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CAN HUGO BOSS ACTUALLY BE COOL?

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Gigi Hadid, center, walks in the Hugo Boss spring 2022 show in Milan — an ode to baseball, not suiting.Credit...Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

The brand built by selling Wall Street suits is trying to reinvent itself for the post-office age.

By André Wheeler

It was fashion week, and the German brand, once a go-to for urban professionals dreaming of a steady climb to the corner office, cast its jackets and slacks to the side in favor of a baseball-themed spectacle. The model Gigi Hadid opened the show, held to debut Boss’s collaboration with Russell Athletic, the active wear brand, in high-waisted sweatpants and a beanie. There was a brass marching band and cheerleaders. The K-pop star Big Matthew made his modeling debut, and an anthropomorphic popcorn mascot danced.

It was, for anyone familiar with Hugo Boss’s usual slick Wall Street-ready offering, a tad unexpected.

It was also, it turns out, Stage 1 in what the company is calling a major rebrand that reaches fruition this week with new ad campaigns and a new look.

The old blocky logo has been replaced by new, sleeker typography. There is experimentation with repurposed materials. (Coming soon: suits constructed entirely out of recycled water bottles.) There are also ultra-breathable suits, fitting for dinner as much as the office, and elevated athleisure pieces reminiscent of 1990s street wear with a sophisticated twist. Punchy ad campaigns feature the model Hailey Bieber, the rapper Future, K-pop stars and TikTok influencers. Oh, and there will be a Hugo Boss-sponsored TikTok dance challenge, just like the viral 2020 dance renegade.

Yes, Hugo Boss is trying to recast itself as cool. Gen Z cool. Even in an industry where change is a given and brand reinvention is almost an annual occurrence, the attempted turnaround is extreme.

“For the past six to eight years the brand has just gotten a bit … dusty,” said Daniel Grieder, who was named chief executive of Hugo Boss last year. Mr. Grieder, 60, spoke from the company’s headquarters in Metzingen, Germany, over a video call, exuding the can-do air of a Silicon Valley founder — albeit one wearing a suit. He was sitting at a long table, flanked by two colleagues; they occasionally clarified or repeated questions for Mr. Grieder, who is from Switzerland and speaks German.

“I want to, um, how do you say, undust things,” Mr. Grieder said.

Future, one of the new faces of Hugo Boss, in the label’s latest campaign.
Future, one of the new faces of Hugo Boss, in the label’s latest campaign. Credit...via Hugo Boss
Hailey Bieber, another new face of the new Boss, has 40.7 million Instagram followers.
Hailey Bieber, another new face of the new Boss, has 40.7 million Instagram followers. Credit...via Hugo Boss
Anthony Joshua, the British boxer who has 13.4 million Instagram followers, also a new face of Boss.
Anthony Joshua, the British boxer who has 13.4 million Instagram followers, also a new face of Boss. Credit...via Hugo Boss

It’s easy to understand why. The company had a 33 percent decline in sales at the start of Covid, according to the brand’s 2020 annual report, its most recent.

Stock prices for Hugo Boss, have consistently fallen since June 2018, according to public records. “It was a dependable brand,” said Robert Burke, a retail expert who previously worked as a top executive at Bergdorf Goodman. “Men would go there and get two or three suits. And then it became too dependable.”

Suits themselves fell out of favor, victims of a longstanding trend toward casualization that accelerated during the pandemic, with its long stretches of working from home. Behemoths such as Goldman Sachs and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York adjusted or abandoned their formal dress codes. Cult brands such as Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God and Aimé Leon Dore, with their refined take on street wear, began to gain not only buzz but also critical market share. (The fashion conglomerate LVMH, owner of more than 70 prestigious brands, recently purchased a minority stake in Aimé.)

“Recency has become the new authenticity,” said Jian Deleon, the men’s fashion and editorial director at Nordstrom. “You can tell a lot of great heritage stories, but for a lot of younger shoppers, it’s more about what’s taking over their feeds. The Instagram Explore page and TikTok For You page are two of today’s biggest influencers.”

Mr. Grieder was hired in 2020 after 23 years as chief executive at Tommy Hilfiger Global, where he was credited with keeping the brand current through early adoptions of shoppable livestreams and Instagram filters. (Although, because of a noncompete agreement with Hilfiger, Mr. Grieder could not officially start his new role until last year.)

