Throughout the last decade, the fashion retail sector has arguably been challenged in ways unlike any other industry. In response, fashion has channelled its creativity into driving innovation, not only within the development of products and ranges, but also in the way organisations operate. Fashion is an industry that has been dominated by consumerism since the beginning of time, and the fashion community has been arguably the only one among such industries to recognise the need for authentic c
c considerations of inclusivity, diversity, sustainability and human rights – all while maintaining creativity – to ensure that it stays relevant for decades to come. Some of the best fashion retailers have identified problems, and their part in causing them, and adapted accordingly. They have embraced the importance of purpose in addition to profit and, in doing so, have demonstrated that brands can indeed take action and have a positive impact on changing the world around them. Many fashion brands have shifted their focus from an archaic mantra of, ‘purpose, without sacrificing profit’ to a new, upgraded vision of ‘profit, without the sacrifice of purpose’. More than just a marketing tactic Fashion and culture are intrinsically linked and always have been. Trends affect the way we dress, purchase, and segment as a society. Today, globalisation is reaching a tipping point where the entire world is connected not only in style and trends, but also in influence and responsibility – whether that’s environmental, social, or economical. A wave of purposeful marketing has started to take hold of many industries over the last 20 years. Brands that actively stand for something are now seen to have a competitive edge over their counterparts. From Apple to Patagonia, companies that are vastly different have risen to billion-dollar stardom with one similarity: an iron-clad brand strategy with a vision. A mantra that has successfully engaged their tribe for the long term. These brands have become purpose driven, and have been led by their desire to solve a problem. They wanted to change the world. While this is a more complicated brand strategy than it may seem on the surface, many organisations around the world have now started to take notice; however, many have fallen into the trap of believing they could just push out messages of support for causes alongside their latest product releases and reap the same benefits. But consumers, now savvier than ever, know that sustainable solutions are so much more than an ‘add on’ at checkout. ‘Washing’ watch Brands should never underestimate consumers today. Brands that lead with purpose only to tick a box have been called out and accused of ‘purpose-washing’, guiltily providing audiences with a token, trivial action of support or similar that may be counteracted down the line with another business decision. The #blacklivesmatter movement was arguably one of the first humanitarian considerations that brands all over the world actively picked up. Nike’s biggest campaign of the year became “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything”, featuring Colin Kaepernick. However, in 2019, Nike decided to pull Houston Rockets merchandise from Chinese stores, following comments of support for Hong Kong by the NBA team’s general manager. Consumers saw this as hypocritical, and an obvious demonstration of prioritising the $1.7 billion in revenue from the Rockets popularity in China over the brand’s hollow supposed purpose supposedly of support for those who suffer in the struggle for human rights. Compare that with Patagonia, which has pledged 1 per cent for the planet since its inception in 1985, and has since actively woven that purpose into every area of its business. Patagonia even donated 100 per cent of its Black Friday sales in 2021 to combating climate change. Other brands, like Fente X Savage, were not only among the first to truly celebrate inclusivity, but also have continued to be creative in pushing boundaries and championing their vision with fearlessness and confidence. It’s OK for brands to ask for help Until recently, it could be argued that the jaws of consumerism were too tight for big brands to break free from them. Yet other organisations, such as charities and those outside of the fashion sphere, have engaged in saving and supporting these brands and helping them become better by providing fashion brands of all shapes, sizes, and statures with innovation and fresh solutions for a more purposeful existence. Thread Together, for example, has been building its community of fashion brands with a simple solution that not only diverts deadstock from landfill, but also helps those in the community who are in need of new clothing. Thread Together sources and packs new wardrobes and delivers them to those in need, at no cost, providing prompt and much-needed support for people affected by natural disasters, domestic violence, and more. The recent floods experienced across north-east Australia have left over 1 million people without their homes, hundreds dead, and complete natural devastation in some of the planet’s most beautiful natural bushland. The floods have also caused almost a thousand fashion brands to reach out to donate everything they can, to ensure affected people have brand new clothes. This has led to pop up clothing hubs across Queensland and NSW, which create a dignified shopping experience for anyone in need. The recent invasion of Ukraine is one of the largest demonstrations of retailers, in particular fashion brands, using their platforms and organisations to take a stand. Russia invaded Ukraine during Milan fashion week, causing many brands to be accused of not acknowledging what was going on. Those who did make statements and considerations were celebrated, which has reinforced the importance of taking a stand against injustice within the fashion community. Since then, fashion brands like H&M and Boohoo have ceased all operations with Russia, Gucci has closed all of their Russian stores, companies like LVMH have offered aid to Ukrainians and Balenciaga wiped their Instagram and donated an undisclosed sum to the UN World Food Program. Brands need to get to know themselves, or risk falling behind There’s no doubt that Millenials, Gen Z and younger generations are driven by experiences, social responsibility. They care about what we are leaving behind. With these audiences dictating the future, brands who don’t recognise their place in culture and society are slowly falling behind, or being ‘cancelled’ through mass boycotts and online community backlash. Whether it’s choosing what we buy, who we follow or where we work – purpose has become a key factor in our decision making process. According to the Meaning and Purpose at Work report, nine out of 10 people] say they’d be willing to make less money if they are doing meaningful things, and Forbes reported that 81 per cent of millennial customers are more likely to purchase from companies demonstrating good corporate citizenship. Brands that have a charitable element are also five times more likely to be recommended by customers. Through an integrated and carefully considered brand strategy, brands who prioritise human needs, and who take action into their own hands to reflect and create action,, will be the ones still standing in the years to come. Brands who are able to recognise that authenticity is a value, and not a theme, and are able to put their money where their mouth is will still be in with a fighting chance. By taking a leaf out of the fashion community book, brands in all sectors can start to design strategic actions and initiatives, intentionally focused on creating a better existence for the humans that consume them.