October 17, 2006

When In Doubt, Wear Red

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The use of fashion as a means for charities to collect money is not a novel idea. Even before the yellow rubber Live Strong bracelets were sold out, charities have sought to gain funds by marketing products that are attractive to the consumer for reasons other than just mere goodwill.
The continent of Africa is suffering from multiple calamities — genocide and disease just two among many. Worst of all, a considerable portion of the people who have died from AIDS would still be alive if they had the proper medication. In Botswana, for example, approximately a quarter of the population is living with AIDS. However, most Americans are not able to fly to Africa and provide assistance or publicize the issues like Oprah Winfrey or Angelina Jolie have done. Now, any socially aware and fashion conscious person can make a contribution without crossing the Atlantic.
Product Red is a new campaign that is collecting money for The Global Fund, an exceptional collaboration of governments, non-profit organizations and the private sector. In just four years since the Global Fund was established, over five billion dollars have been sent to countries in need and over half a million people have been treated for HIV and AIDS.
The Gap, Emporio Armani, Converse, Apple, American Express and Motorola have created products where a substantial portion of the profits go to charity. You won’t have to strap a piece of yellow rubber around your wrist; instead, consumers can buy products that both do and do not advertise their charitable purpose.
The items come in a variety of colors, because not everyone looks good in red. In addition, African designers were used to create the motifs that appear on the Armani and Converse items. Some of The Gap’s Product Red items, like jeans, sweaters, bags and belts, appear like their usual products, but the money that will save lives makes them unusual. Furthermore, these items are truly fashionable. The materials, stitching, logos, styles and other details make these items desirable purchases.
However, the fact that many of these products do not advertise their charitable objective means that people might buy them without knowing that their expenditure will result in charity. Although the money is still going to those who need it, the essence of the charitable nature of this campaign could easily be lost. The point of charity is to get involved and make a difference, not just to donate money. The donors, or spenders in this case, and the receivers become separated. Consumers may really be giving by accident — they are more interested in getting a new pair of jeans despite where the profits go. If Project Red becomes a trend and other charities replicate their idea, the trend may be based more on fashion than on charity.
Regardless of the nature of how the money is collected or the intentions of the donors, the goal of helping those in need is paramount. Rather than paying more for these charitable products, the prices are comparable to similar non-charitable goods. The donated money comes from the profits that would ordinarily go to the corporations. In this case, the consumer isn’t even the one doing the donating. Do corporations really need a specific public campaign for them to donate to a worthy cause? Indirectly, it has never been so easy or publicly accessible for consumers to donate money. A simple stroll through the mall may mean that a child suffering from AIDS will be able to receive medication.
Cornell, known as the Big Red, should get involved in this cause. Just like how Gap and Armani are marketing red products in order to benefit the Global Fund, a line of red Cornell gear could be created to promote the same cause.
Although we can’t all be like Oprah and Bono during their shopping spree, where they each dropped thousands of dollars buying multiples of each item, just buying a t-shirt will do the trick. So the next time that you go to the mall, consider shopping at one of these locations and make your shopping experience even more meaningful than it already is.