Daniel Grieder, the Hugo Boss chief executive and the man behind the rebrand.
Daniel Grieder, the Hugo Boss chief executive and the man behind the rebrand.Credit...Roderick Aichinger for The New York Times

And although some industry watchers have speculated that the Hugo Boss rebrand is designed to make the publicly traded company a more attractive acquisition target, Mr. Grieder denied the suggestion. “If anything,” he said, “we’re looking to buy. Not sell.”

(This is not the first time the company has had to contend with image rehabilitation: Its namesake founder made uniform for the Nazis before and during World War II, for which the company has publicly apologized.)

Mr. Grieder’s new vision for Hugo Boss began with the creation of two distinct lines intended for different audiences. “Hugo” is a new street-wear-leaning option for Gen Z shoppers replete with bucket hats, loose-fit jeans and logo-heavy accessories. “Boss” is a line of minimalist, smart-casual looks aimed at millennials that includes earth-toned hoodies, voluminous overcoats and tailored chinos. Though this goes against the current trend for brand consolidations, as espoused by Burberry and Zegna, Mr. Grieder said the differentiation would help Hugo Boss stand out.

Then he signed up a slate of new brand ambassadors, focusing on internet-famous names, including the TikTok comedian Khaby Lame, 21, who went from factory worker to the second-most followed person on the app (his current follower count: more than 130 million). Others include the model Adut Akech, known for her activism around greater inclusivity in fashion, the South Korean star Lee Min-ho and the musician Saint Jhn, who has collaborated with Beyoncé and Kanye West.

Khaby Lame walks the runway at the Boss spring 2022 show, along with some unusual Boss models.
Khaby Lame walks the runway at the Boss spring 2022 show, along with some unusual Boss models.Credit...Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

Next, Mr. Grieder and the design team (there is no official “designer”) workshopped how to make their suits more appealing to their target shopper. “We want to be the first suit a millennial or Gen Z customer buys,” Mr. Grieder said, before beginning to wax lyrical about “the suit of tomorrow.”

He was wearing a “suit of tomorrow” as he spoke: a slim-fit cobalt number made from lightweight cotton, that, he said, was wrinkle resistant, water-repellent and, in his opinion, comfortable enough to sleep in. Then he performed a quick series of stretches — halfheartedly throwing his arms up — to show off the fabric’s elasticity.

“You could hike a mountain in this,” Mr. Grieder proclaimed, saying sales of suits for the brand recovered last summer, in tandem with scaled-back lockdown measures across the world. “People wanted to get dressed up and go to restaurants.”

(The “suit of tomorrow” will arrive in stores in “late January.”)

There are still some classic Hugo Boss elements amid these new clothes: European tailoring, preppy, billowy button-downs. (Mr. Grieder does not want to alienate the brand’s existing customers, who may find the new look somewhat startling.) But there are some forward-looking elements too. One standout comes from the Boss line, in the form of an oversize long-sleeve button-down-and-shorts set, available in an on-trend burnt orange. And women’s lounge shorts have the voluminous proportions of basketball shorts, flirting with androgyny.

Why is Mr. Grieder so convinced this is the way forward? Because, he said, he had a secret weapon: Gen Zers themselves.

Throughout the overhaul, Hugo Boss hired teenagers to work as consultants and assist on photo shoots. “Gen Zers are a rare commodity,” said Miah Sullivan, who oversees marketing and communications at Hugo Boss and is herself a millennial — though perhaps what is more true is that Gen Zers who want to engage with big brand executives on the subject of suiting are a rare commodity.

“I go to this Gen Z consultant — he has an agency, he’s 17, and a complete boss — and he gives me advice on how to execute, how to augment, how to change,” Ms. Sullivan said.

Sometimes the consultant, whom Ms. Sullivan declined to name, also helped the brand find other consultants.

“It’s actually hard to find Gen Z on LinkedIn,” Ms. Sullivan said. “They’re on TikTok.”

Whether they will also be in Hugo Boss while on TikTok is now the question.

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TELCOS PROTEST N90BN NEW PHONE TAX, TO BILL SUBSCRIBERS

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Sim Cards

The Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria has described the recent move by the Federal Government to add a one kobo per second tax on phone calls as a bad move.

According to it, this is insensitive considering the operating environment of telecom companies.

