Image Credit: The White House, Flickr
Donald Trump attended the opening of the Louis Vuitton (which he failed to pronounce correctly) factory in Johnson County Texas (where 77.5 per cent voted for him) to help the company “Meet the ever-growing demand for Louis Vuitton products in the American market.” Inside the factory you are greeted with an oil painting of the brand's founder next to one of George Washington, and there also hangs an American, French and Texan flag.
Bags produced in the Louis Vuitton Rochambeau Ranch (named after Marshal Jean-Baptiste, a general in charge of French forces in America during the American Revolution) will not be made by ‘Les petites mains’, the French artisans at the centre of the brand's history, but instead Texans, who need no experience to be employed, just the ability to pass drug and manual dexterity tests to start working at an hourly pay of $13.
The brand pledges to create around 1000 jobs on top of their existing 33 000 already employed in the US; a strange concept as Louis Vuitton was among the forces driving the mythology of “Made in France” as a factor in brand value. One of the industry tenets is that luxury items must be made where they were conceived for them to uphold their luxury status (and prices.) So, if a French bag is being made in America, by Americans, does that change the commercial proposition?
There are certainly positives for both brand and country: Louis Vuitton has invested $50 million into Texas where the employment and training of 1000 local people will minorly help unemployment, which is currently 3.7 per cent in the US (although France is over double that at 8.5 per cent.) For Louis Vuitton, it gives them protection against the risk of trade disputes between the US and the EU (Trump administration has already placed tariffs on a range of EU products) and a ten year, 75 per cent tax abatement of around $91 900 a year. Finally, Louis Vuitton’s parent company LVMH made large revenue in US sales in 2018, around $12.5 billion, beating their biggest rival brands such as Gucci and Dior. This came with the help of Mr Trump himself who said Louis Vuitton has “Cost me a lot of money over the years” so their choice of factory location may be very tactful.
However, the negatives of this collaboration (particularly for Louis Vuitton) are plentiful. The old world craftsmanship (allusion) that came with having a Louis Vuitton bag “Made in France” was what they could use to justify their high prices and customers are already stating they are not willing to spend the same $1200 on a bag “Made in America.” It’s also come to light that the temporary Louis Vuitton workshop included no A.C. with workers denoting it to “literally a sweatshop.”
In the days since the opening, there has been a massive backlash from customers who don’t appreciate the company’s alliance with the president. Shannon Coulter (founder of Grab Your Wallet: a social media campaign used to boycott brands financially connected to Trump) when asked how big an impact this alliance will make, said she is sure “Louis Vuitton is about to find out just how much.” In a society where consumers are increasingly choosing to invest not solely on the aesthetic appearance of a product but also the political aligning and motif of a brand, surely LV is being ignorant?
Both Mr Arnault (CEO of LVMH) and Mr Burke (CEO of LV) have made comments saying they “Have no political role” but they’re being naïve if they think they can take an apolitical approach under the circumstances. Mr Arnault was also the first fashion figure to meet with Trump following the 2017 elections after designers Tom Ford and Derek Lam were publicly averse to dressing the first lady (but I think we were able to gage Mr Arnault’s, also known as ‘the wolf in the cashmere coat’, personality after he publicly scolded Greta Thunberg for “Surrendering completely to catastrophism.”)
These events have made it seem more relevant than ever that companies' political positioning can change their consumer climate, but will this association harm LV? And will clients still be willing to spend luxury prices on a bag “Made in America” all for the benefit of appearance? Probably.