Health & Beauty

Disposable training pants become dispensable for some parents in the recession
Associated Press, July 28, 2009

The recession is making life a little messier for some toddlers and their parents. Disposable training pants, long viewed as a staple in potty training children, are becoming dispensable as some parents choose value over convenience in the recession.

These days, an accident here and there has become an acceptable tradeoff for saving some $30 to $100 a month. And many parents say that doing away with the crutch has had an added benefit: surprisingly quick toilet training.

Parents embraced disposable training pants when they hit the market 20 years ago because they made life easier, preventing messy accidents as children transitioned from diapers to underwear. The training pants contain absorbent material just like diapers, but are elasticized and can be pulled up and down like underwear.

Now rising unemployment, stagnant wages and sharp drops in both housing and stock markets have caused consumers to redefine what’s essential. As they’ve pored over their expenses, sales data suggest more parents are finding it’s one product they’re willing to try doing without.

Darcy Forsell had spent so much on diapers in her daughter’s early years — at least $1,500 by her estimate — that when the time came for 3-year-old Liz to potty-train, Forsell decided to skip the training pants. “It didn’t seem like a good investment in terms of time and money,”Forsell said.

Forsell trained Liz in a weekend by letting her mostly run around the house naked, an approach she learned from other moms. Similar to just putting kids in underwear, the thinking is that if children wet themselves, they tend to learn quickly that the way to avoid that is by going in the toilet.

Although it was a quick transition, Liz had about three accidents on the carpeting that weekend and Forsell did a lot of laundry. But, Forsell said, it was worth it.

“I think if we had just used Pull-Ups, that learning would have taken a lot longer because she would have been comfortable peeing in the Pull-Ups. They are so similar to diapers,” she said. Forsell did use disposable training pants at night as a precaution and still has them in the car for times when a bathroom may not be available.

Industrywide, sales of disposable training pants declined 3.2 percent to $731.2 million for the 52 weeks ending June 13 and the number of training pants sold is down 10 percent, according to data from The Nielsen Co. That’s despite the fact that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, U.S. births rose 3 percent in 2006 and 1 percent in 2007.

The decline in an industry that had grown steadily for 20 years raises questions about whether the trend will continue when the economy recovers.

Kimberly-Clark’s Pull-Ups brand is the industry leader with a 65 percent market share. Sales of disposable training pants rose every year after the company introduced them to the mass market in 1989, even as competition grew.

The company would not break out sales for its own products but said sales in the category softened in the third and fourth quarters. So far this year, revenue has declined 1.1 percent from a year ago, but the company expects growth later this year.

Many parents rely on the pants for months, some for more than a year, so the cost can be significant, reaching more than $90 a month. Still, in better times, it was a cost many bore without question. The one-time cost for a pair of underwear is about $2. By comparison, one Pull-Up is around 68 cents and a diaper costs about 42 cents. The cost per day would vary, depending on how many slip-ups a child had.

Kimberly-Clark CEO Tom Falk said some parents are keeping their children in diapers longer because of the tough economy and the higher price of training pants versus diapers. “I think it’s just more evidence of the consumer squeeze,” Falk said.

Parents surveyed by the company cited their finances as a reason for delaying potty training; some said their children weren’t ready, while others said they were too overwhelmed by the recession to take on the task. Kimberly-Clark also makes Huggies diapers.

At Procter & Gamble, which rivals Pull-Ups with its Pampers Easy Ups brand, sales of disposable training pants have flattened over the past year. However, there has been a “slight uptick” in sales in the past three months, which spokeswoman Tricia Higgins attributes partly to the seasonality of potty training. Many parents start potty-training children over the summer to prepare them for pre-school in August and September, Higgins said.

Andrea Barbosa said she put her daughter Aiyana, who is 2 1/2, in regular underwear mostly because of the cost savings and found it very effective.

“When she’d have an accident and was wearing panties, she realized it,” said Barbosa, who lives in Fort Myers, Fla.

While some experts and parents say kids learn faster when they’re allowed to wet their pants, others say the training pants take some pressure off kids to navigate this milestone in their own time.

“The big problem isn’t potty training. The problem is the emphasis we place on ‘holding it’,” said Steve Hodges, assistant professor of pediatric urology at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

By using disposable training pants, he said, children are more likely to empty their bladders when they have to. On the other hand, if toddlers are in underwear, they avoid the bathroom so that they can keep playing and having fun. If kids hold their urine, there’s a bigger chance for infection, he said. “Kids always say they don’t have to go,” he said, “but they always do.”

