I have always been frustrated with our industry’s lack of accountability and its sterile group thinking when it comes to concrete actions that will advance fashion as a whole, especially when it comes to environmental responsibility and how it relates to it. with the workers behind the brands. I’m part of this problem to frequently promote brands and products that you, the reader, might not need. But that doesn’t mean that at Highsnobiety we can’t devote some of our time and digital real estate to educating those we already care about.
Now, as a publisher, I think there is an obligation to transparently and reasonably convey the learnings that we get behind the scenes of our conversations with brands, designers and with each other. But what if you are a fashion house? Or a multi-brand retailer? How transparent should the dialogue with the end consumer be? Especially when it comes to the responsibility of your business?
Over the past few years, I have seen how scared brands are to talk about this topic. There is a reasonable fear of being challenged, of being accused of performing in order not to do enough. So how far must brands and retailers do the right thing, now that consumers are no longer waiting, but demanding, that businesses be more than just sellers of goods?
Last month, influential Italian fashion retailer Luisa Via Roma invited me to Capri, Italy for her fourth annual summer charity auction for UNICEF. John Legend and Katy Perry performed. Orlando Bloom was seated in a Steve McQueen racing car that was auctioned for $ 1 million by a famous Sotheby’s auctioneer. There were celebrities, there was sunshine, champagne, and tailoring models, and I had to remember that it was for charity.
And there is still this question. Can doing good, using your marketing budget, and accessing the 1% to increase awareness coexist with leveraging the same event for business growth? Finally, a perfect opportunity to hear the answer straight from the horse’s mouth and directly ask Luisa Via Roma CEO Andrea Panconesi (along with writer and curator Raffaele Panizza) how he balances the two in his business, as ‘it doubles the change’ into a key differentiator that will set it apart from other retailers.
Christophe Morency: What I always find contrasting to hear is when brands, and now retailers, step into the spaces of sustainability and charity. They often produce clothes, they sell clothes, but then they champion sustainability. I wonder why, and how, you cover both growth and giving back.
Andrea Panconesi: It is very simple. Both in store, but even more on the web, which has become 95% of our business, we have the same as everyone else. We sell the same products, we sell Gucci, Prada, Saint Laurent etc, and also young designers that we put a lot of effort into promoting. So we are no different from anyone selling the same things online. What I firmly believe is that customers want to buy something from a business that is clean, and that is reasonably [tackles] problems in the world. If you have the same price, the same product, and you have a choice, you’d rather buy from someone who is doing good. It’s that simple. By doing good, we have experienced that we recover well.
Morency: In what way?
Panconesis: We started this experiment [of raising money for Unicef through a gala] four years ago, which was my daughter’s idea. She is the mother of two children. I am their grandfather. And so, of course, she’s very sensitive about children. One day she said to me, “I want to do something for the children. Let’s create a foundation for them. I did not know what to say. I never want to say no to my kids no matter what they ask. I spoil them as much as I can. But in this case, I couldn’t afford to create a foundation. So I said to him, “Please let’s make a deal and try to find someone who knows how to do this better than we do, and who does it well. So we started this partnership with UNICEF.
In short, by doing good by giving UNICEF in Italy more than eight million euros for children, we have doubled our market in Italy in just two years. Of course, we are at an advantage because we are an Italian company, but this [single] even gave us that boost.
Morency: So you are saying that by organizing a charity gala, you have directly seen your business grow by doing good?
Panconesis: Yes. I just looked at the numbers and we went up 66% [in revenue] in Italy in one year. And of course that makes sense because our store has been in Florence since 1930 in the same location (and we’ve been doing e-commerce there since 1999). Florence is the center of all western civilization. It’s not Paris, it’s not Berlin, it’s not Amsterdam, it’s not Milan. It’s Florence. Why? Because of the Renaissance. Rome was an ancient civilization, Greece was even before, and Egypt before that. Florence in the 1300s. Michelangelo, Alfredo, Leonardo. They all lived in Florence and the result was that most of the prestigious American universities are based in Florence. Why? Because parents want to send their children here to go to school. They come to visit them in Florence, they get married in Florence. And then they come to Luisa Via Roma to visit the store and they could buy something. Our biggest customers were therefore even before e-commerce. The web then gave us the ability to stay in touch with them year round, so the United States was our biggest market for 18 years.
Morency: How are you going to come back to this “doing good” as a retailer by capitalizing on this large market?
Panconesis: As I mentioned, by doing good you come back. The United States is now our second largest market. The market is growing 35% year over year, in line with our global annual growth of 35%. In Italy, we grow almost twice as much. So we decided to repeat the same experience with UNICEF Italy in America. I can exclusively say that we are going to have a big event in America in Saint Barth on December 29th. So it will be the Luisa Via Roma for UNICEF Winter Gala at Eden Rock where Dua Lipa will perform. We are going to do the same as we are doing in Italy this summer and raise even more money for UNICEF in the United States.
Morency: Outside of these successful events, you are now branching out into this new pillar of “doing good” that I have heard, tell me how.
Panconesis: The younger generation will not buy with their eyes closed. They want to put their money for a good cause and a good goal. So one thing is the future of humanity and of our children. The other half is the environment because we have to make sure that you want to leave a nice place for your children and grandchildren.
Morency: What does this involvement as a retailer look like?
Raffaele Panizza: Thus, Luisa Via Roma joins forces with Extreme E, which is the first all-terrain electric race. They run through every car and every box and boat mechanic, all over the world. Now they travel from Senegal to Greenland, for example. They calculated that they save 17% of carbon emissions by doing this, instead of flying. And wherever they run, they try to educate the world about environmental issues. We are the fashion partner, but how can we really make a difference? This is how we created “MA TERRE BAT”. So I put together a team comprising the world’s most important environmental photographer Luca Locatelli and Gabriele Galimberti, who is one of the most important portrait photographers in the world. Every trip we try to find a solution and how we can solve the problems there. And Luisa Via Roma doesn’t tell us what to document, they don’t say ‘you can’t be too strong in [showing the local problems] because we sell clothes. ‘.
Panconesis: This is the reason why the [fashion] the press has declined, because it was not at the service of the final reader, it was at the service of brands. I don’t know what they do but they don’t serve us. And for our brand, I am proud of [doing things this way]. It makes a difference.
Morency: I like to use the word facilitator, which I think is applicable here. As a fashion retailer, you facilitate these conversations on your platform and through your involvement.
Panconesis: I don’t need more money, I have enough money. But we want to add something more and we want to work as much as possible for a better future. When I was young, I honestly didn’t care. You don’t know. You are ignorant. But this is something that once you become a father and a grandfather, you are aware of it. Nowadays, the younger generation is much more aware. They want to put their money where they think they can do it, which is remarkable. This is what gives me a good idea of the future.
Morency: I’ve always found that retailers never really crack the code to get meaningful content. How do you think your approach fits into this content and commerce landscape?
Panconesis: We don’t even have time to do right what we [want to]. So we don’t have time to see what others are doing. Honestly, I don’t know what other people are doing. I am not very interested. I want to do what I think is right for us. Also, honestly, we can’t compete with the others because they have 10 times more money to invest on Google, Facebook and [other] social media. I realized a few years ago that I didn’t want to invest my money in this direction. I understood that I had to find another way. And this is the result after five years of investing in a partnership with UNICEF. And now with Extreme E, I’m even more sure it was the right decision.