Bona Fide or Bust: Inclusivity & Diversity in Fashion

Fashion and beauty have long provided people with a sense of belonging and social identity, enabling them to express their individuality in unique ways. Today, diversity and inclusion in these industries are more important than they’ve ever been. In a locked-down world, consumers have had time to reflect on what’s most important, and are more closely analyzing not only how they spend their money but with whom. They want brands that will authentically resonate with and represent them as individuals, not ones that are retroactively adopting representation because it’s “the latest trend.” And yes, they can tell the difference.

In order to appeal to and retain the hearts and loyalty of today’s more introspective shoppers, fashion and beauty brands need to genuinely and holistically weave inclusion and diversity into their marketing and design roadmaps. In order to survive in a post-pandemic world, here’s what companies need to consider and how they should approach it.

True Authenticity

For decades, fashion and beauty — both trends and how they’re advertised to consumers — have been dictated by assumptions, stereotypes and standardizations. Today, we see story after story of companies that have missed the mark in attempts to be inclusive and, as a result, are forced to try and backtrack on what could be a game-ending mistake.

In order to truly understand a demographic, a company should include individuals from that demographic in the composition of the team and within important brand conversations. Want to target working moms? Who knows what their day-to-day experiences are like better than actual working moms. Hoping to appeal to Gen Z? Gather members of that generation for a genuine, no-nonsense discussion, and include them in the decision-making. Bringing their voices to the table throughout the research and creation process is vital for marketing and design success.

Keep Doors Open

When many think of inclusion and diversity, thoughts jump to gender, race or sexual orientation. While these are elements that the beauty and fashion industry have, until quite recently, all but neglected to consider in favor of catering to white women, the truth is that true inclusion reaches far beyond that.

Every gender, sexual orientation, income bracket and age demographic is shopping for products like skin regimens, hair care and fashion accessories. As such, brands have the opportunity to create truly inclusive experiences across their offering, not only in the products they sell and the way they’re advertised but in the design of their stores, signage and more.

Regardless of if they’re shopping or browsing, consumers want to feel just as relaxed in a high-end department store as they do in a discount retailer. In order to invite those diverse customers in, brands need to create openness in their environments — wider aisles with room to linger and peruse, for example — so that shoppers don’t feel like they’re trapped or constantly being watched. By providing the opportunity for a certain degree of anonymity, you inspire inclusion and encourage comfort.

Dressing rooms, for example, are a space where consumers can feel vulnerable and uncomfortable. Paying close attention to inclusive elements, like privacy (but not seclusion), accessibility and even sensory cues, such as lighting and music to mask sounds and calm nerves, can help customers feel more at ease.

Respect Every Customer

With the events of this year firmly top-of-mind every day, many consumers have shifted their priorities and are searching for brands who understand and reflect their new values.

Every customer’s journey is different; some will want to move quickly and autonomously — easily finding the online order pickup counter upon entry or having a dedicated spot outside for rapid curbside delivery — while some still crave discovery, like aisles that are clearly marked for safe navigation and helpful wayfinding that still allows for delightful moments to reveal themselves around each order.

Store footprints and layouts that offer both experiences are crucial, and brands that understand and cater to these preferences in an uncertain world will earn and keep their customer’s trust.

With the pandemic taking such a heavy toll on the fashion industry, brand loyalty has never been more fragile. Shoppers are paying more attention than ever to the messages and values companies portray and are demanding that they align with their own in order to earn trust and support. Those that embrace and exemplify authentic diversity and inclusivity in their products, spaces and messaging will both gain and retain the confidence and hearts of consumers for a lifetime.

MJ Munsell is the chief creative officer of MG2, a leading global retail/architectural design company. Melissa Gonzalez is CEO and chief experiential retail design expert for The Lionesque Group, an MG2 company.

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