Iconic New York Discount Luxury Store Reopens After Pandemic Bust 

A customers shops during the reopening of the Century 21 flagship department store in New York City on May 16, 2023. (AFP)
A customers shops during the reopening of the Century 21 flagship department store in New York City on May 16, 2023. (AFP)
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Iconic New York Discount Luxury Store Reopens After Pandemic Bust 

A customers shops during the reopening of the Century 21 flagship department store in New York City on May 16, 2023. (AFP)
A customers shops during the reopening of the Century 21 flagship department store in New York City on May 16, 2023. (AFP)

Forced to shutter during the Covid-19 pandemic, discount luxury goods store Century21 reopened its flagship location in Manhattan on Tuesday, drawing elated crowds of bargain hunters back to the New York institution.

Shoppers traversed the city and even state borders to line up from as early as 6:00 am to be some of the first to enter the legendary Big Apple department store near the World Trade Center complex in lower Manhattan.

Under red balloons and to the applause of Century21 owners the Gindi family, the first shoppers shouted with joy as they entered the store after three years of closure due to the pandemic, which brought New York to its knees in 2020 and 2021.

"It means so much to the people of New York," said 63-year-old Gale Kaplan, who traveled from Brooklyn across the East River for the reopening.

"During 9/11 it closed and when it reopened, everybody was so joyful, so to see it able to come back after Covid, it feels like a real new blossoming of New York and I'm just thrilled to be back here shopping."

Brooklyn was the home of the first iteration of Century21, founded in 1961 and decked with clothes and accessories from coveted brands such as Valentino, Louis Vuitton, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Guess, Levi's, Kate Spade, Helmut Lang, but at end of stock reduced prices that defied all competition.

'The best store'

Melody White, 62, traveled from the borough of Queens to get in line by 6:00 am.

"I was really, really upset when they closed because it's the best store, you could get the best buys, nice clothes, everything."

Kaplan was "more excited standing on line to the Century21 opening than I was on line for the Sistine Chapel," she said.

"That's how happy I am."

Also all smiles, Century21 vice president Eddie Gindi said Tuesday was "an incredible day for us."

"Right now we're making history," he said, more than 20 years after almost disappearing after the September 11, 2001, attacks that destroyed the twin towers at the nearby World Trade Center, and three years after the company filed for bankruptcy as New York was battered by the pandemic.

"We don't take this for granted," he said.

New York Mayor Eric Adams, who has put the economic and touristic recovery of the megalopolis at the heart of his policies -- despite inflation -- was also celebrating, hugging the Gindi family in the store, its aisles again stacked with merchandise.

"When they had to close, it just broke their hearts. And all they thought about is how do we come back?... How do we serve the people? It was a main anchor for our tourists, they would come here and line up and shop, to see the good products that we had in all places," he said.

For Gindi, the grand reopening of Century21 "is bringing back the spirit of New York City like no other company can do because we are part of the thread of New York City," one of the world's leading economic and commercial centers.



Dr. Martens Dour US Revenue Outlook for the Year Sends Stock of Iconic Bootmaker Plunging

A Dr. Martens boot inspired by Elton John's famous Pinball Wizard outfit is shown at a promotional event in London, March 20, 2023. (AP)
A Dr. Martens boot inspired by Elton John's famous Pinball Wizard outfit is shown at a promotional event in London, March 20, 2023. (AP)
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Dr. Martens Dour US Revenue Outlook for the Year Sends Stock of Iconic Bootmaker Plunging

A Dr. Martens boot inspired by Elton John's famous Pinball Wizard outfit is shown at a promotional event in London, March 20, 2023. (AP)
A Dr. Martens boot inspired by Elton John's famous Pinball Wizard outfit is shown at a promotional event in London, March 20, 2023. (AP)

Chunky bootmaker Dr. Martens is warning of a tough year ahead.

Dr. Martens shares plunged more than 30% Tuesday after the iconic British brand forecast wholesale revenue in the US, its largest market, would decline by double-digits compared with last year.

