank Holiday Weekend, Fat Face promoted The Big Indoor Picnic, encouraging families to host a picnic inside and donate to organization Shelter to support homelessness during COVID-19.
  • Hush launched a ‘Together’ Tee in collaboration with national homeless charity Crisis.
  • Steve Madden donated (not linked to purchases) non-medical masks to homeless shelters.
  • Hudson jeans created masks with profits going to PATH – a SoCal nonprofit providing service to the homeless and those in need.

Supporting Women & Children

How retailers have supported:

  • Astrid & Miyu partnered with Women’s Aid Charity and donated 100% of profits from its Rainbow Collection to women and children experiencing abuse during COVID-19.
  • Radley partnered with women’s charity Solace on a tote bag with 100% of profits donated to the organization.
  • John Lewis ran a series of virtual beauty masterclasses with tickets for £10 giving customers a £10 voucher to spend with the brand hosting the event they attend. All profits in support of Refuge.
  • Ann Taylor raised funds to support breast cancer research ‘to find a cure, even in the most trying of times.’

Giving Back 

How retailers have supported:

  • Brand Alley donated 1,000 masks to NHS staff.
  • Justice donated $500,000 worth of children’s products to Delivering Good.
  • Glossier released its debut hand cream and donated the first 10,000 products to US healthcare professionals.
  • Klarna and ASOS launched Giveback Day where £1, $1 or €1 of every Klarna transaction on ASOS in the UK, Germany, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the US was donated to the Red Cross to support COVID-19 relief.
  • Size? was one of the many retailers offering discounts for essential workers.

2020 is an essential  year for brands to connect with their customers by authentically supporting the causes they care about. Social good is more than a trend – it’s a shift in mindset that will continue to develop post-coronavirus and will be a deciding factor for consumers to where they place their brand loyalty.

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