INTERVIEW: Jeff Banks makes pink pants

The menswear fashion designer Jeff Banks will this month launch a men’s underpant in bright pink, at Debenhams, in support of the department store’s breast cancer charity trust.

Banks said the aim was to engage men in fundraising for research into breast cancer, an idea he came up with after discussing with Prima magazine’s editor, Maire Fahey, the fact that most breast cancer fundraising campaigns are targeted at women and ignore men.

“It’s a shame that men don’t get involved in that activity, because the pressure that is put on the family when anybody suffers with breast cancer acts on the whole family – husband, children, parents and so on,” he said. “It’s not just a women’s issue; it’s a family issue.”

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Banks came up with the idea of pink pants as a way to get men involved in the charities, saying that it is a product that can appeal to both men and women, while offering a consumer something tangible in exchange for the charitable donation.

“What could I do that would be good fun, very usable and not expensive?” said Banks. “With charity giving these days, the demand on the public is massive. So if you can actually buy a piece of product that’s worth the money, but it goes to a good cause, it ticks the boxes.”

Banks felt that the element of fun attached to the product would help men get over any qualms about buying pink pants. “I just thought, what is it that would be a great item that either men could buy and sport at the gym or the rugby changing room to show that they’re actually supporting the cause; or alternatively that women could buy as presents for husbands, sons, lovers, fathers, to get them involved by giving them the package that explains what the cause is and that they’ve made a contribution so that the men can actually sport their support?”

Banks approached Michael Sharp, the chief executive of Debenhams, to ask him to retail the product, giving 100% of the profits to breast cancer charities. Sharp quickly agreed. “This year, by coincidence, Debenhams were starting a charity trust called Think Pink and they were trying to come up with ideas as a massive retailer as to how they could actually raise money throughout the year with their ThinkPink trust, so it dovetailed exactly with their thinking as a company,” said Banks.

The next step was to produce the pants, and Banks asked the manufacturer of his existing underwear line, Osan Ltd, to produce the pants for cost price, including packaging.

“With not a lot of arm-twisting, they jumped at the chance,” said Banks. “They’ll produce it, package it, produce the vending display units, all at cost, without them taking any profit.”

Of the £10 retail price, all the profit, approximately £5 a pair, will go to the Think Pink initiative, which supports three breast cancer charities: Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer Campaign and Pink Ribbon Foundation.

“Debenhams are fantastic at this,” said Banks. “They genuinely barcode everything that doesn’t go through their mainstream financial costs; they barcode those charitable products so it goes straight into the trust and doesn’t have any profit attached to it.”

The pants are modelled by Select’s footballer-turned-model Jay Conroy, who donated his time for the cause and will appear on the front of the packaging, photographed by Eamonn McCabe, who also worked for free. Conroy will launch the initiative at Debenhams on May 20, arriving in a pink car and dressed only in the pants.

Other marketing initiatives include celebrity models – “We have a hit list of celebrities that we want to support the project,” said Banks. “I can’t tell you who they are, but I have a list of 12 categories of men – racing car driver, racing cyclist, footballer, actor, DJ, presenter, and so on – and my hope is that once we photograph the 12 we will also create a Christmas calendar that Prima readers can buy as a Christmas present.”

Prima will also run a competition for readers to send in photos of their partners wearing the pink pants, with the prize of a Caribbean Holiday for a week, with Virgin Holidays.

Banks, however, has no plans to appear in public in the pink pants – unless the price is right.

“I didn’t want to scare consumers away,” he joked. “But if any organisation was to put up enough money for me to do that, I would certainly do it. If there was anybody out there, Philip Green or anyone, who was willing to challenge me to a picture and come up with the dough, I’d be there.”

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