Prom makeup doesn’t have to be pricey: 5 ways to look better for less
Associated Press, April 30, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) – Many high school girls who might once have dropped hundreds of dollars on salon treatments to accompany their picture-perfect prom dresses aren’t doing that this year.

As families cut discretionary spending, many teens are watching their budgets and seeking ways to look elegant without going overboard. The economy is making it hard for anyone to justify a trip to the salon, said Katy Walsh, a makeup artist at Paul Labrecque Salon in New York.

“It’s even tougher for younger people who don’t have enough money at their disposal,” she said.

Here are ways to get help creating glamorous looks with your makeup that don’t involve a high-priced makeover:

1. DISCOUNTS AND FREE SAMPLES: Salespeople at cosmetics counters are often willing to offer free samples in the hope of making you a return customer. Politely ask to sample a product, and chances are they’ll be happy to oblige. Vanessa Elese, a New York-based celebrity makeup artist, suggests checking drug stores for promotions from cosmetics companies seeking customers to try their products. Check the Web. Companies occasionally advertise free samples for people who buy other items online. And try Web sites such as http://www.promotionalcodes.com.

2. TINTED MOISTURIZER: Instead of spending money on moisturizer and expensive full-coverage foundation, which can look cakey in photographs, save money with a natural-looking tinted moisturizer. You can even make your own by mixing your favorite face lotion with foundation and customize it to your skin tone by adding more or less color. Just make sure one of the products includes sun protection. “To me, a tinted moisturizer is the most important product. You want skin to look flawless,and it’s great for girls who are in their teens,” Walsh said. “It’s something you can use all year round.” Use your fingers to apply moisturizer, instead of a sponge, which often sucks up the foundation. But be sure to practice several times if you decide to make your own so you get it right before the big night.

3. RESEARCH: Why spend a lot of money for a session with a makeup artist, when there are how-to videos on YouTube? Magazines also have lots of tips on how to create a professional look using makeup you already have. Seventeen magazine ran an article on money saving tips in its recent prom issue, and Real Simple “test drives” a variety of products in each issue. Even better: Invite your friends over ahead of time and practice applying makeup on each other to learn new tricks.

4. USE VERSATILE PRODUCTS: One of the easiest ways to save money on cosmetics is to use products that can be applied more than one way. A good lip stain can also be used on your cheeks. Instead of buying a separate eyebrow pencil, try applying a dark eye shadow with a brush to your eyebrows to make them more dramatic. And remember that you can use a good bronzer again in the summer. “You can apply it all over your face, your forehead and chin, and even use it as eye shadow,” Elese said.

5. BEAUTY SCHOOLS: If the thought of going it alone is still too intimidating, check out cosmetology schools, which offer inexpensive beauty services from students, who are generally supervised by a licensed instructor. Makeup, manicures and hair styling services at a school can cost half of what salons charge.
Bearing in mind that there’s some risk involved in having a student create your look, bring a photo from a magazine or style book to show exactly what you’re going for; ask in advance about the school’s tipping policy; and expect that services may take longer than in a traditional salon.

Sales of cookbooks, magazines heat up as consumers simmer over finances in recession
Associated Press,  March 31, 2009

Americans have some catching up to do in the kitchen.

Take Eric Bonetti. The public relations worker from Fairfax, Va., spent the past few years working up to a four-night-a-week dining out habit. Now, like many Americans, he’s trying to save money on food. The problem is, he lost touch with his inner chef.

So, he recently bartered his way into private cooking lessons, and now he’s making sumptuous meals of turkey pot pie and chocolate soufflé for half the cost.

“With the changing economy, it just seemed smarter to make dinner myself,” says Bonetti,who traded writing and editing services for one series of classes and paid $80 for another.

Across the country, the recession is giving extra sizzle to cooking at home. But this isn’t Mom’s meatloaf or macaroni and cheese. People who grew accustomed to dining out every night still want to eat in style.

Besides cooking lessons, they are poring over food magazines, snatching up cookbooks and replacing their dingy pots and pans in hopes of creating gourmet meals on the cheap.

