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Retailer insight: The fashion industry needs immigration

Chief executive of Jigsaw, Peter Ruis, is championing immigration in the fashion industry

Marketing campaigns from fashion brands are not always as interesting as we like to make out. Take away the “A-list” photographer, the very “now” celebrity, or the “it” model, and are we really saying anything other than “here’s a really nice dress”? Or, for some of the industry’s successful disruptors, “this is really cheap”?

jigsaw autumn 17

We are as guilty as any (although not so much on the cheap …), and I often wonder whether we have simply put out another easily digestible bit of fluff. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Historically, we were most proud of our “Life not Landfill” campaign in 2015. We believed in the sentiment, the concept of true longevity to what we were producing, standing against the prevailing throwaway culture of fast fashion. It reflected our brand values, top-down, bottom-up.

This week we launch something that, ridiculously, in this surreal age, will probably be considered controversial. “Jigsaw ♥ immigration” is the tag line. And in it we celebrate everything that immigration has given Jigsaw, a “beautifully British” brand since 1970.

The word “immigration” seems to have become toxic. The dictionary definition is simply: “The action of coming to live permanently in a foreign country.” There is a well-worn joke: “An expat and an immigrant walk into a bar. How do you tell them apart?” There is no punchline.

“I think we all know what sort of binary judgements go through too many people’s minds. Like it or not, whether this generation or five before, we are all immigrants. I am proud to be one. When I first went to school I could not speak English.

jigsaw autumn 17 number 2

jigsaw autumn 17 number 2

Is this a campaign using an important message in a facile way to sell more clothes? Well, that is a valid challenge. My view is fashion cannot live in a bubble – it has to reflect the broader psyche of its times. This is not a pro/anti-Brexit debate for us. It is about a return to the values that make Britain a wonderful country – our centuries-old culture of welcoming foreigners in for the incredible value and experience they add. Anyone want to vote for a return to 1970s cuisine?

Retail is the biggest private employer in the UK. After food, fashion is the biggest sector. It is also one of the most diverse and meritocratic industries. So through this campaign, we wanted to celebrate that – to celebrate people, to celebrate diversity. We could just talk about clothes but, with what is going on around us, it seems hypocritical and superficial to not accept the debt we owe.

Jigsaw’s autumn 17 collection has been sourced and manufactured from 16 countries. Employees from 45 nationalities have designed and delivered it to the consumer. We speak more than 30 languages – I suspect our customers speak even more. Britishness cannot be defined by some fatuous concept of purity of lineage. I am proud to say Jigsaw is a British brand, and has been for close to 50 years.


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