The fashion industry will always play a key role in our everyday lives. Although the recession has surely taken its toll on the retail sector, that doesn't mean that you can't invest in great brands that have gracefully weathered the storm. 

Providing our communities with socially responsible solutions while also increasing business growth, these three brands go the extra mile in specialty branding, philanthropy, and sustainability efforts. 

The L Way

L Brands, (BBWI 1.20%) is a company that has it all: great products, amazing philanthropic efforts, and a unique target market. Almost every woman has the desire to feel sexy and confident in her everyday life, and L Brands fills that need with its specialty brands Victoria's Secret, Victoria's Secret PINK, Bath and Body Works, and Henri Bendel.

In its philanthropic efforts, L Brands has launched a few initiatives to contribute to our communities around the world. In 1993, the L Brands Foundation was founded with the purpose of, "supporting community programs that focus on the health and empowerment of women, the nurturing and mentoring of children and improving education."  The company functions with the environment in mind through its partnership with ForestEthics in order to ensure that its catalogs are not printed on paper from endangered forests, and it also encourages employees to sign up for online check-stubs to decrease the amount of paper printing needs. 

L Brands' philanthropic initiatives contribute to employee morale, creating motivated employees that improve the customer experience, thus leading to customers spending more, and creating more profit for the company and its shareholders. Increasing inventory/square footage, and training for associates are fundamental actions being taken to impact the core focus of customer experience for long-term growth. There will be some near-term expense pressure, but the company's executives are going forward with long term benefit in mind.

Considering a 13% increase to the annual dividend and a special dividend of a dollar per share, analysts estimate a median long term increase of 11.75%. L Brands' solutions for business growth combined with decent dividend increases work together in favor of the company and the long term investor. 

Coaching Call
Another company that is philanthropic and sustainably conscious is Coach (TPR 1.57%) . This company has a mission of being a leading name in lifestyle accessories and fashion. Philanthropically, Coach's mission is to "champion organizations that empower, educate and support women and children around the world." The company executes this mission through two initiatives: Coach's Women's Initiative and Coach's Education Initiative.    

Coach released its first sustainability report in 2013, outlining a clear strategy for the company's plans to comply with key sustainability changes. The report outlined four "pillars" of focus based on stakeholders' most important concerns combined with company values:

  • Employee engagement - attracting the best talent and engaging those employees via opportunities for personal and professional growth in a supportive and diverse atmosphere;
  • Supply Chain Stewardship - collaboration with raw material providers and manufacturing partners via social audits, unannounced visits, and training to ensure places of production follow the highest labor standards; 
  • Environmental Conservation - improving data collection and analysis for better intel to use in making actionable decisions to conserve and reduce energy usage and waste production; 
  • Community Empowerment - use of the women's and education initiatives along with the environmental efforts to support local communities. 

Coach's sustainability strategy aligns with its business strategy, thus supporting long term financial success. The strategy is set to drive business results and create efficiencies that better manage operating costs. In fiscal 2013, net sales increased 6.6% to $5.08 billion, showing that the company is already driving business in a positive direction.

These sustainable efforts are set to manifest a workplace environment and corporate partnerships that boost employee morale as well as foster positive business relationships to create a happier company for the long-term. Sustainable companies that have positive employee morale and meaningful business partnerships create a workplace atmosphere that is beneficial to not only the company but also the customer, which leads to more sales and better business results.  

Cool to the Kors

Michael Kors (CPRI -0.47%) is a brand that is high-fashion, tailored to the luxury lifestyle, and run by a group of well-known, award winning fashion designers and leaders. The designer, Michael Kors, is famous for his apparel being infused with stylish elegance and an expressive, sporty attitude. 

On the MK PR site,, you can find how seriously Kors takes his passion for fashion, luxury, and world hunger. In 2013, Michael Kors partnered with the United Nations World Food Programme, and many other well-known names, to launch the initiative #WATCHHUNGERSTOP. This initiative is set to raise funds in order to provide food for children and families around the world in an effort to fight world hunger via the sale of four specialty watches in which $25 of each sale will be donated to the World Food Programme.  

Kors' savvy style and business sense grow the company successfully via contributing to world hunger and profits all in one sale.

These three companies are committed to being environmentally and socially responsible, while remaining profitable and operationally efficient. When investing for the long term, you have to go beyond the bottom line and understand why the company matters -- how it is making a difference. When shopping for sustainable investments, don't be afraid to think outside of the energy and automotive boxes -- all sectors make key contributions to a sustainable future, one company at a time.