Trading in Dr. Martens stock was temporarily halted on the London Stock Exchange early Tuesday as it sank to a record-low 0.64 pounds, according to FactSet.

That could translate into a sizeable hit to profits, with the company pointing to a base projected impact of 20 million pounds ($24.9 million) on pretax earnings year-over-year. In-season orders from wholesale customers could help ease US revenue expectations, the company noted, but those are difficult to predict.

Beyond weakening revenue, Dr. Martens anticipates other hefty expenses related to the company's employee retention plans as well as single-digit inflation in its cost base. Unlike years past, the brand does not plan to increase prices to offset those costs.

Dr. Martens also announced a leadership shakeup on Tuesday. After six years at the helm of the company, CEO Kenny Wilson will step down. Ije Nwokorie, Dr. Martens’ chief brand officer, will take his place before the end of the current fiscal year.

In a prepared statement regarding 2025's financial outlook, Wilson acknowledged the challenges ahead, saying that Dr. Martens is focused on its plans to "reignite boots demand, particularly in the USA.”

Still, Wilson said that the brand “remains strong.” Dr. Martens said it saw a pick-up in direct to consumer growth during the fourth quarter.

Shares for Dr. Marten are down more than 56% over the last 12 months, per FactSet.


LVMH's First Quarter Sales Growth Slips to 3% on Luxury Slowdown

A logo of Louis Vuitton is displayed on a Louis Vuitton store on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, March 30, 2024. (Reuters)
A logo of Louis Vuitton is displayed on a Louis Vuitton store on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, March 30, 2024. (Reuters)
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LVMH's First Quarter Sales Growth Slips to 3% on Luxury Slowdown

A logo of Louis Vuitton is displayed on a Louis Vuitton store on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, March 30, 2024. (Reuters)
A logo of Louis Vuitton is displayed on a Louis Vuitton store on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, March 30, 2024. (Reuters)

LVMH reported a 3% rise in first quarter sales on Tuesday, marking a slowdown as rising prices prompted more shoppers who aspire to own its handbags and other luxury goods to hold back on splashing out thousands of dollars.

The slower quarterly sales growth reflected comparisons with the same period in 2023, when sales were boosted by the lifting of COVID-19 curbs in LVMH's key market of mainland China and comes amid worries about a prolonged global slowdown which has knocked luxury companies' shares over the past year.

The world's largest luxury group, owner of Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co. and Bulgari, said sales for the quarter ending in March were up 3% year-on-year on an organic basis to 20.69 billion euros ($22 billion), matching analyst expectations.

LVMH, which is Europe's second-largest listed company and worth nearly 400 billion euros, is the first luxury goods maker to report quarterly earnings, setting the tone as worries grow about demand in China, the world's No. 2 economy.

Gucci-owner Kering last month issued a surprise warning that first quarter sales would slump 10%, with sharp declines in Asia, casting uncertainty for the sector's outlook.

Sales at LVMH's fashion and leather goods division, which includes Louis Vuitton and Dior, climbed 2%, also matching expectations.

Sales in the division, which sells small Lady Dior handbags priced at 5,400 euros and roomy Louis Vuitton Speedy bags for 10,000 euros, had risen by 9% year-on-year the previous quarter.

Chief Financial Officer Jean-Jacques Guiony told journalists that LVMH was "quite happy" with demand from Chinese shoppers.

He said purchases of Louis Vuitton products by Chinese buyers globally grew by around 10%, with an increasing proportion taking place outside mainland China as they resume travelling, particularly in Japan and to some extent in Europe.

LVMH, a conglomerate spanning spirits, jewellery, cosmetics and fashion which is regarded as a bellwether for the wider luxury goods industry, does not give a breakdown for its brands.