Interest in cooking had already been growing, thanks in part to the appeal of reality cooking programs and the proliferation of celebrity chefs. An average of 2.9 million people watched the fifth season of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” up from 1.1 million when the show debuted in 2006, according to Nielsen Ratings.

Several major grocery stores say they’ve seen sales increase because people like Bonettiare cooking more and eating out less. And enrollment has spiked at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education, which offers some 1,700 courses a year. Revenue is up 15 percent from a year ago.

The courses can cost hundreds of dollars — seemingly a tough sell at a time when so many people are scrutinizing nonessential expenses. But the school’s president, Rick Smilow, says the investment pays off in the long run. “Some of the classes are the same price as going to a nice restaurant. Plus, they have take-home value,” he says.

Bonetti resorted to private tutoring because all the classes in his area were sold out, and he wanted to learn how to make Indian and French food. Other schools offer classes on how to make tapas, paella, pizza and lobster as well as cake decoration skills.

He’s hardly alone in cutting back on eating out. Restaurant visits by parties including kids fell 3 percent in 2008 from the previous year, according to market researcher NPD Group. Visits by those 18 to 24 – the most lucrative restaurant market – dropped by 8 percent.

Elementary school teacher Anna Eller took free cooking classes at a Williams-Sonoma store in Tulsa, Okla., after cutting back from eating out several times a week to about once a month. Eller, who’s trying to save money to go back to school and buy a house, also watches the Food Network when she’s on the treadmill. Her father bought her a crockpot after she complained how expensive it was to buy dinner every night. “I got a cookbook on crockpot recipes,” she says. “It’s great. It cooks my food all day while I’m working. It smells good when I get home, and I’m not grumpy anymore.”

There’s much greater interest in cookbooks, too, particularly those about slow cookers, value meals, canning and preserving, says Mary Davis, a spokeswoman for book retailer Borders Group Inc. The number of cookbooks sold in the past year rose 9 percent, according to Nielsen BookScan.

Money saved by eating in has given some the means and justification to invest in kitchen tools. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, says sales of housewares, including cooking and dining items and small appliances, were strong in February.

High-end kitchen retailer Sur La Table says sales at its established stores have risen 4.9 percent this year. The company recently sent an e-mail advertising a set of three Chicago Metallic pans priced at $24.99, down from the usual $55, and sold almost 600 sets in one day, spokeswoman Susanna Linse says. Food Web sites — which offer tens of thousands of recipes, most of them free — also are seeing more traffic.

At Conde Nast’s culinary site, Epicurious.com, traffic in January was up 10 percent over a year ago to 4.4 million from 4 million visitors a year earlier. Editor-in-chief Tanya Wenman Steel says Epicurious’ efforts to draw readers with weekly menu planners and recipes to feed families for less have paid off. “Whenever we wrote a post about cooking for your family for less, we got a large number of comments,” she says.

Cooking magazines generally are doing well even as softer advertising revenue has inflicted pain elsewhere in publishing. Saveur, a food, wine and travel magazine published by Bonnier Corp., saw subscription sales rise 11 percent in March from the same month a year ago. Food Network Magazine, which launched late last year, hopes to boost circulation to 600,000 by October, up from the 300,000 of its first issue.

“Bon Appetit” executive editor Victoria von Biel says circulation is at an all-time high of 1.4 million. The magazine’s January issue offered ideas on how to eat better for less, including how to host an inexpensive dinner party and how to cook a week’s worth of dinners for under $100. “Times are tough. Even our affluent readers are going home and nesting a little bit at the moment,” she says.

Samir A. Husni, a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi whose focus is consumer magazines, estimates that there are between 70 and 90 new titles that appear every year, from magazines devoted entirely to cheese and others just about chicken. “There’s a big hunger out there, no pun intended, for do-it-yourself cooking,” Husni says. “If you can’t go to the restaurant, what better way is there to bring it to your home?”

Sales of high-end jewelry lose their luster
Associated Press, Nov. 3, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) – This holiday season, women may be more likely to wind up with a partridge in a pear tree than five golden rings.

As the luxury jewelry market loses its luster, jewelers are looking toward the crucial holiday season — a time for gifts as well as a popular time to get engaged — with trepidation.

Demand for jewelry has waned as consumers put their income toward the high cost of food and fuel. A wobbly labor market and tighter credit also have Americans wondering how they’re going to finance expensive purchases this holiday.

