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The 'Pandora goes pink' charity event auctioned eight one-off fashion shots to raise money for the national breast cancer
The 'Pandora goes pink' charity event auctioned eight one-off fashion shots to raise money for the national breast cancer

Charity partnerships good for jewellers

Giving back feels good, but it can benefit business too. Carla Caruso asks if jewellers should consider a charity partnership this new year.
Angelina Jolie smoulders on the red carpet with a white diamond, snake-like cuff with tsavourite eyes circling her wrist.

Just another celebrity with too much free bling? Actually, no. The film star represents something bigger – a link between jewellery and charity. Jolie designed her cuff as part of a collection for British luxury brand Asprey, with all proceeds going to her charity, the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict.

Not that celebrity ambassadors are essential, but it’s the concept of  ‘giving back’ that has captured consumers’ imagination. Around the globe – including at home in Australia – jewellery brands are striving to align themselves with good causes. And for very good reason.

“Social responsibility” is the phrase on everyone’s lips, according to Barry Urquhart, the managing director of Perth market research and strategic planning practice Marketing Focus. “Organisations have now got to be seen as having a heart and wearing their heart on their sleeve, so that it is very conspicuous to consumers.”

This sentiment is echoed by CIBJO’s Responsible Luxury report, released last September. The report found a decrease in spending during the economic downturn had given consumers a chance to reflect on their inherent values and beliefs and expect more from a purchase than just a product.

Report author Jonathan Kendall said savvy luxury brands were now striving to engage customers on a deeper level, including via their ethical, social and environmental behaviour. “The best, most admired, most influential and most profitable businesses being the ones who exploit not the population and planet, but the opportunities to improve them,” he wrote.

In 2009, Trendwatching.com also published an extensive briefing on Generation G, the ‘G’ standing for ‘generosity’. It said, “Consumers are disgusted with greed and its current dire consequences for the economy.”

For Sydney fashion jewellery designer Samantha Wills, who supports The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, giving is imperative in an industry based on ‘wants’. “I think every business in the fashion industry should in some way be aligned to ensure that an industry, which has a very well-known reputation of being superficial, is giving back to the greater good in some way.”

The message is clear: giving is good. But, what are the benefits beyond ‘perceptions’ and how can jewellers do it in a way that is effective? Furthermore, what are the implications – financial or otherwise – as a business?

Firstly, let’s look at the benefits. For some, charity affiliation can become a part of the story of the brand – like for Melbourne sterling silver and gemstone jewellery wholesaler and manufacturer Blue Turtles. Co-founder Doron Berger explains, “Blue Turtles was part of my own journey of self-discovery, so it’s very important that we maintain within Blue Turtles the principles that drive us personally.”

The company donates a percentage of its annual sales to various causes, recently including two Balinese orphanages – the Jodie O’Shea Orphanage and the Kesayan Ikang Papa Orphanage. (Bali being where the label’s main production is).

The brand also makes a monthly contribution to an investment fund on behalf of its Balinese and Javanese artisans to help secure their futures, plus takes on the financial responsibility for their children’s schooling.

For others, charity-giving can be effective in brand-building. High-end Sydney retailer Levendi Jewellers donates pieces to charities, such as the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the Black and White Committee (the latter helping those with vision impairment). “It is great to get our name out there and also increase patronage at the same time,” explains owner Panos Levendi. “At the end of the day, it is about aligning ourselves with a worthy cause and showing our support.”

Charity soirees are also a way to get good word of mouth, according to Jacqui Landis, owner of Sydney sterling silver jewellery wholesaler Ravish Designs. “Most recently we hosted an amazing event for the Trish Multiple Sclerosis Research Foundation, where the organisers invited guests, donors and supporters to our showroom for an evening of champagne and shopping. We had a crowd of around 20 people.”  The wholesaler donated 20 per cent of the sales to the foundation.  Landis says the benefits are mutual: “We can increase the size of our donation as the sales increase – win-win!”

Charity tie-ups are equally relevant in all areas of the market too – from independent fashion retailers to high-end jewellers and major brands. The Australian arm of Danish charm brand Pandora is one example of a high-profile charity advocate. It has been affiliated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation in Australia and New Zealand for five years now, and at a more local level it donated lucky door prizes at April 2009’s Red Wristband Ball in Victoria’s Kinglake West for those affected by the Black Saturday bushfires.