The umbrella body for telecom companies said, “For us as at ALTON, it is bad fate on the part of the government, and it is badly intended. This is because when we came out that the government should look at our cost of operations and give us room to review tariffs, everybody treated us like an outcast.

“The same government is now coming in a matter of days to say they are introducing new taxes. So, when they were saying to us that we cannot increase tariff because it is insensitive to the plight of the people and now, they brought another tax through the back door, we think it is bad fate and badly intended. So, if we cannot review based on the impact it will have on subscribers, why are they bringing in another tax, still on subscribers. Government cannot act in one way and say another thing.”

The Federal Government is proposing a one kobo per seconds tax on phone calls in the nation to fund free healthcare for the Vulnerable Group in Nigeria.

This was disclosed in the National Health Insurance Authority Bill 2021 signed by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), recently. This translates to a nine per cent tax on GSM calls if implemented.

ALTON added that the new tax would reduce the value subscribers get from telecom services, as they would need to pay more to enjoy what they used to.

The association stated, “It will affect the subscribers because they get less value for what they pay for. It means now that when you buy an N100 recharge card, the percentage will be deducted from it and paid to the government. So, it is actually short-changing the people.  What will happen is that operators will be mandated to collect this tax on their behalf and remit it to the government.”

It said the government should consider taxing another industry rather than telecoms. According to it, subscribers will have to pay extra for this new cost.

It added, “This can be introduced to another sector of the economy.

“The reason for it is understandable, but we think it can be sourced from another source, not telecoms subscribers, whom government itself has said they are suffering because of high of living lately. We will not complain as operators because we will definitely remit, it is the subscribers that will bear the brunt.

PUNCH

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NITDA, GOOGLE, AND DIGITAL SKILLS FOR ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT

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Nigeria is endowed with a population of about 200 million people, with nearly 50 million using the internet. This has positioned the country as Africa’s most promising and suitable destination for foreign investors to participate in its economic development.

By Zeenat Sambo

It is no surprise that global tech giants like Google, Facebook, Netflix, Microsoft, and others chose Nigeria as a base to flag their technological investment. Such investments are helping the continent’s most populous nation to promote digital entrepreneurship and grow its thriving startup ecosystem.

Google as a multinational technology company that focuses on artificial intelligence, search engine, online advertising, cloud computing, computer software, quantum computing, e-commerce, and consumer electronics has overtime channeled its innovative projects to help African countries develop their digital sphere.

With the launch of its first Product Development Centre in Africa sited in Lagos, Google announced that its mission is to make the Internet helpful to Africans, while also partnering with governments, policymakers, educators, entrepreneurs, and businesses to shape the next wave of innovation in the continent.

Before this initiative, Google has over time created innovative programmes to streamline Nigeria’s economic sectors into its technological terrain. For instance, it outlined its readiness to help the country’s media companies to achieve milestones by improving users’ experience regarding news delivery.

In 2021, three Nigerian media organisations were among 22 successful recipients of the Google News Initiative’s second Middle East, Turkey, and Africa Innovation Challenge. Priority was given to projects that reflect and demonstrate a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the news industry.

The media outlets were given the responsibility to tell news across the region and to cover topics ranging from audience development to virtual reality storytelling. The project was not only to the reader’s advantage. It built an easy-to-use subscription management service that enables African publishers to monetise their audiences without technical expertise.

Being an eco-friendly tech company, it anticipated the inclusion of Eco-Nai+ by Ripples Nigeria in its projects. Eco-Nai+ is the first Nigeria digital geo-journalism platform that combats climate change through media innovation.

Through its 2019 Google for Nigeria Projects themed, “Making our products more helpful to more”, Google opened up new opportunities for Nigerians to venture into the world of digital technologies.

For the first time, it introduced a dedicated travel mode (Google map) to provide directions and navigation for motorcycles in Nigeria. Also, it launched navigation instructions in a Nigerian voice for both motorcycle and car driving modes, so that local names and places get pronounced as they should be.

This was like a magical guide for many tourists, motorists, and traders to efficiently deliver their services without any geographical hindrance.

To encourage women in digital marketing, Google again extended its philanthropy by committing $1million to support programs, helping Nigerian women entrepreneurs under its new initiatives aimed at supporting women-owned businesses.

