Super Typhoon Haiyan Spurs Retail Relief Efforts

By | March 10, 2014

The fashion and retail industries are stepping forward to aid victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, a key apparel manufacturing area.

Josie Natori, chief executive officer of Natori Co., was in Manila several days after the typhoon hit her native country. She told WWD Wednesday that the family-owned manufacturing facilities in Manila were not affected, but she noted that the family home of one of her fashion merchandisers located in the hardest hit town of Tacloban was “completely destroyed.”

“She and her family lost everything, so we are helping out. But it’s going to be a long haul. It’s been five days since the typhoon struck, and the problem is everyone is focusing on just one city — Tacloban. But other areas have been badly affected along the sea shore and on many islands,” said Natori. “Because everybody has been impacted, it’s hard to find volunteers who can be mobilized to bring food, water, medicine and make-shift shelters. A friend of mine who is an interior designer, Maja Olidares-Co, is building makeshift shelters.”

Natori further noted, “We have to do what we can. It’s not just about the money — it’s about sending food, water and medical supplies because there are no hospitals left.”

Natori said her company has set up a link on the Web site for fashion industry executives, retail partners and family friends who would like to make a charitable donation to relief efforts in the Philippines. The charities include UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity and the American Red Cross and Philippine Red Cross.

Among the major companies that have already made donations or plan to are Oscar de la Renta, Saks Inc., Dillard’s Inc., Barneys New York, Nordstrom Inc., Neiman Marcus Group, Rustan’s of Manila and Macy’s Inc. Personal donations have been made by Steven I. and Karin Sadove as well as employees of the Natori Co.

Macy’s said Wednesday it is donating a $50,000 cash contribution to the international relief fund of the American Red Cross for assistance in the Philippines and other nearby nations affected by the typhoon. The grant will also assist the American Red Cross’ efforts to help Americans locate and connect with their families overseas affected by the storm.

In addition, the Macy’s Foundation, through its Matching Gift program, will match dollar-for-dollar all employee contributions of $25 or more to the American Red Cross and other qualified U.S.-based organizations providing relief assistance.

Terry J. Lundgren, Macy’s Inc. chairman, president and chief executive officer, said, “We are moved by the devastation left in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

“We want to be a global citizen and give back. We know for a fact that across the country, we have employees from the Philippines and employees with families and friends from the Philippines,” Lundgren told WWD. “On behalf of our Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s associates, we are honored to contribute to the relief efforts and the work being done by the American Red Cross to connect residents in the USA with their families in the eye of the storm.”

Lundgren also said he spoke to Josie Natori twice since she’s been in the Philippines helping in the disaster relief effort. “She plays a big role in the Philippines. She was so thankful when I told her Macy’s was among those contributing.”

“It’s a tragedy what happened in the Philippines,” said Sadove, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Saks Inc. “We have friends who have families in the Philippines, Josie Natori and others, and we just felt horrible about what happened and wanted to do something to help. We hope others who have the means can get involved.”

Allan Ellinger, chairman of Fashion Delivers, said plans will be under way for clothing donations in the coming months.

“Our plans are to…as we did with Haiti, Japan, etc.…However, they’re not ready to receive clothing yet. The first focus of any disaster of this magnitude is food, water, shelter and medicine. Clothing is weeks away….Additionally, we have to wait for the agencies on the ground to have the wherewithal to distribute the products to those in need. They don’t yet.”

Rick Helfenbein, president of Luen Thai USA, which sources from the region, said, “The good news for us is we’re north of Manila and the center of the typhoon was 360 miles south so there was no impact there. We are the largest exporter of apparel from the Philippines and we were unaffected by the tragedy.”

Luen Thai, which employs about 15,000 workers in the Philippines, produces primarily men’s apparel and handbags there, Helfenbein said. The company also has facilities on the island of Cebu in the Philippines, which was south of the center of the typhoon and did not sustain direct damage. The majority of apparel manufacturing is centered in Manila and surrounding areas, as well as in Cebu, he noted.

“Fortunately, it did not impact us directly,” Helfenbein said. “Indirectly, relatives of people working at our facilities were impacted. There is no communication and it is really difficult to get information out of there. But it doesn’t seem to be impacting business.”

Retail in the Philippines has been hit hard as shopping malls were forced to shut down in the wake of the typhoon. Earlier, there were reports of widespread looting in department stores and boutiques, with clothing and even appliances such as refrigerators being brazenly carted off. Supermarket and department store operator Robinsons Retail Holdings said more than 50 of its stores in the region were impacted by the typhoon.

The Eastern Visayas region is not really a manufacturing hub, but agriculture and fishing form the backbone of the regional economy.

Laura Verallo de Bertotto, ceo of VMV Hypoallergenics, a specialized skin-care company with retail outlets in Asia, the Middle East and the U.S., said their 1,600-square-acre coconut farm in Leyte was “destroyed.”

“‘Destroyed’ is a big word considering scenes in other places, but that means we can’t produce for the next two years, and virgin organic coconut oil is a major ingredient in our skin-care range. Instead, the head of our farm opened up the property to help 40 families seeking shelter. They need what everyone does: food, water, medicine,” said de Bertotto.

She added, “We will be donating a portion of all sales from November and December to the Red Cross. Our employees canceled the annual Christmas party and are donating from their salaries, too. We’re also donating some products for disinfection.”

Massive relief efforts on the regional, national and international levels are nevertheless under way to provide food, shelter and clothing to the 631,795 people reported displaced by the storm, some 450,000 of whom are living in evacuation centers.

So far, international relief efforts from countries include the U.S., which is pledging $20 million; $16 million from the European Union; $6 million from China, and the United Nations is hoping to raise $300 million. The Philippines is the 13th largest supplier of apparel to the U.S. by volume, according to government data. For the year ending Aug. 31, apparel imports from the Philippines were $1.1 billion.

In the capital of Manila, the local fashion and retail industries are rushing to provide relief. Luxury emporium Adora pledged 100 percent of profits from all store sales until Nov. 25 to those most affected by Haiyan, particularly in Tacloban. W-17, an upscale home decor store, said a special sale featuring pre-owned designer bags, shoes and accessories would take place on Nov. 17, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Philippine Red Cross.

The Philippine fashion industry is hosting a Fashion Gives Back fund-raising event at the Landmark Department Store in the Makati central business district of Manila.

It’s unclear how many additional fashion apparel companies and retailers are gearing up for relief efforts in the Philippines, but one supermodel is making it a top priority: Naomi Campbell.

Campbell lent her support this past weekend by selling a limited-edition print taken by photographer John-Paul Pietrus. A trusted collaborator of Campbell, Pietrus is half-Filipino and asked her what they could do to raise funds for the rescue efforts. Campbell agreed to sell a series of signed pictures, taken by Pietrus, for 20 pounds each, or $32 at current exchange, with the proceeds going to the Red Cross disaster fund, said Pietrus. Further details were not available.

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