AI-Generated Fashion Models Could Bring More Diversity to the Industry - Or Leave It with Less

A model presents a creation by Gefferson Vila Nova during the Sao Paulo Fashion Week 2024 (SPFW) at the Iguatemi shopping mall in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 13 April 2024. SPFW continues through 14 April with a total of 27 shows. (EPA)
A model presents a creation by Gefferson Vila Nova during the Sao Paulo Fashion Week 2024 (SPFW) at the Iguatemi shopping mall in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 13 April 2024. SPFW continues through 14 April with a total of 27 shows. (EPA)
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AI-Generated Fashion Models Could Bring More Diversity to the Industry - Or Leave It with Less

A model presents a creation by Gefferson Vila Nova during the Sao Paulo Fashion Week 2024 (SPFW) at the Iguatemi shopping mall in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 13 April 2024. SPFW continues through 14 April with a total of 27 shows. (EPA)
A model presents a creation by Gefferson Vila Nova during the Sao Paulo Fashion Week 2024 (SPFW) at the Iguatemi shopping mall in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 13 April 2024. SPFW continues through 14 April with a total of 27 shows. (EPA)

London-based model Alexsandrah has a twin, but not in the way you’d expect: Her counterpart is made of pixels instead of flesh and blood.

The virtual twin was generated by artificial intelligence and has already appeared as a stand-in for the real-life Alexsandrah in a photo shoot. Alexsandrah, who goes by her first name professionally, in turn receives credit and compensation whenever the AI version of herself gets used — just like a human model.

Alexsandrah says she and her alter-ego mirror each other “even down to the baby hairs.” And it is yet another example of how AI is transforming creative industries — and the way humans may or may not be compensated.

Proponents say the growing use of AI in fashion modeling showcases diversity in all shapes and sizes, allowing consumers to make more tailored purchase decisions that in turn reduces fashion waste from product returns. And digital modeling saves money for companies and creates opportunities for people who want to work with the technology.

But critics raise concerns that digital models may push human models — and other professionals like makeup artists and photographers — out of a job. Unsuspecting consumers could also be fooled into thinking AI models are real, and companies could claim credit for fulfilling diversity commitments without employing actual humans.

“Fashion is exclusive, with limited opportunities for people of color to break in,” said Sara Ziff, a former fashion model and founder of the Model Alliance, a nonprofit aiming to advance workers’ rights in the fashion industry. “I think the use of AI to distort racial representation and marginalize actual models of color reveals this troubling gap between the industry’s declared intentions and their real actions.”

Women of color in particular have long faced higher barriers to entry in modeling and AI could upend some of the gains they've made. Data suggests that women are more likely to work in occupations in which the technology could be applied, and are more at risk of displacement than men.

In March 2023, iconic denim brand Levi Strauss & Co. announced that it would be testing AI-generated models produced by Amsterdam-based company Lalaland.ai to add a wider range of body types and underrepresented demographics on its website. But after receiving widespread backlash, Levi clarified that it was not pulling back on its plans for live photo shoots, the use of live models or its commitment to working with diverse models.

“We do not see this (AI) pilot as a means to advance diversity or as a substitute for the real action that must be taken to deliver on our diversity, equity and inclusion goals and it should not have been portrayed as such,” Levi said in its statement at the time.

The company last month said that it has no plans to scale the AI program.

The Associated Press reached out to several other retailers to ask whether they use AI fashion models. Target, Kohl’s and fast-fashion giant Shein declined to comment; Temu did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, spokespeople for Nieman Marcus, H&M, Walmart and Macy's said their respective companies do not use AI models, although Walmart clarified that “suppliers may have a different approach to photography they provide for their products but we don’t have that information.”

Nonetheless, companies that generate AI models are finding a demand for the technology, including Lalaland.ai, which was co-founded by Michael Musandu after he was feeling frustrated by the absence of clothing models who looked like him.

“One model does not represent everyone that’s actually shopping and buying a product,” he said. “As a person of color, I felt this painfully myself.”

Musandu says his product is meant to supplement traditional photo shoots, not replace them. Instead of seeing one model, shoppers could see nine to 12 models using different size filters, which would enrich their shopping experience and help reduce product returns and fashion waste.

The technology is actually creating new jobs, since Lalaland.ai pays humans to train its algorithms, Musandu said.

And if brands “are serious about inclusion efforts, they will continue to hire these models of color,” he added.