In the effort to sustain development, Google West Africa announced plans to strengthen the contribution of Information Communication Technology (ICT) to the nation’s Gross National Product (GDP). These plans are being consolidated through collaboration with industry regulator, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) to achieve the Digital Nigeria Agenda.

The partnership between Google and NITDA offers easy access to accurate data representation, prevents data duplications, and brings to an end the recurring chaos of mismanagement of information due to poor infrastructure.

The recent laying of the Equiano cable across West Africa, and its landing in Nigeria, reaffirms tremendous progress in improving Nigeria’s internet operations and connectivity. In the next five years, it is expected that there would be additional 300 million internet users in Africa, thereby increasing the demand for more online activities.

The cable which connects Nigeria, Namibia, St. Helena, and South Africa, would exponentially improve network capacity compared to the last cable built for Africa, reduce internet pricing by 21 percent and increase Google’s global internet infrastructure.

According to Google Managing Director for Africa, Nitin Gajria, the tech giant’s business plan for Africa includes a $10million fund for low-interest loans to small businesses across Africa. He reaffirmed Google’s commitment to create about 1.6 million jobs in Nigeria, build capacity, harness potential and streamline digital inclusion.

These innovations by Google will assist NITDA to facilitate a central database system in Nigeria to solve problems for stakeholders. Errors due to the multiplying database have made it difficult for many Nigerians to access or retrieve their data for verification.

The cooperation between NITDA and Google also will help to improve the performance of micro, small and medium enterprises in the digital market, and facilitate a broader platform to ease grassroots participation in digital entrepreneurship.

Such steady investment will help empower Nigerian business enterprises, support local trade initiatives, boost commerce/sales, and encourage numerous stakeholders to connect with local and international business/trade networks.

It is important for the Nigerian government stakeholders to collectively focus on harnessing the opportunities offered by liasing with the global tech giant to engender sustainable prosperity in the digital economy.

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FG FACES TOUGH CHOICES TO STABILISE ECONOMY AS INFLATION BITES HARDER

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Nigeria Economy

• Inflation rate jumps to 16.8% in April, highest in eight months • Fuel scarcity, insecurity, hike in Jet A1 compound woes • Don’t expect deceleration until September, Adi suggests • MPR may join interest rate hike fray

The Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) could bite the bullet next week when it reconvenes and adjusts the policy rate for the first time since September 2020 as resurging inflation concerns and interest rate hike across the world put Nigeria in a difficult position.

According to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for April released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), yesterday, the headline inflation rate has climbed to 16.8 per cent, the highest in eight months.

The soaring inflation rate, driven by fuel price increases and accelerating costs for food, including bread and cereals, rose to 18.4 per cent from 17.2 per cent in March.

The jump in fuel and food items is driven by global supply disruptions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, analysts have equally pointed out.

Also, shortages of jet fuel have led to airline operators increasing fare prices by nearly 100 per cent or in some cases suspending operations as the price of the commodity rose from N190 to N700 per litre in the wake of Russia invasion.

The hike in inflation means the purchasing power of consumers, some of whom live on a minimum wage of N18,000 per month, is being eroded.

According to Ikemesit Effiong, analyst and head of research at sociopolitical risk advisory firm based in Lagos, SBM Intelligence, “Nigeria is not just dealing with rising inflation, when combined with high levels of unemployment and low growth – public and private – Africa’s largest economy is in the throes of an extended bout of stagflation.”

Increased insecurity across parts of the country and the slow ramp-up of election spending could also combine to ensure that prices will remain high for much of the rest of the year, he added.

While the figure is not out-of-range with the data of the past two years, the month-on-month (MoM) change is disturbingly high at 1.76 per cent.

It was the second time the MoM change in CPI would exceed 1.75 per cent in six months, the first being last December at 1.82 per cent. The MoM change in Nigeria’s inflation has not risen to the December figure in five years. It was 1.88 per cent in May 2017.

The volatility of prices of essential commodities in recent months as demonstrated by the data from December to April, which are in the range of 1.47 and 1.82 per cent, puts household real income and expenditure planning at red alert.

The renewed inflation could also mean that the MPC cannot continue to maintain its static position on inflation control. Since September 2020, the Monetary Policy Rate (MPR), a monetary tool that determines liquidity, has remained at 11.5 per cent and there have been speculation that it would be raised this year.

The hawkish outlook around the globe has sent a strong message to Nigeria, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank advising countries battling with fiscal and monetary headwinds, like Nigeria, to follow the global trend.

