Matinee fashions image campaign

For years, cigarette companies have promoted sporting events to raise image and gain market share.Now tobacco products giant Imperial Tobacco wants to branch out to what had been relatively unexplored territory - fashion and design.Starting next summer, Imperial will provide $500,000...

For years, cigarette companies have promoted sporting events to raise image and gain market share.

Now tobacco products giant Imperial Tobacco wants to branch out to what had been relatively unexplored territory – fashion and design.

Starting next summer, Imperial will provide $500,000 in grants to Canadian fashion designers through its newly created Matinee Ltd. Fashion Foundation.

The foundation will also promote designers’ activities such as product market development, production, marketing, human resources and skill enhancement.

But just as these plans are being unveiled, anti-smoking activists are crying foul. They say Matinee’s campaign will target young females, many more of whom are smoking these days.

‘When they [Matinee] are talking about designers, they’re talking about those who mainly make women’s clothing,’ says Gar Mahood, executive director of the Toronto-based Non-Smokers Rights group.

‘I suspect it’s just another gross example of the [tobacco] industry targetting vulnerable females,’ Mahood says.

However, Carol Hinks, executive director of Matinee, says the designers will be aged 21 or older, and their products will be aimed at adult women and men only, not young females, teenagers or children.

Legally, Hinks says the federal Tobacco Products Control Act, which bans advertising of tobacco products, allows tobacco companies to sponsor sporting or cultural events.

It permits these companies to use their corporate names in association with the events, but not their brand names. As a result, Imperial has created Matinee, a wholly-owned subsidiary named after its Matinee brand of cigarettes, which will act as the sponsoring corporation.

‘The population at large seems to feel that there’s nothing wrong with tobacco companies sponsoring activities,’ Hinks says, adding this is because they are aware that without funding, these events would not exist.

‘It’s a little ludicrous to think that an adult would go to a symphony concert, and because it’s sponsored by a tobacco company, and they don’t smoke, that they’ll say, `Gee, I really enjoyed that concert – I think I’ll show my appreciation by starting to smoke,’ ‘ she says.

Matinee’s move into fashion is a major step, and it is likely the first one of its kind taken by a tobacco company, Hinks says.

But she says the company has sponsored small fashion shows in Toronto in the past few years.

As well, she feels fashion leaders are supportive of, and comfortable with, Matinee’s campaign.

Two of them – Montreal designer Jean-Claude Poitras, executive vice-president of Poitras Design/Irving Samuel, and Joseph Segal, chairman of Mr. Jax Fashions of Vancouver – are on the foundation’s board of directors.

‘This [campaign] is something we can get exposure with, and, as well, it’s something that will be of benefit [to the fashion industry,’ Hinks says.

She says Matinee found that designers are a pivotal group within fashion. And yet, they are struggling in Canada.

‘Manufacturing is declining, and Canadian designers are having difficulty making it because of lack of funding,’ Hinks says.

‘You may have a designer who is brilliant in terms of creativity, but they don’t know how to market their product, or they need a bookkeeper,’ she says.

Hinks feels Matinee’s grants will have a substantial impact over the next few years, and will help advance the careers of first-time designers.

She hopes Canadian manufacturers, who seem to be reluctant to fund or hire their own designers, will lend their support by becoming more involved locally rather than buying designs from overseas.

A National Bank study earlier this year revealed the domestic clothing market decreased by 10% to $7.8 billion in 1991, and there was an 11% drop in domestic shipments from Canadian companies during the same time.

Meanwhile, since the 1980s, the import market share has increased to 30% from 17%.

Hinks says Matinee will spend the better part of almost $1 million to promote the grants to designers.

An ad campaign starts this week and will run over the next three months.

Backer Spielvogel Bates Canada is Matinee’s ad agency.

Hinks says Matinee will target designers through ads in mainly female-oriented magazines such as Chatelaine, Style and Flare.

Trade publications, newspapers, radio, tv and transit ads will also be used.

Hinks says promotion of the foundation and the grants will not be on cigarette packages and will not be in stores or on billboards.

Applications for Matinee’s grants have to be in by March 31.

Designers will then be informed before June 1.

Shortly after, they will get one-third of their grant; the second third will come when their fall line is completed, and the final third when the spring ’94 line is ready.