London-based model Alexsandrah, who is Black, says her digital counterpart has helped her distinguish herself in the fashion industry. In fact, the real-life Alexsandrah has even stood in for a Black computer-generated model named Shudu, created by Cameron Wilson, a former fashion photographer turned CEO of The Diigitals, a UK-based digital modeling agency.

Wilson, who is white, designed Shudu in 2017, described on Instagram as the “The World’s First Digital Supermodel.” But critics at the time accused Wilson of cultural appropriation and digital Blackface.

Wilson took the experience as a lesson and transformed The Diigitals to make sure Shudu — who has been booked by Louis Vuitton and BMW — didn’t take away opportunities but instead opened possibilities for women of color. Alexsandrah, for instance, has modeled in-person as Shudu for Vogue Australia, and writer Ama Badu came up with Shudu’s backstory and portrays her voice for interviews.

Alexsandrah said she is “extremely proud” of her work with The Diigitals, which created her own AI twin: “It’s something that even when we are no longer here, the future generations can look back at and be like, ‘These are the pioneers.’”

But for Yve Edmond, a New York City area-based model who works with major retailers to check the fit of clothing before it's sold to consumers, the rise of AI in fashion modeling feels more insidious.

Edmond worries modeling agencies and companies are taking advantage of models, who are generally independent contractors afforded few labor protections in the US, by using their photos to train AI systems without their consent or compensation.

She described one incident in which a client asked to photograph Edmond moving her arms, squatting and walking for “research" purposes. Edmond refused and later felt swindled — her modeling agency had told her she was being booked for a fitting, not to build an avatar.

“This is a complete violation,” she said. “It was really disappointing for me.”

But absent AI regulations, it’s up to companies to be transparent and ethical about deploying AI technology. And Ziff, the founder of the Model Alliance, likens the current lack of legal protections for fashion workers to “the Wild West.”

That's why the Model Alliance is pushing for legislation like the one being considered in New York state, in which a provision of the Fashion Workers Act would require management companies and brands to obtain models’ clear written consent to create or use a model’s digital replica; specify the amount and duration of compensation, and prohibit altering or manipulating models’ digital replica without consent.

Alexsandrah says that with ethical use and the right legal regulations, AI might open up doors for more models of color like herself. She has let her clients know that she has an AI replica, and she funnels any inquires for its use through Wilson, who she describes as "somebody that I know, love, trust and is my friend.” Wilson says they make sure any compensation for Alexsandrah's AI is comparable to what she would make in-person.

Edmond, however, is more of a purist: “We have this amazing Earth that we’re living on. And you have a person of every shade, every height, every size. Why not find that person and compensate that person?”


Italian Fashion Designer Roberto Cavalli Dies Aged 83

FILE PHOTO: Italian designer Roberto Cavalli acknowledges applause on the catwalk with US model Cindy Crawford at the end of his Autumn/Winter 2002/03 collection at Milan fashion week March 4, 2002. REUTERS/Paolo Cocco/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Italian designer Roberto Cavalli acknowledges applause on the catwalk with US model Cindy Crawford at the end of his Autumn/Winter 2002/03 collection at Milan fashion week March 4, 2002. REUTERS/Paolo Cocco/File Photo
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Italian Fashion Designer Roberto Cavalli Dies Aged 83

FILE PHOTO: Italian designer Roberto Cavalli acknowledges applause on the catwalk with US model Cindy Crawford at the end of his Autumn/Winter 2002/03 collection at Milan fashion week March 4, 2002. REUTERS/Paolo Cocco/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Italian designer Roberto Cavalli acknowledges applause on the catwalk with US model Cindy Crawford at the end of his Autumn/Winter 2002/03 collection at Milan fashion week March 4, 2002. REUTERS/Paolo Cocco/File Photo

Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli, known for his animal-print designs loved by showbusiness stars, has died at the age of 83, his company said.
Cavalli, who founded his label in the early 1970s, had been ill for some time. He is survived by his six children and his partner Sandra Bergman Nilsson.
"The Roberto Cavalli company shares condolences with Mr. Cavalli's family, his legacy remains a constant source of inspiration," Sergio Azzolari, chief executive of Roberto Cavalli, said in a post on Instagram.
The designer died on Friday at his home in Florence, Italian news agency ANSA reported.
Cavalli, who used bright colors and patchwork effects in his often revealing creations, was an extroverted art lover who wore tinted glasses and smoked a cigar, Reuters reported.
He expanded into real estate and often spent evenings in his popular "Just Cavalli Cafe," a nightclub in central Milan.
Giorgio Armani said he always had "enormous respect" for Cavalli even though his vision of fashion could not have been more different.
"Roberto was a true artist, wild and wonderful in his use of prints, capable of transforming fantasy into seductive clothes," he posted on social media platform X.
A popular image of US model Cindy Crawford in July 2000 shows her descending Rome's Spanish steps in a Cavalli-designed long slip dress depicting a tiger face.
"You will be missed and you are loved by so many that your name will continue on, a beacon of inspiration for others, and especially for me," said Roberto Cavalli's creative director Fausto Puglisi.


Nike Bosses Plan ‘Biggest’ Olympics Spend as Marketing Ramps Up

 This photograph shows a Air Zoom sneaker during a Nike event, in Paris, on April 11, 2024. (AFP)
This photograph shows a Air Zoom sneaker during a Nike event, in Paris, on April 11, 2024. (AFP)
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Nike Bosses Plan ‘Biggest’ Olympics Spend as Marketing Ramps Up

 This photograph shows a Air Zoom sneaker during a Nike event, in Paris, on April 11, 2024. (AFP)
This photograph shows a Air Zoom sneaker during a Nike event, in Paris, on April 11, 2024. (AFP)

Nike is spending more on this Olympics than any previous Games, top executives said on Friday, as the US sportswear brand embarks on a marketing push it hopes will revive flagging sales and help compete with upstart rivals.

Sportswear makers are looking to reignite demand on the back of Paris 2024, which represents a return to normalcy after Tokyo 2020, delayed to 2021 and held without spectators due to the global pandemic.

Sponsored athletes including US sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson and Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge modeled Nike's Olympics kits at a show in Paris on Thursday, where the brand also unveiled 13 futuristic shoe prototypes developed with athletes.

"This Olympics will be our biggest ... it will be our largest media spend," Heidi O'Neill, president of consumer, product and brand at Nike said in an interview. "This will be the most investment and the biggest moment for Nike in years," she added, without putting a figure on the amount of spending planned.

In Nike's latest quarter, total marketing expense was $1 billion, up 10% on the same period last year. Asked whether spending will continue to ramp up, O'Neill said marketing was "the number one priority investment" for the company.

Nike in general is focusing on "fewer, bigger" marketing campaigns, she added. The $139 billion company hired a new chief marketing officer at the end of last year as it seeks to bolster its brand in an increasingly competitive sportswear market.

Newer running brands such as On and Hoka are taking market share from Nike, while a trend away from chunky basketball sneakers is benefiting its closest rival Adidas and its low-profile "terrace" shoes.

Nike's plans contrast with those of Adidas. The German brand has been cutting back on marketing spend and spent 2.5 billion euros ($2.7 billion) on marketing in 2023, down 8.5% from the previous year. Nike's spend over its latest four quarters was $4.3 billion, an increase of 6%.

Nike's investment should help stimulate demand despite pressure on consumers globally, executives say.

"Consumers are challenged in just about every market we do business in," said Craig Williams, Nike's president of global geographies and marketplace.

Despite that, consumers continue to respond "very positively" to the Olympics as an event, Williams said, adding it is still seen as "the epitome of sport".


