Normally I always say the customer comes first. What you design, what you make, what colors, fabrics, styles, sizes, price points you sell are all shaped by who your customer is. The last few weeks, though, have shown that there is one area of your fashion business that shouldn’t be in reaction to your customer – your brand values. What your brand cares about, values, and supports needs to come from within the company. Specifically, brand values need to come from the founders and those who lead the company.
Why is there this distinction? Have you noticed how some brands’ support of a cause seems genuine while some seems reactionary, shallow, or hypocritical? It could even be the same message shared by two different brands, but one is well-received, and the other isn’t. I think the difference is that we can all tell when a brand is professing opinions or showing off values that those in power in the company don’t really believe in. We can tell that some brands are just telling customers what they want to hear.
Yes, brand values are a strong point of connection on which you can engage with your customers. I’ve been seeing a trend growing for a while now of consumers putting their money where their values are and caring that the brands they buy from align with their lifestyle and beliefs. It is very important to be able to share that with your customers. But what your customers really want is connection. And in order for there to be that connection, they have to feel like there are real people who really live those values behind the brand name.
More and more, we are blending our work and our lives together and wanting there to be greater purpose and alignment between all the aspects of our lives – both as consumers and as professionals and entrepreneurs. It is harder to compartmentalize different areas of our lives. What you personally value (or don’t value) will naturally seep into your work and into the business you run. Many entrepreneurs founded their businesses on a value-based mission. It is important to make sure as your company grows, that that mission and your brand’s values still do align.
And, like it or not, brands are not being allowed to stay “neutral” on important issues anymore. Even in silence, brands are saying something about what they believe. How will your brand react to world issues, current events, and social movements? It needs to be based on how you as the founder want to join the conversation.
In some cases, you and your brand may be just starting to voice your values or support a cause or movement that you previously had not been active in. It is great to see more people and brands speaking up about things that really matter, just make sure that you join the conversation humbly and let people know that although you haven’t always been active in your support, you want to grow, learn, and be so now. Most importantly, make sure you go beyond the hashtags and back up the talk with action within your company in how it operates long-term.
So what do you as the owner, founder, or designer of your brand value? How are those values intentionally or unintentionally reflected in the way you run your fashion business, design and market your products, and relate to your customers? Whether you are just starting your business or have been established for a while, now is a great time to evaluate these things and see where there might be mismatches between your and your team’s values and the public-facing values of your brand.
In order for your brand values to have impact in your business and to connect genuinely with your customers, these values have to stem from what you actually value and how you actually run your business. Brand values are the one thing that can’t be customer-first.