Analysts say everyone appears to be cutting back — not just the aspirational customers, who dabble here and there in high-end brands. Even the affluent, who used to drop hundreds or even thousands of dollars in a single shopping spree, are becoming more frugal.

Marie Driscoll, an equity analyst with Standard & Poor’s, says the luxury market is slowing because wealthy shoppers are feeling the pinch of a weak economy but don’t want to buy cheaper brands.

“People that shop luxury, who demand a certain brand, they just don’t trade down,” she says. “They simply do without until they feel comfortable to purchase again. Women who wear Prada and Chanel shoes — I don’t see them trading down to Cole Haan, even though it’s a great brand.”

While Tiffany & Co.’s second-quarter profit doubled on sales in Asia and Europe, the high-end retailer warned of softness in the U.S. in sales of items priced above $50,000.

Even the smaller, independent jewelers are having a hard time ringing up pricey items, especially after the meltdown on Wall Street left thousands without jobs. Between March and August, 19,000 jobs were lost in New York’s securities and financial activities sectors, according to the New York Federal Reserve.

“That industry has been, for lack of a better word, decimated in terms of making large dollar transactions,” says Stifel Nicolaus analyst Scott Devitt. “This is going to be, most likely, the worst holiday season in two decades, given how broad the economic recession is.”

In Manhattan’s famed Diamond District, Wall Street bankers have been known to splurge their bonus money on flashy jewels at Ultimate Jewelry Designs. But Gem Sezgin, one of the store’s longtime employees, says big-ticket items have lost their allure among New York’s high-rollers.

While analysts think people used to luxury shopping won’t give up their preferred brands,the more aspirational shopper might be willing to compromise by purchasing slightly less expensive jewelry.

“A banker who might have paid $40,000 for a ring is now only spending $10,000,” Sezgin says. “When the economy goes down, the first thing that gets hit is luxury. We’re not expecting a good Christmas.”

Sezgin won’t know for sure what the holiday holds until right after Thanksgiving, when sales typically ramp up.

“It’s a big question mark. We’re trying our best, but when it rains, it rains everywhere,” Sezgin says.

Last December, sales of jewelry softened from a year earlier. Jewelers recorded $6.5 million in sales, down from $6.7 million during the year-ago month, according to statistics from the Commerce Department.

Jewelers have typically looked abroad to offset domestic weakness, and in recent years overseas tourists have flocked to the U.S. in search of holiday season bargains. But an economic slowdown in Europe and stronger U.S. dollar may prove that strategy ineffective.

That doesn’t bode well for Tiffany’s, in particular, which saw sales boosted last year by European travelers heading to the Big Apple. During the second quarter, Tiffany’s credited a 2 percent rise in U.S. sales to spending from international tourists.

“They’re not going to get the benefit they got last year,” Driscoll says.

Jewelers are also hoping sales of engagement rings hold steady during the holiday season. While a weak economy isn’t likely to stop couples from getting engaged, it may dampen how much a suitor can spend, especially if credit markets remain tight.

Online jeweler Blue Nile Inc., whose biggest market is the U.S., has seen this affect its business. Chief Executive Diane Irvine said some customers are pulling back on high-ticket items, partly because it has become more difficult to access credit.

Specifically, Irvine said sales of the site’s most-expensive items, those between $5,000 and $20,000 have been soft.

“Certainly, this is a more difficult environment, especially for our engagement business. The freeze-up in the credit markets has played a role. We have a fair percentage of consumers who need to access credit,” Irvine said.

However, Irvine said Blue Nile, which is scheduled to post quarterly results on Tuesday, is poised to gain from its business model. By selling jewelry only online, Blue Nile doesn’t have the overhead costs and high inventory that come with a brick-and-mortar jewelry store. Thus, the company can sell jewelry at prices below what traditional jewelers charge.

“In times like these, value resonates with consumers,” Irvine said.

So long, flaws! HD makeup travels from big screen to consumers wanting picture-perfect look
Associated Press, Sept. 16, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) – Makeup sellers seeking to stand out amid crowded cosmetic counters are expanding into a niche once confined to those living under the scrutiny of the lens: high-definition makeup.

The cosmetics, once used just for newscasters, models and actors, are becoming more popular among women who want to appear like they would in HDTV: lifelike, flawless and picture-perfect.

