Change of Tides

I don’t know about you, but the past few years have offered about a million reasons and ways to change the way I think. I was in a rut of accepting the status quo.

Then this wave of challenging voices washed over society and all of a sudden I was left questioning what I had involuntarily accepted as fact. To be fair, this has been building for years. Decades, even. Humanity is experiencing a colossal shift: in power, communication, spiritual beliefs, and lifestyle. This is clearly not the first major change in societal thinking, but this is the one we will remember the most – because we’re living it. History tells us that, during any major change, there will be a clashing of voices—the new voices with a vision for the future versus the old voices clinging to the tradition of years past. There will always be Luddites resisting change, not wanting to stray from the safety of what they know.

Let’s look at what is happening today, in the context of fashion. Which brands are reanalyzing or auditing themselves alongside the revolutionary momentum of 2018 and beyond? Which brands are plugging away as they have for decades? If you look at the businesses that have collapsed in the last decade, it’s easy to see that they did not evolve quickly enough to survive. Pressure has been mounting on businesses to keep up with increased access to information, groundbreaking technology, a demand for transparency, and new expectations for communication & marketing.

This new age has pressed us as individuals to re-examine our own values in order to find fulfilment in our lives. Similarly, brands must look inward. Do companies’ missions complement the values of the evolving consumer? And if they do, are brands following the intended course of their mission and values?

Fashion brands cannot get away with retro-fitting their beliefs when so many people are waking up to their influence as a collective of individual voices. From the dictatorial nature of past advertising strategies to the underrepresentation of people of colour, genders, or body types, (to name a few) the fashion industry has a lot to repent for. We can do better and we must. Consumers care, which means businesses must care. Customers can recognize groups that are changing just to keep up and those that are changing because it’s the right thing to do. In the past, customers may have been able to recognize the greenwashing of brands pretending to keep up with environmental sustainability, but now the focus is more on the underlying values of a brand and how that is communicated through their product. Currently, there is a certain level of brand humility that seems to be missing from the market: industry change must come from a place of authenticity. This is fast becoming a non-negotiable and brands who have prioritised their values as much as their product are already gaining an advantage. Think of brands like Reformation, Patagonia or Vetta. This “authenticity” can get very personal – why not read more in my related but more individual response in this article called Industry Interconnection Part 3: Authenticity and Satisfaction?

The fashion industry has an extreme amount of influence, but we must acknowledge the collective power of the consumer. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Simon Sinek, marketing consultant and inspirational speaker made this point in his viral Ted Talk, “Start With Why.” If a business has no “why,” both their customer and employee engagement will suffer, leaving both groups uninspired and unmotivated. Consumers today are savvy to the short-term joy that shopping brings. What they buy and what we sell needs to be more meaningful than just a physical object. Forget the labels of “consumer” and “employee” and “client” and “supplier”- we need to inspire and respect one another as individuals on a collective journey. What’s more, it’s becoming clearer that the values embedded in our trade are the real commodity.

This is an exciting time for fashion. It’s hard to know what is coming next because of the sheer volatility of many aspects of society. While unsettling, we can view it as a great time to slow down and re-evaluate our purpose. The fashion industry has been go, go, go for decades. It’s refreshing to think that we really must just stop for a moment and ask ourselves “Why?”

Do you see and feel the momentum of humanity’s shift in thinking? Can you think of brands that openly admit where they need to grow? Can you think of others who simply stay quiet? Where does your work fall on the spectrum? Do you know the core values that drive your business? We’d love to hear from you. Please share this if you think a friend or colleague would enjoy it.

Title image: Photo by Lasaye Hommes, badges image by Joao Tzanno & shop windows image by Simon Launay all on Unsplash
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