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Fashion Must Take a Meaningful Stand on Social Issues

By Joshua Williams


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If the events at the U.S. Capitol early this year are any indication of what’s to come, 2021 is surely going to be a year about deep reflection and change. Over the past year, it’s become clearer that shared ideals that create unity in society are delicate, that racial, ethnic and gender disparities are front and center in the US, China and Europe. And fashion brands are being required more and more to take a public stand in addressing issues of social justice.

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Sabrina Lynch, Senior Vice President of Culture and Marketing Communications at Taylor Strategy, and a TEDx speaker, offers companies three clear strategies to mitigate and correct issues of social justice internally. First, she says: “To understand social issues, you really need to appreciate the tapestry of culture and the complex issues facing so many communities. And you’ll never be in a position to do so when you’ve consciously, or unconsciously sometimes, recruited a talent who only offers one singular perspective.” She emphasizes, “If you are already a statistical problem, when customers can’t see themselves in the employees, then you’ve got bigger issues you need to address before you even start addressing external issues. So, fix your home before you start fixing the world.” Secondly, she stresses that companies must plan for long-term builds on social initiations, whether it’s educational programs, allegiances, employee resource groups, or shaping policies. “You are entering the business of resolve and conflict resolution. And that is a 24/7 commitment. It is not an anchor for a campaign that has an expiration date, based on a quarterly projection, or the messaging that you want to communicate. A band-aid doesn’t mend a broken leg, and it’s the same with a knee-jerk strategy.”

Thirdly, Sabrina points out that there are multiple injustices that take place in the world, so in a complex industry like fashion, it’s especially important for companies to take a considered approach to the issues they wish to support. After all she says, “You can’t be a jack of all trades, but a master of none.”

Beyond dealing with these issues internally, companies are also beholden to their customers. Sabrina stresses, “When it’s all said and done, customers will review what your leadership brought to the table and the legitimate reasons behind your involvement. Heartfelt, proactive activism goes a long way.”

Additionally, customers demand value alignment, but also a constant flow of new products at low prices. It can be difficult then for fashion brands to ameliorate these two competing forces and do it authentically, not simply as a marketing ploy.

“Overall, consumers are still being very reserved with their spending. They are seeking comfort in investment products. But that’s not reflective of the price. Usually when you say investment product, it’s indicating there’s a hefty price tag to pay out, but COVID has completely switched up the game.” And Sabrina underlines that quality continues to win over quantity in the decision-making process. “You’re seeing more consumers embrace a minimalist lifestyle based on their most essential needs and comfort.”

So, how can international fashion brands authentically speak to social justice, when relationships and histories to these issues can be quite different from one region to another? Or when their modus operandi has traditionally been to avoid social or political issues altogether?

“Let your guard down and listen. When you come to a conversation that’s addressing volatile issues: religious genocide, brutality against black people, legal oppression of LGBTQIA communities; you cannot be defensive. The conversation isn’t about you. The conversation is about what more you should be doing.” Sabrina also recommends that companies create support groups. “How can you manifest commitment to ongoing education, to not just your company, but to a customer base who you reach, but may not understand or empathize with these issues that you’re looking to support?”

Dealing with issues of social justice can be daunting for any company, as it requires constant attention and a long-term commitment. Sabrina suggests that companies start first with a focus that aligns closely with a company’s mission and values. And she recommends that companies find support. “Seeking counsel from experts to make a checklist of actions that customers and your staff want to implement straight away helps create a roadmap on what you wish to accomplish.”

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