Last September, for the second time, the brand held a charity event called Pandora Goes Pink, in conjunction with Harper’s Bazaar magazine. Pandora collaborated with fashion duo Romance Was Born on eight one-off images for auction, to raise money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Pandora public relations representative Emma Young enthuses, “There were a few obstacles during the shoot [on Lord Howe Island], like climbing down into a cave with not only clothing and photo equipment, but also boxes and boxes of jewellery! The model had to put on a brave face in the freezing conditions, but the final pictures looked amazing, with each look styled with Pandora.”

For Pandora, the value of this charity tie-up – beyond the ethical value, of course – is that it helps the brand better relate to its target audience. Last September, head of communications Jeff Burnes told Jeweller, “We chose to work with the Breast Cancer Foundation in particular because we just felt it resonated with our target market, being 25- to 49-year-old women.”

One way to really make a connection is to create specially designed pieces. Pandora launched a Pink Ribbon collection in 2005, donating the profits from all the limited-edition products to the Breast Cancer Foundation to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month every October. Pandora raised $600,000 in Australia and NZ$75,000 in New Zealand for the 2009/10 period alone.

Others to have crafted pieces specially for a good cause include Melbourne jewellery designer Nicole Fendel, who created a range of butterfly-inspired accessories for The Butterfly Foundation, which helps those with eating disorders. Fendel is also collaborating with Denmark’s environmental charity B’Leaf on a bracelet, whereby each piece of jewellery sold will help plant 200 trees.

“It’s a great feeling when you’re doing something good for society,” Fendel enthuses. “It’s so easy to get caught up in our own worlds and forget what else is going on. It’s nice to give back and know that what you’re doing can help others.”

However, donating doesn’t just have to involve money or products, especially for smaller businesses – it can also be about time. Blue Turtles is getting its Bali staff involved at the grassroots level in environmental awareness. Berger says, “We’ll actually be going out and cleaning beaches or villages and creating awareness that way in Balinese villages so they’ll start thinking twice before throwing away plastic rubbish or even using plastic.”

For Berger, corporate social responsibility is as much about staff connection as it is about ethics. “It’s enriching the lives of our team and our artisans as well, because they’re doing more than just working for money – they’re learning to care about the environment.”

Such benefits should not be underestimated, according to Urquhart. “In many instances like this, you actually get a great bonding and cohesion in staff. They then get involved, because there’s an emotional purpose of going to work and contributing to these ideals on an ongoing basis.”

But, despite the feel-good vibe surrounding charity-giving, there can also be downsides – and things to watch out for. The bad unfortunately comes with the good.
Picking an unworthy charity can be one problem. Berger advises jewellers to do their research. It’s crucial to ensure the charity is legitimate, and some donations to bigger charities can be eaten up in administrative costs. Another instance when caution may be needed is supporting charities that are particularly reliant on high-profile media, sporting or entertainment personalities. “If there’s a fall-down on that type of situation, it contaminates the images of all those conspicuously supporting it,” warns Urquhart. Hence, jewellers should be conservative in who they support.

Despite a business’s desire to give, a charity partnership may also impact on two things in short supply, especially for smaller operations – time and money.

Eilish Bouchier, the Sydney designer behind handcrafted, semi-precious jewellery label Shashen Jewels, which mainly supports Indian project Nanhi Kali (helping to educate underprivileged girls in India), believes, “It could be time-consuming if you are donating time, and if you commit to a programme it may be difficult to reduce your donation during less bountiful times. However, these are issues that need to be addressed before committing.” She adds, “I think any downsides are outweighed by the benefits of knowing that your business is helping others.”

Likewise, Karl Schwantes of Brisbane manufacturing retailer Xennox Diamond World and also an ambassador for the Zig Zag Foundation, says the amount you donate isn’t the be all and end all. “Costs are always there, but whatever you can give - whether it is $200 or $20,000 - will help someone who needs it.”

One way of promoting charitable donations that is free from costs is by installing collection boxes at counters in-store – like fashion retailer Witchery does for the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation. Urquhart says: “Most important of all is that it’s convenient. It’s a very positive situation that’s enabling people to contribute and it’s made easier by the relationship that they have with the business.”

Ultimately, it seems charity-giving can indeed be worthwhile – so long as it’s carefully considered. Plus, as Urquhart says, “When all other things are equal, supporting a charity and doing it in a conspicuous and positive manner can be the determinant for many people to choose to support a particular business, product or service.”

With more than 60,000 charities in Australia, perhaps the only remaining question is: which one to support?

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