Interview: Fair Fashion on the Catwalk
Ethical fashion conquers the world couture capital Paris: Good-bye hippe hemp sack, hello haute couture!
Why can't "social" be sexy and luxurious too? Why are we so afraid of "good" marketing, PR and communication in social business? Why do we think that people who value their appearance and spend money on it are by definition superficial? "Social" and "business" don't have to be polar opposites – in fact the two areas can complement each other perfectly!
A new social fashion business has just been presented at a social business convention. It is about Berber women in Morocco, who are learning the ancient art of embroidering leather at schools. The goal on the one hand is to keep this art from dying out while on the other to give people an opportunity to again earn a living using traditional knowledge. A French designer is working with them to develop new products that can compete on the international market. 50% of the profit is reinvested in the community, building wells and libraries for school children. A brand, a design is being developed and placed in luxury boutiques next to classic and well-known brands through PR and marketing. The whole thing is really taking off. The first boutiques have already been identified and are selling bags. So far, so good.
Then the first comment comes from the audience:
"How can you allow those arrogant fashionistas to wear your lovingly hand-crafted bags on their shoulders? They don't even understand what it is really all about." Silence – one half of the audience nods in agreement, the other half looks appalled. The truly surreal nature of this moment is that for the woman from the audience, the speaker, had she met her on the street and not at the conference, would surely fall into the fashionista category herself.
What is the motivation behind such comments? Why can't "social" be sexy and luxurious too? Why are we so afraid of "good" marketing, PR and communication in the social business sector? Why do we think that people who value their appearance and spend money on it are by definition superficial?
Not too long ago two worlds collided when the words "social" and "business" came together. Seen from outside, they seemed to have little in common – and were surely not complementary in nature. It would be easy to get the idea that "social business" was an oxymoron in our world, a contradiction in and of itself.
Not until Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 did "social business" become a topic of dinner conversation. Suddenly it was on everyone's lips – "social entrepreneurship", "social impact business", etc. – opportunities for revolutionizing the economy and through "good business" changing the world sustainably for the better. This is an approach that made sense to many and has led to many new, wonderful start-ups. Except that many of these firms live in the shadows. They are only known to a small group already interested in the issue at hand.
Over decades we have become convinced that "doing good" is only good if it is done on a voluntary basis and for no compensation – non-profit. As soon as someone accepts payment or, heaven forbid, actually turns a profit, they are no longer doing something for the "goodness" of it and are just in it for the money. And that means it is no longer good, which is to say that whether or nothing something is good is often linked to the selfless nature of an action and not the result.
Reservations towards all the tools that control classic market mechanisms are firmly anchored in our consciousness.
Marketing and PR are instruments from the world of profit maximization – the world of capitalism – the manipulation of consumers to force them in the most deceitful manner possible to buy products they don't really want. And it gets even worse – marketing and advertising use very cheap psychological tricks, like beautiful women and famous people (people we trust), to fool us into believing in a world that doesn't exist.
But in this day and age, shouldn't we be appealing to enlightened people, calling out "sapere aude" – "dare to be wise". Be curious and open!
People want to be seduced (and that is not said judgmentally) – of course it is wonderfully fun to buy something presented as beautiful and alluring; something that tells a story that fascinates and casts its spell on me. A story that I make MY OWN by buying into it, a story I can then tell myself and become part of a whole world. Every form of communication is based on the construction of a solid storyline.
Ethics is not a USP – it is not enough to simply argue "but we are good". The presentation of social or ecological added value as a selling point alone won't do it – in general at least.
The goal of every company is to achieve long-term success on the market. That is, after all, the only way to effect sustainable change. To this end a brand has to be developed – consistently and continuously. Building a brand and its communication and marketing can and should be little different for a social brand than for a consumer brand – the professional development of the brand, brand core, vision, mission, strategy etc. are just as important here for social success – and as such for the sustainability of the company. The same applies to marketing and communication – and perhaps you need to be even more creative as a social business, since the budget is not earmarked to be spent on advertising, but on the company's good works. In this age of social media this is considerably easier than 10 years ago. Creativity does not depend on the available budget.
Why not beat the market at its own game and use media to take the power out of prejudices and overcome them?
The argument is then often made that "we want to win people over for our content and not our appearance" – but why not package the wonderful contents attractively, wrap them up in a good story? Why not beat the market at its own game and use media to take the power out of prejudices and overcome them?
The focus here must be on making social and ecological issues interesting to the masses and packaging them so they are easy to digest. The key is to create exciting narratives that do not take a wagging finger approach, but show that social and ecological issues can be fun. Then you can overcome inhibition thresholds and prejudices from the other side and GET PEOPLE EXCITED.
The time is ripe. More and more people are searching for a meaning in life; they want to live more sustainably and get involved. We can make them attractive offers – or scare them off with boring texts and images. Today many media are happy to have exciting and new narratives that differ slightly from the norm to tell their readers. Not every medium twists what has been said – not all media are bad – and most are even seriously interested if approached in the spirit of open exchange.
Developing a brand means creating values – a process that also supports the goal of sustainability. I buy a Hermes bag because I trust the brand, for example, because it stands for specific values, because it is a symbol and embodies a specific attitude towards life and for quality. The consumer is prepared to pay the appropriate price for all these things.
That, as it were, is a positive effect of bias towards a brand, which is then a factor for the long-term success of a company. One brand is viewed as particularly reliable, another as a good bargain, the third is punctual, etc. – customers trust in these values and are loyal to the brand.
So by developing a brand I can also create added value over the long term.
And why shouldn't a "social brand" be "worth" just as much as a normal one? Shouldn't it really be even more "valuable"?
So when faced with the prejudices named above, their power can be fairly quickly removed though transparency and honest communication. After all, if you have nothing to hide, you can communicate openly.
Some social business companies are already well on their way – and their numbers are increasing. It is important here to be consistent and straightforward in the message – and to bring professional help on board as needed – just like you would for accounting! By now there are a number of agencies that specialize in "social business" and are affordable.
Let's now return to the fashionistas who are "only interested in appearance". Aren't they exactly the people we need and want to reach? Isn't it great to be raising awareness for sustainability in exactly the target groups who have little? To sensitise them in a sexy way to social and ecological issues?
Isn't it a more wonderful challenge and goal to make people who have not really been involved before curious, open and bring them on board?
Openness and curiosity – two childlike qualities – that we should all cultivate so that we are not limited by negative prejudices and can see the beauty of life.