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Purchase with a purpose

Courtney Cox | Thursday, September 23, 2010

Merging fashion and social responsibility seems to be the latest marketing trend. TOMS shoes are one of the most successful examples of this business model: for each pair of shoes sold, another pair is given to a child in need of shoes. The company will give pair No. 1 million this month.

Student International Business Council (SIBC) hosted a screening Tuesday of a documentary featuring the shoe company.

Eunice Ikene, SIBC’s director of global development, said the group’s vision is “peace through commerce.”

“As an organization we believe that peace and social responsibility can be achieved through commerce and the world of business,” she said.

While TOMS has been wildly successful in implementing this sort of business model, there are many other companies out there to serve the fashionable humanitarian.

Bono, along with his wife Ali Hewson, founded clothing company EDUN in 2005. EDUN was created to encourage trade with the African continent and entice the fashion industry to invest and do business with African nations. The clothing line features chic trendy items including bomber jackets, sundresses, lightweight scarves and much more with an emphasis on using sustainable cotton.

They created the Conservation Cotton Initiative in Uganda, which builds sustainable cotton farms in the area. EDUN also works very closely with the Bidii School in Kenya and created a line of t-shirts with artwork from the children in the school. The proceeds from the shirts go back to the school itself to provide for lunches, health care and further development.

Another Bono initiative, Product Red, launched its collaboration with Gap clothing stores in 2006. The foundation’s mission is to promote the fight against AIDS/HIV as well as malaria and tuberculosis. In keeping with Bono’s other humanitarian efforts, Product Red focuses on serving the African community.

The Gap collaboration makes the products extremely accessible and the shirts have a coolness that comes with simplicity. Fifty percent of the proceeds from every Gap Product Red shirt goes toward The Global Fund, and organization that finances programs helping women and children who are affected by AIDS.

Warby Parker is an eyeglasses company that follows the same model as TOMS; that is, for each pair of glasses purchased, the company will give a pair of glasses to someone in need. The need for eyeglasses in developing countries can often go unnoticed and this company aims to combat this by spreading awareness and matching each pair of glasses purchased with the donation of a pair of glasses. The company offers a wide variety of retro-chic frames and puts in the prescription lenses for only $95.

They work in cooperation with restoringvision.org to identify where the need is greatest. Forty-three percent of the donated glasses go to Africa, 31 percent are donated to Latin America, and 21 percent go to South Asia.

Emma Watson, the resident style icon of the Harry Potter franchise, has taken her high fashion tastes and utilized it for collaboration with British company People Tree. The brand prides itself on its fair trade values and organic clothing. The principles of fair trade place an emphasis on making markets available for disadvantaged producers in developing countries and fostering an elevated level of transparency in clothing production.

Watson herself even paid a visit to the center in Bangladesh, called Swallows, where some of the clothing from her line, Love From Emma, is created. The collection showcases quintessentially British clothing like cable knit sweaters and sweater vests, as well as t-shirts with phrases like “Please don’t panic, I’m organic.”

Socially conscious companies are not limited to the fashion industry. Makeup companies are also picking up on this trend and rethinking the way they create their products. Featured in Tuesday’s Zoe Report, Nude Skincare is one brand that will have skin glowing both from their quality products as well as the glow received from making an ecologically sound purchase. The company does not test any of their products on animals, their packaging contained 40 percent recycled materials and all the printing is done with non-toxic ink.

The trend toward socially conscious clothing certainly inspires hope in the power of ethical business models. The popularity of TOMS and other brands should spark interest in creating businesses that aid the global community.

Ikene said making socially responsible consumer choices like buying TOMS is “killing two birds with one stone: you get to be comfortably fashionable while simultaneously contributing a small amount to help alleviate a global need.” The draw to these products is not simply that they are fashionable; they have a purpose.