Initially, professional makeup artists used HD cosmetics on celebrities filming in the new system so precise that every detail is magnified more than on standard television. Now, the makers of HD cosmetics are focusing on expanding their use among regular makeup wearers — although not everyone is convinced that consumers should be using HD makeup every day.

The cosmetics, which work when particles in them reflect light instead of absorbing it, are one of the latest trends to hit the industry as companies vie for market share. Morningstar analyst Michelle Chang says there is a “push for innovation” because the industry is so saturated with products. “There’s always companies trying to find a niche that they can fill,” Chang says. “This is probably one of them, much like how mineral makeup took off in the past two years.”

That form of makeup gained popularity with consumers seeking cosmetics made with natural ingredients, versus preservatives and other chemicals.

More makeup artists are learning how to apply HD makeup in advance of February, when the nation’s broadcasters switch from analog to digital transmission.

While not all digital broadcasts are in HD, even standard-definition programming looks sharper when it’s sent digitally.

The better the image, the thinking goes, the more exquisite skin needs to look. Cosmetics companies are already reporting a rise in the number of makeup artists coming for training on how to apply HD cosmetics by airbrush, a technique that gained popularity decades ago when MGM used it to paint extras as tan Romans for “Ben Hur.”

“The airbrush applies the makeup to the surface in a dot pattern and replicates the pixels that HD uses,” says Samantha Mandor, a spokeswoman for cosmetics company Temptu. “With traditional makeup, you can see brush strokes; it really shows every flaw.”

Temptu’s HD makeup graced the runways at New York Fashion Week this month, its vibrant hues of purple and yellow on the eyes of models fitted in evening wear by designer Joanna Mastroianni. Before the show, artists poured liquid makeup into little spray guns, and then airbrushed the silicone-based HD makeup on the models in a fine, colorless mist. It smelled a bit like paint when first applied, but the result was an odorless, light foundation as the silicone in the makeup absorbed the skin’s natural oil.

Mandor says the prices are comparative to traditional department-store makeup. A 1-ounce bottle of the company’s Hi-Def S/B makeup, which can be applied by airbrush or hand, is $25. By comparison, Clinique’s Perfectly Real foundation is priced at $22.50, while a drugstore brand like Cover Girl’s TruBlend Whipped foundation costs around $10.

Other lines of HD makeup come from Christian Dior and Cargo, a Canadian cosmetics company. Cargo’s line, named “blu-ray,” was created for makeup artists filming in HD television, but began selling at retail this spring.

Smashbox cosmetics, a unit of Smashbox Studios — the photo and film company founded by the great-grandsons of Hollywood cosmetics legend Max Factor — rolled out its HD makeup in March, and has seen it become one of the company’s top-selling products.

Cosmetics sales overall have held up relatively well despite the weaker U.S. economy. Deutsche Bank analyst Bill Schmitz Jr. said in a note to investors that sales of color cosmetics rose 1.2 percent year-over-year for the four-week period ending Aug. 10.

At a Sephora in midtown Manhattan, several women gathered around Makeup Forever and pawed through the brand’s HD cosmetics. Sara Gomez picked up the $30 HD Microfinish Powder, stuck her finger in the sample and rubbed the powder between her fingers. “It’s very silky. Fortunately, they’re out of it, so I can’t buy it!” said Gomez, chuckling. “I guess that makes sense, with everyone wanting to look perfect these days.”

The widespread acceptance of HD makeup in Hollywood and in the fashion world may explain the interest among shoppers, experts say. “We are seeing a huge demand for it,” Mandor said. “Their favorite celebrities are getting airbrushed.” Sales of the company’s HD makeup, created in 2001, have doubled over the past year, and Temptu plans on rolling out an airbrush model to the consumer market next year.

Still, not everyone is sure that the HD products are ready for the mass market. “I sit in the middle,” said Shana King, an Atlanta-based makeup artist and co-founder of a design makeupbrushes who wears HD makeup herself. “I feel like there’s a place for it — in photos, on television or even special events. It’s just that everyone is jumping on the bandwagon,” says King.

King says there are a lot more steps involved in the application of an HD foundation, and that some of the HD face powders are heavy and cause dry skin. “I just feel like we have to be careful,” King says. “There needs to be more consumer education.”

