Fashion, brand and politics: when to speak up and when to stay quiet

Fashion, brand and politics: when to speak up and when to stay quiet

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the duration of 2016, you may have noticed there’s been quite a lot going on in the world.

This year has seen what’s felt like an unheralded amount of political upheaval, social protest and shifts in the status quo. With a bombardment of press coverage and social media opinion constantly feeding into our everyday lives it’s become pretty tough to escape politics, and it feels like we’ve all become more politically aware.

On the flipside we live in an age of commodity, wealth and mass consumerism. With the dominance of social media, brands have a voice and a platform like never before. So when should brands speak up on political issues and when should they stay quiet?

Fashion has always held a mirror up to culture. It creates its own interpretation of the world we’re living in, often using its creations to make strong statements that reflect and embrace the social attitudes of its audience. Stella McCartney used her AW16 campaign to champion her ethical approach to design, superimposing bold sustainability slogans created by artist Ed Ruscha over editorial photography of environmentalist and actress Amber Valetta under the banner of #Stellacares. A strong stance in an industry often seen as focusing on the superficial.

Can brands change the world? No, not on their own. But they can raise awareness and help bring issues into the wider public consciousness.

This is not to say that brands who don’t engage in political and social causes don’t care or are less worthy of our attention. Escapism is important. Fashion and culture can also be a means of removing ourselves from the world around us and transporting us to a different place. A happier place, a more creative place, perhaps a more empowering place.

The best brands and creators have this power. They can uphold values that are important to the individual rather than the wider world. Gucci’s recent campaigns have transported us to worlds of whimsy, enchantment and cinematic beauty that are as far removed from issues such as Brexit as you can get. We all need to escape to these places occasionally.

When we help position any brand the first thing we generally ask is why rather than what. What you’re selling is important, but why you’re selling it is the reason people will actively engage with your brand. A strong political stance will alienate a percentage of your potential audience, but it can create greater engagement with those passionate about your cause. But an unnecessary or unfocused stance that detracts from the real and more relevant values that an audience is looking for in your brand can do you more harm than good.

Define your values, whatever they are, and define your audience. Communicate to them passionately and authentically and you will make a connection. Changing the world is great, but making an individual’s life better, even on the smallest of scales, can be pretty rewarding too.

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