At the recent MPC meeting, Nigeria narrowly escaped an interest rate hike with six against 10 member votes. For the first time in over a decade, the United States Federal Reserve System increased the interest rate by 50 basis points. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the United Kingdom and many other countries have raised their rates as a necessary option to keep inflation at a manageable level.

The rate hike fever has also spread to Africa, with Egypt and South Africa increasing theirs. To contain fast-rising inflation currently estimated at 23.6 per cent. The Bank of Ghana shockingly increased the lending rate by 250 basis points in one fell swoop, bringing the benchmark to 17 per cent. 

Not many economists expect the MPR, the rate-fixing arm of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to continue its conservative stance that started after the lending rate was adjusted from 12.5 per cent to 11.5 per cent in 2020.

But an economist and senior lecturer at the Lagos Business School, Dr. Bongo Adi, told The Guardian that rate hike is not a straight-forward decision for Nigeria at the moment, considering that the unaffordable commercial interests are already sending the private sector, especially small businesses to tailspin.

According to figures sourced from CBN database, the maximum lending rate in March stood at 26.61 per cent. In February, it was even higher at 30.73 per cent while prime borrowing averaged 11.77 per cent in the first quarter.

Sadly, the small businesses, which Dr. Muda Yusuf, a former director-general of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), believes need affordable funding the most, pay the highest rate for capital.

A higher MPR is expected to have a transmission effect on the cost of commercial loans, and Adi said the CBN might see this as a major reason to leave the interest at its current rate.

“The cost of funds is already too high. If we increase the interest rate, it means the situation will be compounded and businesses will suffer more. If you ask me, I don’t see them increasing it. Any attempt to hike the rates will worsen the situation right now,” he said.

Considering the fear that Nigeria risks losing capital to other markets, Adi said no decision would be an easy one for the CBN.

“The debt servicing to revenue ratio of the government is already too high. So, government will suffer from a higher interest rate because the interest on loans will be higher. It is extremely going to be a difficult choice,” the economist said.

But there is no full-proof interest rate hike that would have any reasonable impact on prices as some economists have argued that the country’s inflation is largely imported and cost-push.

For instance, the cost of diesel, a major component of production cost, has increased by over 200 per cent year-to-date (YTD), which has distorted the domestic supply chain and increased unit costs for many manufacturers.

Sadly, Adi said the uptick in inflation could continue in the next four months as “we have just entered planting season and harvest will not be due till August.”

He said the food component would continue to cause a major upset, at least, in the meantime.  Volatile food prices have a major distortion in the country’s inflation dating back to August 2019 when the land borders were closed. At some points, the differential between core and food inflation was over six per cent. That has narrowed but stood at 4.19 per cent in April. The coming months could see the gap expanding reasonably, especially with no solution yet to the flour supply shock triggered by the Russia invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking to The Guardian, Prof. Sheriffdeen Tella, an economist, said the steep inflation rise was expected following a continued increase in prices of fuel. Tella said it was also expected because the exchange rate has weakened with serious consequences for the majorly import-dependent economy.

He said: “The inflation rate is likely to go higher as we get close to election year. Even though election year is around the corner, the prices of fuel and diesel are not abating; the cost of food and other goods are equally rising.

“However, when the campaigns start, there are indications that they will bring back more dollars, which may reduce the value of dollar against the naira and bring down inflation.”

Tella advised poor Nigerians to immediately begin to adjust their consumption pattern if they must overcome the current challenges.

Another professor of economics at the University of Uyo, Akpan Ekpo, said: “We have rising inflation and unemployment coupled with the higher exchange rate. All these are not helping the matter when you consider the effects of COVID-19 and the war between Russia and Ukraine.”

Dr. Tope Fasua, an economist and former presidential candidate, argued that the reckless importation of goods that could be manufactured in the country is a major driver of inflation.

“I am not a supporter of inflation targeting. I am a supporter of productivity targeting. What we need to do to tackle inflation without production is to tactically find a way to close the economy to encourage local production of things we import. Perhaps, that will take care of imported inflation to a large extent.” 

He submitted that Nigeria’s inflation is multidimensional, adding: “The economy is not a productive one and that is where the challenge is. From the supply side, producers, retailers and even importers have to mark up their prices to reflect the cost of production or importation.”

THE GUARDIAN

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