oikosPublicationsCasesNoir/Illuminati II (A & B): Defining Socially Responsible Affordable Luxury Clothing

Noir/Illuminati II (A & B): Defining Socially Responsible Affordable Luxury Clothing

30 June 2010 | Cases | Management, Supply Chain

Case Abstract

Peter Ingwersen founded the companies in February 2005. The two entities were like Siamese twins; Noir designed and produced luxury clothing for women, while Illuminati II was set up to produce high quality, fair-trade, organic cotton fabrics of the highest quality both for Noir and other leading fashion brands. Together, they provided the basis for a totally new concept in fashion. Over the years, Peter had attended many fashion shows all over world and had become both aware and very concerned by the total lack of “social substance” of many of the major fashion companies. Was fashion just the ultimate personalisation of some of the worst aspects of human behaviour?

Part A: Defining Socially Responsible Affordable Luxury Clothing

Was fashion all about egocentrism and showing off? Could something be done to bring back meaning and substance to the world of fashion? Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was making its way into most other industries: why could it not infiltrate fashion? Was there any way to improve the “feel good” factor of beautiful clothes with a clear social responsibility message? Could egocentrism rhyme with eco-friendliness?

Conceptually it was very clear: Noir/Illuminati II would define socially responsible affordable luxury clothing. Putting the concept into operation was the real challenge. Building a brand on social awareness, or the guilt of conspicuous consumption, could clearly be a two-edged sword. Would customers buy the story? Even more pressing, would investors follow him in this venture?

Part B: Greenwash and Anorexic Models

Peter could not believe his eyes. He was just sifting through comments posted on the Inhabitat website following the London and New York Fashion Weeks. While the articles themselves were very supportive of his strategy and Rikke Wienmann’s collections, the postings on the website’s readers’ comments were direct attacks on his sustainability and social responsibility rationales, basically labelling them “greenwash,” and very critical of his choice of models, too skinny by today’s standards and concerns for anorexia.

With the violent heartburn receding, he tried to understand what the implications of such rash customer perceptions could be for the brand and its positioning. Maybe this was just an isolated incident from disgruntled British and American customers, overexposed to the issues and hence over-sensitive to them. But maybe it also reflected a turning point in the Corporate Social Responsibility movement. Were people really starting to feel that way? Were they starting to question these CSR labels and how much they really did for people in Africa? Was this the beginning of the dreaded backlash against the new green political correctness? Was CSR now also spreading to issues such as people’s weights?

The responses from the fashion editor and other readers were encouraging, but it was time maybe to prepare for similar questioning of the underlying philosophy of the company. It was time for sure to shed more light on Illuminati II’s contributions to Ugandan’s farmers…

Authors: Benoît Leleux, Barbara Scheel Agersnap
Institution: IMD, Switzerland
Competition Year 2010
Place Finalist
Track Social Entrepreneurship
Key Words Corporate Social Responsibility, Ethics, Fashion, Managing Growth, Funding Growth, Venturing, Brand Building, Fair-trade, Organic Production, Positioning, Retail Concept, Anorexia, Greenwash
Target Audience MBA, Business Executives
Permission Rights The case is available for purchase from the Case Centre: Part A (IMD-3-1909), Part B (IMD-3-1910). It is also part of the oikos Case Collection book (Volume 2): Case Studies in Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainability published by Greenleaf.
Download Inspection Copy (Part A, Part B)