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Gucci launches Changemakers program to foster diversity and inclusivity

Gucci has announced the launch of Changemakers, a program that aims to support industry change and foster more diversity and inclusivity. The initiative includes a multi-million dollar fund, a scholarship program and a global employee-volunteering framework, and follows the company’s announcement of an internal action plan launched in 2018.

The multi-year fund will allocate $5 million towards investments in community-based programs in cities across North America, with the aim to build better opportunities for the African-American community and communities of color at-large. A parallel fund of the same monetary value will be established in the Asia Pacific region.

The scholarship program, which focuses on empowering young people through education, will offer scholarships for college students across various disciplines in fashion throughout the region. Over the course of four years, students will receive a $20,000 grant towards their education.

Both student grants and non-profit organizations will be partly selected by a dedicated Council composed of community leaders and experts in social change, in order to ensure that whatever the program embarks on is done so with transparency and long-term impact. The Council includes Harlem couturier and Gucci ambassador Dapper Dan, fashion activist Bethann Hardison and Eric Avila, professor of history and chicano studies at UCLA.

Lastly, announced in 2018, the volunteering campaign is focusing on the label’s 18,000 employees by allocating up to four paid days off for volunteering activities in their local communities. This represents 8,000 days of volunteer support in North America, the first region involved in the program, under four main pillars of volunteering: equality, support for refugees and the homeless, protection of the environment, and education.

The Changemakers Program can be seen as a proactive response to the brand’s recent scandal over the insensitive design of a baklava sweater resembling blackface. Following the controversy earlier this year, the brand announced a series of long-term initiative, which includes the hiring of a global director for diversity and inclusion; a multi-cultural design scholarship program in partnership with colleges in 10 global cities; and the hiring of five new designers from around the world for Gucci’s design head office.

Dapper Dan’s collection for Gucci

“I believe in dialogue, building bridges and taking quick action,” said Marco Bizzarri, Gucci’s president and CEO. “This is why we started working immediately on the long-term infrastructure at Gucci to address our shortcomings. And now through our Changemakers program, we will invest important resources to unify and strengthen our communities across North America, with a focus on programs that will impact youth and the African-American community.”

Dapper Dan, a longtime Gucci fan but also vocal critic of the ‘blackface’ scandal, said, “It is imperative that we have a seat at the table to say how we should be represented and reimagined. Through our work together, Gucci is in a position to lead the overall industry toward becoming a more inclusive one.” He later added on Instagram, “This does not end with Gucci, it begins with Gucci.”

Additional reporting by Camilla Rydzek.

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Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri on why consumers are “Feeling Gucci”

Gucci's CEO Marco Bizzarri at the WWD CEO Summit. Photo Credit: Patrick MacLeod/WWD
Gucci’s CEO Marco Bizzarri at the WWD CEO Summit. Photo Credit: Patrick MacLeod/WWD

Gucci’s strong momentum has continued entering the second half of this year. The Italian heritage brand delivered another spectacular earnings result earlier this week, reporting a 49% jump in sales in the third quarter. The Asia-Pacific region sales, led by China, increased 36%.

This higher-than-expected growth proves the continuous influence of the brand’s creative director Alessandro Michele in dictating the fashion taste of global consumers. Michele, who has helmed the house since 2015, is the hero behind Gucci’s latest turnaround.

In China, Gucci is leading the way in profiting from the recovery of the country’s luxury market in recent years. The bold and imaginative design has impressed and won over the hearts of Chinese millennial consumers. Aside from the impressive sales figure, younger generations’ high interest in the brand’s new product lines such as home decor, furniture and perfume, along with the constantly organic promotion by a slew of top-tier online influencers including celebrities Liu Wen and Yang Mi, and fashion bloggers gogoboi and Becky Li, are all signs of Gucci’s success with this demographic.

There are still some who question the sustainability of Gucci’s growth, however. Some fashion critics and industry observers hold the view that Gucci may soon lose steam if it cannot catch up with the fast-evolving appetite of Chinese young customers, who are known to be one of the most demanding and least loyal buyers of luxury brands.

To Gucci’s CEO Marco Bizzarri, who, under his leadership, has put creativity at the core of the brand culture, this pessimism may not hold true. During the WWD’s CEO Summit on October 25, Bizzarri was confident enough to say that almost every consumer on the planet (no matter the age and nationality) is “Feeling Gucci”.

“Feel Gucci” is a term coined and defined by Bizzarri’s 16-year-old daughter, meaning, “feel good”. The term reflects the authenticity and the sincerity of the work of Alessandro Michele. Bizzarri further explained that the brand culture that he instilled, which now values creativity, instinct, and intuition, has made him firmly believe consumers’ enthusiasm that Gucci could continue strong.

“Creativity was put again at the center of Gucci,” he said. “[And] respect, happiness, passion, empowerment, inclusivity are values that foster creativity.”

Upon his arrival at Gucci in 2015, Bizzarri revolutionised the office atmosphere through removing all the black-and-white images of the brand’s deceased supporters like Grace Kelly and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The change was meant to make Gucci set apart from its glorious history and bring in fresh ideas, creativity, joy and emotion.

The “Shadow Executive Committee” is another example of how he empowers a bottom-up idea transfer. The unofficial organ is where Bizzarri can listen to the opinions of lower-level employees. He disclosed that “Gucci Places”, the new travel app released in August this year, was the outcome of the committee.

“You need to listen to consumers, but not too much,” said Bizzarri, who acknowledged the significance of customer’s ideas but also the need to set some distance from them in order to avoid their opinions completely dominating the company’s vision.

He believes “intuition and instinct are ultimately more important than intellect and rationality”. He firmly stated that one of the best professional choices he made — appointing Michele, a person who was not even on the list of candidates for Creative Director — was based entirely on his intuition and instinct.

“[Alessandro] opened the door and was wearing the Princetown fur loafers,” said Bizzarri. “We were thinking the same way — for me, it was from a business standpoint, and for him, design. It was very much about empathy. You feel like you found the right person immediately.”

From Bizzarri’s talk at the Summit, it is clear that his approach to managing this 95-year-old iconic fashion label is to preserve the most human side of luxury culture, which prioritises creativity, instinct, and intuition over rational, strategy, and technology.

In today’s fashion world, the advance of technology and data science has brought assistance as well as distraction to the business. Some high-end brands tend to focus on the modern, superficial metrics such as social media and KOL (influencer) traffic while neglecting the real factor — namely, human creativity, that can differentiate them from rivals among consumers.

By Yiling Pan @SiennaPan

This article was originally published on Jing Daily, a Fashion & Mash content partner.