From the Catwalk to the Office

Lessons from the fashion industry for social change organizations

Twice a year, the top fashion houses in the world gather to show their collections in Milan, Paris, New York and London. When fashion week in Paris ended this month, it provided plenty of takeaways from the runway. Fashion is currently the king of creating original and compelling content. From getting David Lynch to do a short film for Dior to Burberry producing sequential content on Instagram, its content innovation is held in such high esteem that non-fashion industries are increasingly poaching fashion executives to run branded content. What, then, can social change organizations learn from the fashion industry when it comes to creating content and messaging?

Always be true to the codes of your brand when you create content.

Think about Chanel’s tweed, Valentino’s red or Alaïa’s signature silhouette; they should immediately conjure a distinct image in your head. Your content is your brand. Your brand is your content. There’s a duality to always consider. Content must be strategically planned and thoughtfully executed.

Tailor your content to the portal where you plan to post.

A perfect example is Ozwald Boateng on Instagram, which strategically turns small photos into part of a larger photo, often posting 4-6 small photos that line up to be a large motif, which provides a unique user experience and engagement. Take the time to tailor your strategy to the portal and then execute it perfectly—your brand will thank you.

Omnichannel is not just a buzzword.

Fashion provides a true omnichannel approach, which services consumer experience across all portals from pre-purchase through post-purchase. The fashion industry spends significant time on the pre and post purchase, which includes substantial data research in the pre-purchase phase, while the post-purchase phase almost always involves a tailored “thank you for buying” package, which often includes flowers and a hand written card. While social change organizations often do not have the budget to send flowers each time, organizations can send a quick email to continue user engagement and build engaged brand ambassadors.

Don’t be product-centric; be brand and story centric.

The product becomes a subset of the brand, and for social change organizations, this development means pushing the impact and mission rather than the process. Fashion filmmaker Ruth Hogben explores this balancing act brilliantly in her film for Gareth Pugh’s Spring/Summer 2016 collection.

Engage influencers, but remain authentic.

Influencer engagement is arguably the most effective form of marketing today. Fashion bloggers, fashion magazines and reality shows are the modern gatekeepers of the fashion industry. Engaging influencers often leads to terrific results, but if the influencer is not a true brand ambassador and is just a paid shill, more damage will be done than doing nothing. It’s better to have an influencer with a smaller circle that will resonate with your audience than a larger name that will miss the mark.

Position your leadership accordingly.

Look at the top fashion houses in the world; each has its leadership positioned on a very specific issue, whether it’s Chanel buying historical companies to preserve craftsmanship and skills or Brunello Cucinelli paying wages 20% above average to foster a sense of community amongst workers and a progressive labor force, strategically identify your specialty and lead on it; if you’re not leading, you’re getting none of its benefits.

Embrace Newness.

Fashion houses can show up to 16 collections per year with each collection having a unique flair. Even cities can get in on the newness action, with New York extending its Made in NY campaign to fashion. Social change organizations must always embrace the unknown and know that changes can happen quickly. When you accept the inevitability of change, you create lasting social change.