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What Corporates can Learn from Fashion Brands

Fri, 03/15/2019

In a world where transparency, sustainability, and diversity are important pillars, a lot of organizations are far behind. Consumers know now better than ever how to see through that and call organizations out for it.

By Bob Bruinenberg, Creative Advisor, MSL Netherlands

The world of fashion and fashion brands is big. It is an industry that makes, breaks, sets and follows trends. It is also an industry that’s changing old-fashioned business models for the better. But the image of the fashion industry hasn't been reputable to say the least.

In a world where transparency, sustainability, and diversity are important pillars, a lot of organizations are far behind. Consumers know now better than ever how to see through that and call organizations out for it.

Even though fashion brands could improve a lot in terms of sustainability (such as sweatshops and overconsumption), some are ahead of the trends in terms of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). Few are also setting new standards by leaning towards brand activism because CSR is more than just the environment and pollution rates. It’s about recognizing and solving social problems. Below are a few great cases that set examples for the corporate world:

1. End-to-end integration

Fashion brand Patagonia is seen as the business model of the future. They do not just talk the talk, but also walk the walk. Besides the fact that Patagonia continues to look into their own footprint, they also stimulate ‘consume-less’ and make sure that in their production, their clothes will last for a long time. Patagonia does not just consider themselves a fashion brand, but as an organization trying to change the world for the better. The production and sale of clothing is nothing but a way to achieve that objective although it’s not their main goal. Their iconic Black Friday campaign is proving this, as they donated 100 percent of their sales (about 10 million dollars) to environmental organizations.

The mindset of corporates should change, much like Patagonia. Making money should not be the only goal, rather a means to reach a higher goal. By embracing this way of thinking, new business models arise that are focused on the future.

What corporates can learn from fashion brands

2. Show courage

River Island recently launched #LabelsAreForClothes which embraces diversity. The campaign focusses on the “people” who wear the brand, irrespective of their appearance, race, belief(s) and/or sexual orientation. So, no skinny women and muscular men, but a true reflection of society. That’s how River Island is trying to break through social stereotypes and stigmas. Above all, the brand is not just talking but by acting:  donating 2,50 euros per unit sold to an anti-bullying charity.

CSR and business strategies flourish by making daring choices and setting themselves apart from competitors and being a leader in their chosen path.

3. Activate your stakeholders

Just like corporates, fashion brands get stuck in their own thinking patterns when it comes to innovation. H&M recently proved us wrong by launching a new initiative - ‘Take Care’. The Swedish clothing manufacturer launched a new product line that stimulates consumers to wear their clothes longer by providing sewing kits, environmentally friendly detergent, and a special laundry bag to counter plastic waste in the drains. H&M also launched a repair-stand, a recycling service and online assistance for removing stains. The ‘Take Care’ initiative is a logical step in their CSR-strategy which aims to actively engage with customers.

Corporates should be closer to society and engage their customers in their CSR-strategy. Developing ideas together creates an authentic communication and support, both are vital for success.

Many large firms in their “glossy” annual reports feature a ‘feel good’ project every now and then. Such approach needs to change and as the fashion industry shows us, and it certainly can. A good CSR-policies needs to be sustainable enough to shoulder the problems we face in our society today.  

CSR programs need not be developed keeping in mind business interests, rather they should inspire employees and stakeholders to invest their time and efforts in creating a better world, and subsequently to build and sustain good corporate reputation.

Corporations that see these themes as tools or templates should be careful and refrain from employing “greenwashing” or “pinkwashing” tactics to gain quick traction as they might prove to be harmful for a brand’s business. Even though a clear ‘purpose’ and social awareness are increasingly more important, the line between success and failure is fairly thin in this context. You may not have the necessary resources to create significant impact in the initial stage, the key is not to be disheartened by a slow start, you will observe change and improvement in due course of time. Most importantly, businesses should be driven and find ways to cut through the clutter, act when the time is right to avoid the risk of missing the boat.


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