Louis Vuitton Hires Advertising Chief to Run Communications

The logo of luxury brand Louis Vuitton is seen in New York City, on April 10, 2024. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)
The logo of luxury brand Louis Vuitton is seen in New York City, on April 10, 2024. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)
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Louis Vuitton Hires Advertising Chief to Run Communications

The logo of luxury brand Louis Vuitton is seen in New York City, on April 10, 2024. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)
The logo of luxury brand Louis Vuitton is seen in New York City, on April 10, 2024. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

Louis Vuitton said on Thursday it had recruited Blake Harrop to be its next communications chief, replacing industry veteran Stefano Cantino, who was named deputy chief executive officer of Kering-owned Gucci earlier in the day.
Harrop's appointment to be Executive Vice President, Image and Communications at the LVMH-owned label, the world's biggest fashion brand, was first reported by publication WWD.
Harrop and Cantino's new jobs underline how central communications and marketing have become for high-end fashion labels at a time of rapid global growth.
Harrop is a high-profile, international advertising executive from outside the fashion trade - a rarity in the business - while Cantino worked for two decades at Prada before Vuitton.
Harrop, president of advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy since 2022, has extensive international experience, leading the US agency in China, Japan and the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, and running business with Nike in Japan, South Korea, the Middle East and Europe.
As part of his new job, Harrop will contribute to new campaigns aimed at elevating Vuitton's image, the brand's Chief Executive Pietro Beccari said in a statement to Reuters.
"I am confident of his capacity to inspire passion and collectiveness," Beccari said.
Louis Vuitton has become increasingly involved in sport, producing trunks specially designed to hold the medals in the upcoming Paris Olympics.


Zara Owner Inditex Demands Clarity from Cotton Certifier Accused of Standard Breaches

 Shoppers visit a Zara store in a shopping mall the day of its reopening after being closed for more than two years due to Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine April 3, 2024. (Reuters)
Shoppers visit a Zara store in a shopping mall the day of its reopening after being closed for more than two years due to Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine April 3, 2024. (Reuters)
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Zara Owner Inditex Demands Clarity from Cotton Certifier Accused of Standard Breaches

 Shoppers visit a Zara store in a shopping mall the day of its reopening after being closed for more than two years due to Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine April 3, 2024. (Reuters)
Shoppers visit a Zara store in a shopping mall the day of its reopening after being closed for more than two years due to Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine April 3, 2024. (Reuters)

Zara owner Inditex demanded more transparency from a certifier that vets some of the cotton used by the Spanish fashion giant following an investigation that found evidence of malpractice by two Brazilian certified cotton producers.

Inditex sent a letter dated April 8 to Better Cotton CEO Alan McClay asking for clarity on the certification process and progress on traceability practices after the NGO Earthsight informed the retailer that producers with Better Cotton certifications were involved in land grabbing, illegal deforestation and violent acts against local communities, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.

Inditex said it had waited more than six months for the results of an internal investigation by Better Cotton that was promised for the end of March and began in August 2023, according to the letter.

The allegations "represent a serious breach in the trust placed in Better Cotton's certification process by both our group and our product suppliers," Inditex said in the letter. "The trust that we place in such processes developed by independent organizations, such as yours, is key to our supply chain control strategy."

The contents of the letter was first published by Modaes, a fashion business news site. Inditex confirmed to Reuters it had sent the letter.

Inditex does not purchase cotton directly but its providers are audited by certifiers such as Better Cotton to ensure good practices when obtaining their raw materials.

Geneva-based Better Cotton, one of the world's largest certifiers of sustainable practices in the cotton industry, did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

It said in an April 4 statement that it had concluded a third party audit of three farms implicated by Earthsight but that it would not publish its findings until it had seen the full report, which was due to be published on Thursday.

Better Cotton said its strategic partner in Brazil, the Brazilian Association of Cotton Producers, was revising elements of its standards to align with those of Better Cotton.

Created by companies and several nonprofits including the World Wildlife Fund, Better Cotton says it aims to support improved practices in areas like water and soil stewardship and to promote better working standards.

Fashion retailers face increasing pressures from consumers and activist groups to sell products with less environmental impact and made in safe labor conditions.


