Politics comes from the word Polis (City in Greek), that means “affairs of the cities”. Historically, we can consider three types of political systems: Authoritarianism, Monarchy and Democracy. While sources of social power didn´t change much, the capacity to impact them has innovated drastically. Today, new players such as brands are participating in the political arena and taking a stand in social and political issues.
What has politics to do with brands and the Fashion industry?
Fashion brands are icons, symbols of status, that become a way of life, an attitude… Loyal customers or brand lovers feel part of a tribe. The concept of community in fashion retail has evolved thanks to new generations use of technology (facebook, snapchat, instagram…) but also because of globalization and brands saturation. Many brands are struggling to find their place in this new environment and long tail, where dinosaurs and niche players compete directly. Consequently, fashion brands are redefining the way they spread their religious “ideologies”.
Some of the latest fashion retail trends are sustainability, transparency, traceability, sense of community, niche, local… It´s interesting to analyze trends because it shows how demand and offer, customers and brands in this case, align and find their new equilibrium. Like in a partner dance, a dancer coordinates to his/her partners´s dancing. If you don´t follow the rhythm, there is no dance, no party. So, a brand that doesn´t adapt to customer trends will stop dancing.
Talking about politics is a taboo in our society. Most of us just discuss about politics in small, friendly environments. Avoiding to do a political statement is a way to play safe. Every political party or ideology has its prejudices and people cares about others opinion. Today, that everything can be recorded, people are taking less risks (apart from populist leaders…) but something is changing…
Patagonia´s value proposition by The Fashion Retailer
So, why brands like Patagonia or Nike are leading the new fashion retail activism? In my opinion, as customers are demanding more transparency and originality, values become essential elements of the story. Humans are political and philosophical animals and many have the chance to satisfy other needs than physiological ones. Maslow defined different levels of needs but the main idea is that humans are capable to be motivated by universal values such as freedom, equality, solidarity, dignity…
Miuccia Prada said “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, specially today, when human contacts are so quick, liquid. Fashion is instant language.” People are using fashion to communicate more than their aesthetic style. Fashion is also a way to express existential beliefs and values. Back to Maslow pyramid of needs, fashion is not only about dressing to stay warm.
Today, customers are more educated about materials, the quality of the fabrics, working conditions in Developing countries, recycling textiles, the carbon footprint, social initiatives, amongst others. Many companies are going green as sustainability is the big topic. But only a few were founded including “sustainability” as their main value proposition and core DNA. A clear example is Patagonia.
Trends mentioned above and the socioeconomic and political context are pushing some brands to go beyond the standards. For example, the company founded by Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia) is endorsing democratic candidates that will help protect natural resources in Nevada and Montana. The company said it is making the move “because of the urgent and unprecedented threats to our public lands and waters.”
Another recent case of company that “forgot” to be agnostic when it comes to politics is Nike. The behemoth from Beaverton chose Colin Kaepernick, the first NFL football player to knee during US anthem protesting police violence against racial minorities, to face new campaign. Some would say that this is marketing, but something is obvious: Trump has promoted Fashion Politcs in the US.
The impact of Brexit in the fashion industry is also transforming the way brands face politics in UK. In fact, 90 % of designers told the British Fashion Council they were voting “remain”.
So, it seams, as the World is becoming crazy from geopolitics to climate change, fashion brands are becoming active organizations in defense of “their” values (e.g. human rights, sustainability, nationalism). Other brands just fill their annual reports or “About us” section with nonsense artificial mission, vision and values. Customers want authenticity and Fashion Politics could be the new black.
Levi´s, Everlane, Refinery29, Opening Ceremony, Rebecca Minkoff, Rent the Runway and Patagonia instagram accounts during latest US midterm elections (November 2018).
Millennials and Generation Z are in tune with brand´s social and environmental issues. Niche brands attract tribes, little communities that will benefit from this new approach to politics, but mainstream large retailers will have problems to position themselves as Patagonia is doing. Do you see Walmart supporting directly democrats or Republicans? Don´t think so… it´s safer to scape from this game.
At least, Fashion politics is a good thermometer to know the level of freedom of speech a country has. How many fashion brands are criticising the government in your country?