London Fog wraps itself in a cause

Blurb: Every year Freed & Freed International hosts a "Fashion and Philanthropy," evening to raise funds for battered women's shelters. But the event also helps the company sell coats

Noah Stern has had a pretty good life. He attended one of Canada's top law schools, and although he is just 35, he runs Freed & Freed International, a family business, which holds the Canadian license to market London Fog overcoats. Pictures of his stunning wife and children are sprinkled liberally around his spacious office.

Despite his youth, Stern had long been conscious of the role that luck played in his success. He also knew that giving a bit back to the community was the right thing to do. But he could never find the right cause to back, until one day his hand was forced.

One of his employees was having trouble with her husband, and she began showing up to work bearing telltale signs of abuse. Although Stern had long thought about helping women's shelters, he decided that it was time to act.

"You don't tend to think concretely about these situations until they affect you directly," said Stern. "But in the end, I learnt and I knew what I had to do."

Stern decided to contact Shelternet, a not for profit national charitable organization that works toward preventing violence against women and children. Shelternet acts as a support system to provide information and to direct clients to the country's 480 shelters. Although he had few specific plans, Stern knew that this was the kind of organization he wanted to back. Women form a big part of Freed & Freed's clientele, and despite considerable progress and raised awareness in recent years, violence against them continues to be a major problem.

"Every day about 3,500 Canadian women call a shelter to ask for help," Stern said. "There is a big demand for the services they offer."

This year, for the second year in a row, Freed & Freed will be hosting a "Fashion and Philanthropy," event, with proceeds going to support Shelternet. The event, which will take place this evening, consists of a fashion show that will showcase London Fog and the company's house brands and other licensed products. Although there is no cost to attend the event, about 500 guests, --drawn mostly from fashion industry types, retail buyers, media and the city's party parade,-- will be asked to make cash contributions at the door. A variety of gift packages will be also sold or auctioned off. Last year Stern presented Shelternet with a check for $10,000 from the event's proceeds and this year he hopes to more than double that.

Freed & Freed also initiated a five-year plan to donate coats to all of Canada's shelters. Last year the company gave away merchandise with a retail value of about $400,000 and this year it expects to do the same.

According to Stern, helping Canada's shelters gives Freed & Freed employees a good feeling, providing them with motivation that is hard to quality. But those aren't the only benefits. The Fashion & Philanthropy event also brings considerable media exposure to its brands in the form of newspaper, magazine and television coverage.

According to Jan Richardson, Shelternet's managing director, Freed & Freed's sponsorship is a win-win move for both organizations.

"We get a cash contribution as well as good publicity, since our name and Web-site address appears on all of their labels," Richardson said. "They increase the public's good feeling towards them which translated into a stronger emotional response to their brands."

Cause marketing has been gathering increasing attention in recent years due to high profile success stories such as Benneton, which has supported a variety of initiatives including AIDS awareness and death penalty opposition and Body Shop which raised consciousness about animal rights.

By all indications, cause marketing seems to be generating results for Freed & Freed too. Although Stern's philanthropy is hardly the only reason, the company's sales increased almost 40 per cent during the Fall 2004 season and should hit about $30 million for the full fiscal year.

Shelternet's Richardson is also happy with the results. "They have shown real leadership in helping the community," Richardson said. "It's been a great relationship and I only see it growing."

Freed & Freed's Fashion and Philanthropy event will be held tonight, (February 7th) at 7:00, at Usine C, 1345 Lalonde. Attendence is by invitation only and guests are asked to make a contribution to Shelternet. For information call 948-7255.




Sidebar: Strengthening a brand through cause marketing

o Choose a cause that is related to your brand. This will heighten your investment's impact and will increase side-benefits.
o Investigate the charity that you support and ask questions. Many non-for-profit organizations are run by well-meaning managers with little business experience. Your questions can often prove helpful by forcing them to think out of the box.
o Don't spread yourself too thin. Choose one cause that you sincerely believe in and channel your efforts.
o Adopt a long-term strategy. This enables you to learn from your mistakes and to use your time and money more effectively each year.
o Be subtle. Don't overplay your hand when trumpeting your contributions.


Fact Box:
Company Name: Freed & Freed International
Owner: Freed family
Founded: 1921
Products: London Fog outerwear, house brands, uniforms,
Employees: Seasonal, between 175 and 500
Sales: $30 million
Phone #: 514-948-7255


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Peter Diekmeyer
275 Malcolm cir.
Montreal, Canada, H9S 1T6, 514-631-0025

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