Uniqlo Owner Seen Posting 11% Profit Bump on Q2 Overseas Sales

Shoppers walk inside Fast Retailing's Uniqlo casual clothing store in Tokyo, Japan July 10, 2014. (Reuters)
Shoppers walk inside Fast Retailing's Uniqlo casual clothing store in Tokyo, Japan July 10, 2014. (Reuters)
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Uniqlo Owner Seen Posting 11% Profit Bump on Q2 Overseas Sales

Shoppers walk inside Fast Retailing's Uniqlo casual clothing store in Tokyo, Japan July 10, 2014. (Reuters)
Shoppers walk inside Fast Retailing's Uniqlo casual clothing store in Tokyo, Japan July 10, 2014. (Reuters)

The Japanese operator of global clothing heavyweight Uniqlo is expected to post a stronger quarterly profit on Thursday as its overseas units make up for slowing growth at home.

Fast Retailing's operating profit in the three months through February likely rose 11% from a year earlier to 114.3 billion yen ($753.4 million), based on the average of five analyst estimates compiled by LSEG.

The increase builds the first quarter, when Fast Retailing posted a 25% jump in earnings on the back of strong results in China, its biggest foreign market.

The company conservatively left its forward guidance unchanged after those results, so second-quarter results may top consensus figures, according to LightStream Research analyst Oshadhi Kumarasiri.

"This optimism is fueled by several factors, including the ongoing recovery of the Uniqlo business in China and South Korea, robust same-store sales performance across the Asia, India, and Oceania regions, and the impressive sales volume of apparel observed in the US in December 2023," he wrote in a report on the Smartkarma platform.

The company founded and run by Tadashi Yanai has posted record results in the past two years and is projecting profits to climb again this year as it continues to aggressively grow overseas.

Yanai, Japan's richest man, is scheduled to speak at Fast Retailing's earnings briefing on Thursday.

With its 922 stores in mainland China, Fast Retailing is a bellwether for global retailers operating in the world's second-biggest economy. Sales in the region have bounced back strongly in the past year from the doldrums of COVID-19 lockdowns.

The yen's slide to a near 34-year low is also a tailwind for Fast Retailing, which gets more than half its revenue from outside Japan.

Fast Retailing's shares are up 28% so far in 2024, compared with a 19% advance in the benchmark Nikkei index.


Puma Hones Focus on Speed in Olympic Battle with Adidas and Nike

Detail picture of Rickie Fowler of the United States Puma golf shoes during the second round of the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio on April 05, 2024 in San Antonio, Texas. (Getty Images/AFP)
Detail picture of Rickie Fowler of the United States Puma golf shoes during the second round of the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio on April 05, 2024 in San Antonio, Texas. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Puma Hones Focus on Speed in Olympic Battle with Adidas and Nike

Detail picture of Rickie Fowler of the United States Puma golf shoes during the second round of the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio on April 05, 2024 in San Antonio, Texas. (Getty Images/AFP)
Detail picture of Rickie Fowler of the United States Puma golf shoes during the second round of the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio on April 05, 2024 in San Antonio, Texas. (Getty Images/AFP)

German sportswear brand Puma is using this year's Olympic Games and its partnership with sprint champions Jamaica to focus on speed as it jostles with Adidas and Nike to carve out space in an increasingly competitive running and lifestyle market.

Puma CEO Arne Freundt aims to boost sales of "performance" products like running shoes and soccer cleats, and is revamping Puma's "Forever Faster" message in its first brand campaign in a decade on Wednesday in Paris, host of this year's Games.

As Puma tries to win over more everyday and serious runners, its sponsorship of Jamaica's Olympic team and some of the world's best sprinters like Shericka Jackson and Elaine Thompson-Herah helps to associate the brand with speed, said Geoff Lowery, analyst at Redburn in London.

"You're never going to sell very many running spikes, but in terms of properly iconic teams that credentialize you as a performance brand and associate you with some of the most exciting athletes, Puma have a super-strong relationship there," Lowery said.

Freundt visited Jamaica at the end of March, attending the country's top high school track and field meet for the first time to launch the Jamaican Olympic kit at the event seen as a testing ground for young athletic talent.

"We need to be very clear that Puma is about speed," Freundt, who has been in the top job just over a year, told Reuters in an interview ahead of the campaign launch. "That's something we need to strengthen further in the consumer mindset."

