What happens when a major design house tries to gain what it deems to be rightfully its own? Well, when that consists of an Instagram account, the results are in. As we told you last week, Chanel Bonin, the 20-year old Vancouver woman who maintains the @Chanel Instagram account, learned what happens. Bonin beat the Paris-based design house to the punch; she joined Instagram and secured the handle before her fashion counterpart, and maintained it as her own. She has amassed quite a following – roughly 39k followers – before the Chanel showdown.
CHANEL: POLICING ITS TRADEMARK OR ACTING LIKE A BULLY?
The saga appears to have started when Chanel initiated intellectual property proceedings to potentially claim the account without much luck. While Bonin’s account was temporarily suspended, it was, thereafter, reactivated with a few photos (ones bearing the design house’s trademarks) removed and with an influx of nearly 500 followers over the following week or so. But it didn’t end there, as after reactivation, Bonin’s account was hacked by “1ceman,” a serial social media hacker, and as a result, Bonin’s account was changed from @Chanel to @chanel827372. Ultimately, it was changed back to @Chanel, which is what it remains at this time.
All the while, the Paris-based design house was painted as an evil corporate monster. Is this fair? No. As you may know, it is the duty of a trademark holder to police its marks. This means that it is the sole responsibility of Chanel, for instance, to keep tabs on the market, identify unauthorized uses of its name, and take action to ensure that the use of its name does not become so common place that it no longer serves as a source-identifying trademark. It seems that this is what Chanel was doing. There is an argument that consumers could be (and were to some extent) confused about Bonin’s account and assume that the Paris-based design house was in some way affiliated with Bonin and her account. This argument is bolstered by the fact that Bonin displayed a number of photos on her account that depicted the Chanel trademark – whether it be the double “C” logo or the use of the Chanel name in classes of goods for which Chanel has trademark rights, such as on accessories. The photos that I am referring to have been removed by Instagram’s in-house legal team, which means that they saw some merit in this argument.
Following our initial contact and her update that her account had been hacked, Bonin has been hesitant to comment as per the advice of her attorney. As such, we cannot say for certain that this battle is over and judging by the design house’s legal history, it would be wise to consider this matter to be outstanding.
It is interesting to see where Bonin stands now, though. After having her account reactivated, her number of followers has jumped to 40.4k – up from 39.1k before the Chanel proceedings. Moreover, she has found quite a bit of support from Instagram users. “If anything, you are the new generation of Chanel... if they were smart, they would embrace who you are and reach out more to your generation. Isn't that what Fashion is supposed to be all about? Just saying ... Cheers,” wrote @bellaaddisa. Another Instagram user, @christoffdavisart wrote: “Go girl!!! I stand behind you for all the girls around the world named Chanel!!!!” And maybe most telling are the truly anti-Chanel comments, such as @yrrr22’s comment: “Shady corporate assholes feeling entitled to an Instagram username that's already taken.. Shit is ridiculous.. Sounds like a lawsuit to me though (sue them if you can) fuck them.” Another person, @valentinacasamento, echoed this, writing: “Fuck the big guys, they can't always win.” The big guy (Chanel) vs. little guy (Chanel Bonin) theme runs quite strongly throughout the comment section of many of Bonin’s posts.
Regardless of which side you take, it is interesting to note the overwhelmingly negative sentiments toward Chanel, from what I can only assume is a group of millennial Instagram users, who do not understand IP law and who view the iconic fashion house as just another ugly corporation. The question is: Does this matter?
REPUTATION MATTERS IN THE UPPER ECHELON OF FASHION
With the vast majority of millennials favoring brands like Forever 21, Victoria’s Secret, Nike, H&M, Urban Outfitters, Target, and Steve Madden (per the 2015 Teen Vogue/Goldman Sachs Brand Affinity Index), their sentiments may not be a truly major threat for luxury brands right now. However, with millennials coming of age (and beginning to come into real money) and set to overtake baby boomers as top spenders by 2017, these views could be hugely problematic in the not so distant future.
And luxury brands know this. We can tell by the changes they are making; they are increasingly turning their focus to things that supposedly matter to millennials. They are implementing green initiatives, focusing on transparency and sustainability, highlighting local manufacturing efforts, and the like – things that reports suggest that millennials care about; these serve to demonstrate their attempts to court the younger generation.
While the Great Recession heightened the corporate social responsibility trend (CSR) by forcing companies to clearly identify themselves as responsible and trustworthy, fashion was something of a late adopter. In fact, only this past month did Prada roll out a website to allow the public to observe its CSR efforts, and it is one of the earliest brands to do so. Kering, parent company to Gucci, Balenciaga, and YSL, has been one of the staunchest sustainability focused conglomerates, but even Kering has been relatively shy to report the majority of its efforts. As Robin Givhan noted in an article for the Washington Post, “only the vaguest reference on the Gucci website notes that it is produced using an ‘earth-conscious process.’” She elaborates, writing: “Gucci’s reluctance to make that shift evident — let alone exciting or sexy for its consumers — highlights the unsettled relationship between the luxury business and eco-fashion.”
Are luxury consumers simply not motivated by brands going green? Maybe not. But we must bear in mind that today’s luxury consumer is not tomorrow’s.
To be fair, it seems that tomorrow’s luxury consumer, aka today’s millennials – maybe even the ones frequenting H&M and Forever 21 – don’t care too much about ethical manufacturing. They care about price and they care about trends. The manufacturing horrors and human rights abuses associated with fast fashion garments and accessories have been widely publicized, and yet, they continue to shop fast fashion.
NIKE AS A CSR PIONEER
So, why do brands bother? Well, because the effects of not taking corporate responsibility into account are very real, and they go far beyond just “going green.” The best example is probably Nike, which in the 1990’s was shamed in public for its labor practices to the point where it badly tarnished the company's image and hurt sales. Before fast fashion retailers rose to fame, Nike was utilizing a business model based on outsourcing manufacturing to low cost countries, and using the money it saved on aggressive marketing campaigns.
Much like the fast fashion retailers have helped to pioneer the shift from China after labor prices increased, Nike began to urge contractors to move to Indonesia, China, and Vietnam, following prices increases and labor organization in Korea and Taiwan. The sportswear giant then learned that making products in situations without placing significant focus on manufacturing and labor standards and human rights come with very significant costs. It was massacred by the press. It lost consumers. It took years and millions of dollars (or better yet, hundreds of millions of dollars) to rehabilitate its image, by way of increased monitoring and reporting efforts. It shed light on the danger of ignoring these issues.
So, while it may not seem that consumers necessarily care significantly about where their clothes are coming from or that the company is implementing a CSR policy – especially when pitted against concerns like price and fit, consumer trust is always at play. And as indicated by the Chanel-Chanel Instagram instance, young consumers simply don’t trust these big fashion houses.
It seems this is one of the guiding forces behind the recent influx of fashion brands’ efforts. According to Sourcing Journal’s Catherine Salfino, “Consumer trust is vital to growth and long-term success, so getting ahead of these concerns is simply a good business practice.” And at the end of the day, brands that don’t position themselves as capable, responsible, and trustworthy risk customer wrath for violating their trust, and when pricing is as high as it is in the upper echelon of fashion, such concerns are even more significant.