University of Southern California sociologist Julie Albright says HDTV, which makes every little wrinkle visible, has put more pressure on women to be beautiful.

Albright, who wore HD makeup once when appearing on a television news show, says women feel “beauty anxiety” when shown images of young, attractive actresses and newscasters, and thinks HD makeup offers a solution to help relieve some of the tension by making them “a little more perfect.”

“The pressure is really on, and the beauty bar is being raised,” Albright says. “It’s going to be interesting to see how women off-screen adjust to this.”

Natural cosmetics and lotions emerge as bright spot in weak US economy
Associated Press, Sept. 3, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) – One whiff of a “bath bomb” and Latoya Bembry was hooked.

Friends introduced her to Lush, the company that makes the quirky natural product in options like Sex Bomb and Big Blue. Bembry, who describes herself as “obsessed” with the items, now also uses the company’s body cream to withstand the dry Las Vegas climate.

With more Americans discovering eco-friendly products, sales are on the rise — but at $22.55 for an 8.4-ounce jar of Lush’s “Dream Cream,” they aren’t for budget shoppers.

Bembry, a 27-year-old account executive, admits she’s spent hundreds of dollars on these products in recent weeks. Still, she says it’s worth it. “The most telling thing about organic products is that they deliver results right away,” she says.

Sales of natural personal care products are growing strongly, despite a softer U.S. economy. Even with high prices for food and energy crimping people’s splurges, analysts say the boom isn’t going to end anytime soon.

Last year, U.S. sales of such items rose 12.5 percent, when adjusted for inflation, to $465 million, according to a report from research firm Mintel. The Chicago-based group estimates the inflation-adjusted figure will rise to $513 million this year, even given the tough U.S.economy.

The Natural Products Association estimates the natural personal care industry is growing five times faster than regular personal care products. The interest is twofold, says Daniel Fabricant, a spokesman for the trade group — concern about the environment and a desire among consumers for healthy products free of synthetic ingredients.

Interest in natural personal care products can be traced back to natural-grocery retailers that helped initially popularize the organic food movement. The Organic Trade Association estimates that U.S. sales of organic food and drinks will reach nearly $23 billion this year, up from $20 billion in 2007 and just $1 billion in 1990, the trade group said.

While about three-quarters of sales last year came from natural grocery stores, drug stores and mass merchandise chains have noticed the opportunity in personal care products and are clearing out shelf space to add more natural products to their lineups, the group found in a 2007 survey.

Despite their economic worries, Americans need to buy necessities like lotion and shampoo,and are looking for little indulgences. Natural items fit the bill and are the “poster child for consumers trading up,” says Scott Potter, managing partner of private equity firm San Francisco Equity Partners, which led a $14 million investment in the Yes To Carrots brand.

The Israel-based company, which makes hair and skin products that contain beta-carotene, has seen its sales double since it debuted in the U.S. last year.
Consumers “can’t afford the vacation or BMW,” Potter says, “but can spend a couple more bucks to buy something to make them feel good.”

With a growing awareness of health and environmental concerns, the industry is still trying to devise guidelines for exactly what makes a product natural. Earlier this year, the Natural Products Association created a certification program allowing some products to carry a seal of approval if certain criteria are met.

As the organic movement picked up momentum, big companies snapped up organic brands,while other retailers began offering smaller brands in places consumers typically shop.

Walgreen Co., one of the nation’s largest drugstore chains, teamed up with Yes To Carrots to be the sole retailer at the products’ launch. Target now also carries the brand.

The funding infusion in Yes To Carrots is intended to boost product distribution in North America and support the launch of more products, including Yes To Cucumbers, which contain aloe, green tea and minerals from the Dead Sea.

“It’s no secret that the organic, natural space is becoming huge and raising awareness with consumers,” Potter says.

Burt’s Bees, a niche company known for its beeswax lip balm, went mainstream when consumer products giant Clorox Co. bought the company for $925 million in 2007. Colgate-Palmolive Co. paid $100 million in cash for toothpaste maker Tom’s of Maine, while cosmetics maker L’Oreal acquired Britain’s Body Shop International in 2006.

Analysts agree the industry is still ripe with prospects as consumers gravitate toward organic products. Stifel Nicolaus analyst David A. Schick also credits the sheer size of the aging baby boomer population for boosting demand for the items seen as more natural. “Whether we’re in a recession or not, baby boomers are turning 60,” he says.

