High fashion Benetton cannot give away

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 February, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 February, 1993, 12:00am

BENETTON shop assistants Ms Irene Ng and Ms Connie Chan may look as if they are modelling their employer's latest lines, but the outfits are throw-aways.

The international fashion house appealed to customers to donate clothes they no longer needed to the poor.

But the company's good intentions have left its Hongkong agent holding 80 big bags of second-hand clothes without a home.

Benetton, which is spending four per cent of its turnover on the worldwide campaign, had both the timing and the place wrong when it launched it in Hongkong.

The 25 Benetton shops in the territory put out bins for clothing donations on February 4 following a major advertising drive, but the company's nominated international charity, Caritas, refused the collection, leaving the Benetton Group in Rome to negotiate with other Hongkong charities.

''The poor of Hongkong generally do not need clothes, and if there is a need the time to collect them is ahead of winter for distribution in about October,'' said Caritas Hongkong general duties secretary Ms Belinda Hung.

Caritas Hongkong does not want the clothes, and does not anticipate interest from its branches elsewhere in Asia or in Europe.

''It is well known that the need for clothes in Hongkong is not that great,'' Ms Hung said.

''Caritas felt Benetton's February-March campaign was badly timed. We have enough summer clothing to give away, and for winter clothing it is better to do it in October and give out before the onset of cold weather.'' The charity agreed to help Benetton rid itself of the clothes by contacting Caritas Internationalis in Italy which passed the offer on to its Asian and European agency network.

''But if they were interested we should have heard by now,'' Ms Hung said.

The Benetton Group's foreign press officer, Ms Marina Galanti, said she was confident one of the charities with which Benetton was negotiating would accept the clothes this week.

The charities concerned deal with Vietnamese boat people.

Benetton said it would ''definitely continue the collection campaign as planned until March 13''.

The donation campaign, which involves 5,500 Benetton shops in 100 countries, has also not been without its hitches internationally.

In Singapore, Benetton has discovered the poor also do not need clothes, although the Red Cross Society there has agreed to distribute them.

In researching the logistics of the campaign for Benetton, its agent, Crinagi Hongkong, said some charities did not want the clothes unless they were washed, and countries such as China had import restrictions.

In Thailand, the provocative campaign advertisements, which feature the naked figure of Benetton's managing director, Mr Luciano Benetton, and the words ''Give me back my clothes'' and ''Empty your closets'', were banned.

Despite this, Benetton Group reported the response from charities and the public was overwhelming in most countries, especially Latin America nations, Japan (where the company had 5,000 phone calls from the public) and in Mexico and the US, where transport companies offered to move the clothes to the needy without charge.