Another day, another high profile brand forgot to check with their diverse team of experts to ensure they will not offend potential consumers. This time, it's Versace with their Hong Kong, Hong Kong t-shirt rushing to the press with another apology and "we will do better" blanket statement in 2019.
What are fashion brands getting wrong?
We are living through a time when a heightened sense of awareness around race and gender. Major brands are more careful than ever to focus on inclusive initiatives that will allow them to broaden their customer base and perspectives. However, over the past two years, fashion brands such as Burberry, Gucci and H&M have issued the same "we will do better" press release. But the question remains -- When?
The failure of major brands to finally get it right comes down to one issue -- cultural diversity in the office. It requires more than optics, gender and race. It requires diverse cultural perspectives to avoid offending potential customers. The rise in calls for boycotts is just one way customers respond, but as we learned with Gucci and their new partnership with Dapper Dan in Harlem, big brands must take residence in the market(s) they serve.
So, how can all brands and business owners honor their commitment to "do better" across a global spectrum?
Here are three suggestions.
Improve the corporate board.
Make culture a part of the process . Quite often, major brands elect to consider themselves and a small target market of "like - minds" in the development stages of a product or concept.
However, with the focus shifting towards diversity and inclusive teams, some brands are culturally unaware of how their product can affect others. Cultural ignorance is just as insensitive as racial or gender inappropriateness. Today, there is no excuse for "not knowing," when you can readily access diverse perspectives for quality control purposes.
Ask questions .
Recently, my son's school had an International Potluck Food Festival to highlight all of the various cultural groups of the upper classmen. The group leader of the event asked me, "Do the people in your country make pineapple coconut chicken?"
I could tell she was defensive, however, I responded, "I am glad you asked before you assigned the task because Caribbean people do not have any dish with pineapples or coconuts," as we laughed lightheartedly. It was a teachable moment for her to understand that Caribbean culture and food is not monolithic.
Brands are run by people, and we all make common mistakes and assumptions. It is imperative to ask questions to ensure that your brand is adhering to the cultural values of an global customer base. Remember, brands big and small must think global, not just local. It only takes one t-shirt to offend an entire target market group, or country.
Let's take the case of the "suicide hoodie" from Burberry with ropes resembling a noose, which was first featured at London Fashion Week earlier this year. One may argue that is was harmless, but simple research would prove a distinct past with historic racial tensions and/or a symbol of self-inflicted harm.
Iconic fashion brands must conduct their own due diligence on their intended target audience. Although Burberry is an iconic, luxury British brand founded in the 1800's, it has one of the most recognizable patterns in the world and became a global brand in the 1990's. Their expansion also transcends socio-economic lines as well, which created access for all.
A bit of research would have allowed the brand to understand how their relatively new customer base will connect with their level of couture and the significance of a noose in North American culture.
Brands are run by people, and simple mistakes happen. Today, customers have a much larger platform with social media, and the blanket press release will no longer serve as an apology for mistakes, which could be avoided with a few simple steps before launching in the market.