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How philanthropy became big business for luxury

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Swarovski’s latest drop is a sobering departure from its usual glittering collections and collaborations. Today, the brand is releasing a new documentary, part of the BBC’s The Climate and Us series, that highlights the work of Joshua Ichor, a hydrologist who — after surviving a severe typhoid infection — developed a hand pump monitoring system and clean water kiosks for communities in Africa. Ichor is a graduate of the Swarovski Foundation’s Creatives for Our Future programme, promoted together with the United Nations.

Now 10 years in, and on the heels of launching the Creatives programme in 2021, the Swarovski Foundation has grown louder about its work. Since its founding, the foundation has supported a variety of activities ranging from education to public health. In 2014, it partnered with Médecins Sans Frontières to fight Ebola in West Africa, and more recently supported Mothers2Mothers in Mozambique following this year’s cyclone. It’s a way to both grow its impact and drive growth for the brand that founded it.

Luxury companies, both established and fledgling, today consider philanthropy part and parcel of their business and are beefing up their efforts. Cartier created its philanthropic foundation, Cartier Philanthropy, in 2002, adding the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards in 2006 and, more recently, Cartier Red Club in 2019. Messika, a diamond-focused jewellery house founded almost 20 years ago, launched its foundation in 2021.

Brand purpose and responsibility are “non-negotiable”, per a 2023 report on luxury consumer trends by BCG and Altagamma, and have been accelerated by upcoming regulations, especially in the European Union, which focus on transparency and disclosure. It’s also driven by consumer expectation, the report shows: 65 per cent of consumers consider a brand’s sustainability credentials when choosing whether to buy from it (up 4 percentage points on 2019), rising to 72 per cent for Gen Z. A report by American Express released in September 2023 notes that “brand values” (68 per cent) is the second influential factor when purchasing luxury goods right after “high-quality products” (78 per cent) and is followed by “sustainability” (67 per cent).

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