Thursday, July 30, 2015

Battle of the Birkin Bag

Jane Birkin, courtesy of Today.com
British actress and singer Jane Birkin, the namesake behind one of the most iconic and sought-after handbags in the world (waiting lists have been known to be up to six years long in the past!), have asked Hermès to remove her name from their crocodile bag.

Birkin's request to the Parisian luxury house came after she saw a graphic PETA video documenting the cruel and inhumane methods of killing reptiles at crocodile farms Padenga in Zimbabwe and Lone Star Alligator Farm in Winnie, Texas (a subsidiary of Padenga since September 21, 2012).

This 2014 fuchsia Birkin 35 with 18K white gold and diamond hardware was sold
last month for a record HK$1.17 million (US$222,928) at Christie's in Hong Kong
"Having been alerted to the cruel practices reserved for crocodiles during their slaughter to make Hermès handbags carrying my name... I have asked Hermès to debaptise the Birkin Croco until better practices in line with international norms can be put in place." - Jane Birkin
Warning: The cervical dislocation in this video is gruesome!

Hermès responded to Jane with this statement:
"Hermès respects and shares her emotions and was also shocked by the images recently broadcast.  [...]  An investigation is underway at the Texas farm which was implicated in the video.  Any breach of rules will be rectified and sanctioned.  [...]  Hermès specifies that this farm does not belong to them and that the crocodile skins supplied are not used for the fabrication of Birkin bags.  Hermès imposes on its partners the highest standards in the ethical treatment of crocodiles."

How did Jane Birkin become the muse of this Hermès bag?  It was 1981 when Jane sat next to Hermès' CEO, Jean-Louis Dumas, on a flight from Paris to London.  When Jane placed her straw bag into the overhead compartment, the contents of her bag fell to the floor.  She then commented to Dumas on how it was a challenge to find a leather weekend bag she liked.  Subsequently, Dumas created a supple black leather bag for her in 1984, called it the Birkin bag, and a star was born!

This has been the biggest, most controversial news involving the fashion industry in a long time - it's potentially game-changing!  Unfortunate that this news comes in such terrible context, but at the very least, it has generated worldwide awareness for the ethical treatment of crocodiles, alligators, and hopefully other animals killed for this industry as well.  Moreover, this event pushes leading luxury manufacturers to be more consciously aware of their business practices and hopefully this will trickle down to other retailers to follow suit.  So companies beware!  More than ever, this is a conscious consumers' market and people today are resourceful and LOUD!

Nearly eight years ago while at FIDM, I wrote a paper on corporate social responsibility (CSR).  I argued that,
"CSR is gradually transforming from merely a corporate responsibility into a business necessity."
The time is now and in the case of Hermès, the audience has reached the top of the luxury handbag chain.  The notion of companies reexamining their business practices to ensure social responsibility is no longer a corporate discretion.  Companies who fail to adopt socially responsible business models risk lasting damaging exposure.

Take action and write to Hermès here.  Over 69 thousand people have already done so, including myself!

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