Like other sportswear retailers that sponsor Olympians and pour marketing money into the Games, the bet is that athletes breaking records in Puma gear will nudge spectators towards its whole range of products, creating a potential "halo effect" for everything from marathon shoes to everyday sneakers.

Brands like Puma, Adidas, and Nike will also be allowed to celebrate their Olympic athletes' medal wins on social media during the Games for the first time, as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) plans to relax rules governing online marketing in a "pilot project" with the World Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry.

"With the new IOC regulations we will be able to use that moment in a better way, to congratulate them also via social media, I think that's a win-win for both the Olympics as well as us," Freundt said.


Pakistan’s Delicate Eid Bangles Go from Furnace to Forearms

 In this picture taken on March 31, 2024, customers buy bangles at a shop in Hyderabad. Layers of intricately decorated bangles are a staple fashion accessory for women in Pakistan, a carefully considered part of their Islamic Eid al-Fitr celebrations. (AFP)
In this picture taken on March 31, 2024, customers buy bangles at a shop in Hyderabad. Layers of intricately decorated bangles are a staple fashion accessory for women in Pakistan, a carefully considered part of their Islamic Eid al-Fitr celebrations. (AFP)
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Pakistan’s Delicate Eid Bangles Go from Furnace to Forearms

 In this picture taken on March 31, 2024, customers buy bangles at a shop in Hyderabad. Layers of intricately decorated bangles are a staple fashion accessory for women in Pakistan, a carefully considered part of their Islamic Eid al-Fitr celebrations. (AFP)
In this picture taken on March 31, 2024, customers buy bangles at a shop in Hyderabad. Layers of intricately decorated bangles are a staple fashion accessory for women in Pakistan, a carefully considered part of their Islamic Eid al-Fitr celebrations. (AFP)

Layers of intricately decorated bangles are a staple fashion accessory for women in Pakistan, a carefully considered part of their Islamic Eid al-Fitr celebrations.

More than a dozen people can be involved in the making of a single bangle, from sweltering factories to the homes of designers who skillfully decorate them by hand.

"Whatever the fashion trends, when we attend any event and wear any outfit it feels incomplete without bangles," said 42-year-old Talat Zahid, who uses beads, stitching and embroidery to embellish bangles.

"Even if you don't wear jewellery but wear bangles or a bracelet with your outfit, the outfit looks complete."

In the lead-up to this week's Eid al-Fitr festivities that mark the end of Ramadan, market stalls are adorned with a glittering array of colorful bangles, each turned over and inspected for their beauty and imperfections by women who haggle for a good price.

They are often sold by the dozen, starting at around 150 rupees (about 50 cents) and rising to 1,000 rupees as stones and silk are added.

Hyderabad is home to the delicate "churi" glass bangle, where a single furnace can produce up to 100 bangles an hour from molten glass wire shaped around an iron rod.

The work is arduous and frustrating -- laborers are exposed to oppressive temperatures in unregulated factories prone to frequent power cuts, while the fragile glass threads can snap easily.

"The work is done without a fan. If we turn on the fan the fire is extinguished. So the heat intensity is high. As it becomes hotter our work slows down," said 24-year-old Sameer, who followed his father into the industry and earns less than the minimum wage of 32,000 rupees ($115) a month.

After the partition of British-ruled India in 1947, migrating Muslims who had produced bangles in the Indian city of Firozabad took their trade to Hyderabad -- where hundreds of thousands of people rely on the industry.

But soaring gas prices after the government slashed subsidies have forced many factories to close or to operate at reduced hours.

"The speed at which the government has increased the gas prices and taxes, (means) the work in this area has started to shrink instead of expand," said 50-year-old factory owner Muhammad Nafees.

Most bangles leave the factory as plain loops, sent off to be embellished to different degrees by women who work from home, before they're finally passed on to traders to be sold in markets.

The production is often a family affair.

Saima Bibi, 25, works from home, carefully adding stones to bangles with the help of her three children when they return from school, while her husband works at the furnaces.

"They go through a lot of hands to be prepared," she said.