Schick also says good retailers are constantly looking in every category at what consumers want more and less of. “Once people get interested in it, sometimes products have a life of their own,” Schick says.

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons selling diamonds to raise money for Africans
Associated Press, Dec. 5, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) – Hip-hop and fashion mogul Russell Simmons said Tuesday he’s selling bling to help raise money for the development and empowerment of Africans.

The 49-year-old entrepreneur announced his “Green Initiative” jewelry, which is manufactured and designed by Simmons Jewelry Co. Twenty-five percent of proceeds from sales will go toward the Diamond Empowerment Fund, which will support institutions, like schools and colleges, in South Africa and Botswana and help boost economic development.

Simmons’ recent visit to South Africa and Botswana to tour diamond mines and factories coincides with efforts by human rights groups to raise awareness about so-called conflict diamonds, which have fueled and funded wars in Africa. Fighting forces sell the gems to raise funds for weapons. Millions have been killed in Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Simmons Jewelry Co. President Scott Rauch said the company’s diamonds are conflict-free. “Our purpose was to see how we could have an effect on the diamond industry,” he told a packed news conference Tuesday.

“Africans need this industry,” Simmons said, touting the economic benefits to the region, like the funding of many HIV/AIDS clinics.

Hollywood has also taken up the issue with “Blood Diamond,” a new film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Connelly, which shows how conflict diamonds financed civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s. The film will be released nationwide on Friday.

Some officials say loopholes remain in the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme, which is the diamond industry’s response to growing world concern about blood diamonds. It was established in 2002 and aims to stem the flow of conflict diamonds by forcing participants to certify the origins of the diamonds being traded.

“The U.S. government can play a pivotal role to be sure that the Kimberly Process works,” said Amy O’Meara, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International. O’Meara also said consumers can help by asking retailers questions and showing interest in where their diamonds come from.

“The Kimberly Process is very new, but it does work, and we’re trying to make it better,”Simmons said.

Simmons isn’t new to the role of activist, having created the Hip-Hop Summit Action Networkin 2001 to engage young people in community development issues.

He’s also widely known for his role in co-founding Def Jam Records, which gave birth to the hip-hop careers of well-known artists Run-DMC, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys.

Greek fashion designers bank on Olympic afterglow
Associated Press, Oct. 18, 2004

ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Remember the Olympic rings set ablaze? The boy on the boat? The giant Cycladic statue, and the stunning procession of costumed models on a visual timeline stretching back to antiquity? Greek designers hope lingering memories of the Aug. 13 Olympic opening ceremony will earn Athens a little recognition in the world of fashion.

Twenty-five designers showcased spring trends — with plenty of skin and hardly a black garment in sight – to a packed house of buyers, spectators and press during Greece’s first ever fashion week. There was a lot of techno music, bare midriffs and high heels.

“I think many people just thought of Greece as a tiny country on the far side of the Mediterranean but after the Olympics, anything dealing with Greece became popular,” said Matthew Hotos, marketing director of D.I. Moda Athena which organized the event that ended Sunday.

Moda borrowed Olympic organizational techniques, recruiting volunteers from two fashion schools to escort the public and answer questions during the three-day event.

“An event is an event, no matter what it is … the Olympics helped us organize this,” said Hotos, who worked as apparel licensee for Athens 2004.

Event director Ioanna Darakli added: “After the promotion from the Olympic Games, I thought it was the best time because all the media were here.”

Unlike Athens’ Olympic preparations, things are not done at the last minute in the fashion world, with designers already preparing their spring and summer collections.

Style at Greek Fashion Week ran the gamut. Sheer, flesh-colored tops by Marcello Niktas left little to the imagination. Sia Demetriades outfitted her shoeless, sun-tanned models in sunglasses with flowers tucked behind their ears. Shirtless men in white linen pants and women in teeny bikinis with see-through sarongs paraded the creations of Nikos Takis. Black rarely made an appearance.

“Dark is for people that don’t feel good,” said designer Emilio.

Maria Miha blames the weather. “We live in a country full of sun near the sea, so many of the clothes here have bright, strong colors.”

Fashion events, said Miha, are very “hit or miss.” “You could do a big, well-organized campaign like this where reporters and buyers come but it might do nothing,” Miha said. “Sometimes one picture in a magazine will do it all.”

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