It’s June 1, and the rainbow flag is about to become ubiquitous on fashion websites and storefronts.
Retailers have made marking Pride Month through marketing and branding efforts and by selling themed merchandise an annual exercise. While every act of affinity helps build and sustain inclusion, some retailers are putting thought into action by donating proceeds from these limited-edition merchandise sales to LGBTQ-focused organizations and nonprofits. But as a generation of opinionated and vocal consumers makes its presence – and purchasing power – felt, it is time to question whether retailers can and should do more and substantiate actual change.
Fashion is one of the more important mediums of self-expression, which gives retail both the opportunity as well as the responsibility to make a difference. And there is a changing consumer cohort that gives outsized importance to a brand’s values and how closely these align with its own. Inclusion is among the most important concerns. More than a third of Generation Z consumers know someone who identifies as nonbinary and prefers gender-neutral pronouns and more than half shop outside of their assigned gendered area. Consumers today are not only comfortable with brands taking gender inclusivity seriously, they expect it.
What can retailers do to support the LGBTQ community that counts more than simply dressing up windows in rainbow colors and writing a thoughtful but fleeting social media post? Here are some recommendations:
Leadership must reflect inclusion: Diversity and inclusion have long been corporate goals for retailers, but this strategic priority should permeate through the organization – especially at the executive level. Diversify your senior leadership, with more than token representation from women, openly gay people, and other minorities, to bring about an organic culture shift. At the same time, continue investing in benefits and corporate policies that prevent discrimination. Strengthen zero-tolerance policies on homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic discrimination, and communicate clear routes to report any anti-LGBTQ action or statement. Ensure that your employee resource groups have the voice and the power to impact your policies as well as product.
Make room for more than the binary: Luxury has been more comfortable with the concept of gender-fluid fashion, but brands have been slow in bringing the idea off the runway into more mainstream product. But as the apparel and beauty consumer continues to blur the boundary between the old binary of products aimed at men or women, brands must do the same. Retailers including Nike, Target, Zara, and Banana Republic have launched gender-neutral collections, but brands can be bolder in both the depth of assortment and how widely they market it.
Get the language right: Retailers must be thoughtful and deliberate about how they address and identify their consumer both externally in marketing and internally in strategy. Addressing the consumer using binary pronouns, for instance, not only limits your customer base but can also go against what you are driving as a business. Consumers can and will differentiate between actions that are authentic versus those that are superficial or simply trying to coopt a movement.
Go beyond the one-off celebration: Continue to support Pride events but consider other key dates throughout the year that you may want to back as well, especially through partnering with the right organizations that may already work in the space. In many cases and depending on your brand goals, it may be more effective to associate more closely with events including International Transgender Day of Visibility, National Coming Out Day, etc. Also create easy ways for employees and the business to donate to or volunteer at organizations working in and for LGBTQ communities.
Brands have played a commendable role in bringing Pride into the wider consciousness and expressing solidarity with the LGBTQ movement. But it’s time for the retail industry to take the next step. Especially this year, when the community will be forced to celebrate in different ways in the absence of Pride parades, it is incumbent on businesses to find new ways to engage authentically. With consumers as discerning as they are at the moment, brands must connect with them beyond a single touchpoint and establish a values-based relationship that can engender lasting loyalty.