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Conscience Choices

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Buying luxurious holiday gifts may seem frivolous and even a bit unfashionable in this era of intensified awareness of social and environmental problems. But it is easier than ever to buy a present with a built-in conscience.

Los Angeles shoppers will find a number of stores and boutiques that donate from 2% to 100% of profits on specific items, or of store profits as a whole, to humanitarian, social or ecological causes. Charity tie-ins are part of merchandising in shopping districts as diverse as Rodeo Drive and the local mall. To identify such items, look for tags attached to gifts or for store signs indicating what percentage of profits goes to which charities.

Environmental causes are particularly popular. A number of local stores carry the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) name on stuffed animals, ties and desk accessories. Five percent to 10% of the wholesale cost goes to preserve and protect wildlife. The WWF received more than $3.5 million last year from these royalties and other merchandising links, according to its annual report.

The neckties, with wildlife prints, are made by Manhattan Menswear and are available at the Broadway for $27.50. “There’s a high degree of awareness of the environment, and people are making purchases in order to express that concern,” says Jo Lawley, vice president of marketing for the chain.

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At the 6-month-old Environs body care and gift shop in Santa Monica, owner Susan Migliaccio donates space to Heal the Bay’s T-shirts and mugs and returns all money from those sales to the cause. She has similar policies to help Save the Whales and Earth Communication Watch.

“I’m horrified that our ocean is in such bad shape,” Migliaccio says. “I feel Heal the Bay has made miraculous progress.”

Beverly Hills shops are doing their part as well. At Zoo Gallery, for example, 2% of all store profits go to Dedication and Everlasting Love to Animals (DELTA), a Glendale-based organization that rescues abandoned dogs and cats. Francine Silvera, who runs the shop with daughter Yvette, says the commitment was based simply on their love of animals, which is evident in the store’s colorful animal-motif gifts and clothing.

Among gifts with a built-in donation at Giorgio, the accessories boutique on Rodeo Drive, is Annie & Co.'s “decade tag,” a silver dog-tag necklace. Fifty percent of its wholesale price is donated to the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR) and other AIDS groups.

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At Hammacher Schlemmer, down the street, the price of some hand-painted umbrellas, children’s furniture and gourmet gift baskets include a donation to various causes. Some go to assist children with AIDS, others to support Betty Clooney Foundation.

Retailers make charity commitments for a wide range of reasons.

“It disturbs me that the government has backed away from socially responsible programs. People like me have to pick up where they left off,” says Jerry Morley, owner of Uncle Jer’s, the appealing, funky, clothing and gift store in Silver Lake. He donates up to 10% of store profits to humanitarian and environmental concerns, from local day-care centers to Greenpeace.

Some holiday gifts are earmarked for contributions before they reach stores.

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The manufacturers of Rain Forest Essentials bath products, a label found at Environs and Fred Segal for a Better Ecology, contribute 40% of profits to projects that benefit tropical rain forests, according to a product tag. And shoppers who buy a $10 membership to UNITE, a foundation that assists groups including the homeless and abused children, receive $18 in Sebastian hair- and skin-care products.

Among health-care causes, donations to AIDS research are high on the list this season. Basketball hero Earvin (Magic) Johnson, who retired in November after announcing that he tested positive for the HIV virus, donates a portion of sales from his T-shirt company to the HIV Research Program. In bookstores, numerous items also benefit AIDS organizations. The 1992 Fashion Desk Diary, for example, helps the Design Industries Foundation for AIDS (DIFA). And photographer Herb Ritts is donating all royalties from his forthcoming book, “Duo,” an essay on bodybuilders, to AmFAR.


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