WHY FASHION BRANDS OWE LGBTQ+ CUSTOMERS MORE THAN JUST PRIDE COLLECTIONS

This week, Olivia Elliott explores the issues surrounding Pride collections and what more fashion brands can do to support the LGBTQ+ community.

I would be forgiven for thinking that every day earlier this month was both rainy and sunny, as everywhere I turned I could see a rainbow. Maybe there was a contest involving pots of gold and leprechauns that I hadn’t been informed of, or maybe, just maybe, Pride was in full swing. Fashion brands joined members of the LGBTQ+ community and heterosexuals alike in the fight for equal rights and representation for all. Or so I thought.

Fashion brands embracing Pride in their collections seems progressive, and on the surface it is. However, how long can we ignore the brands’ motivations behind the appearance of celebration and acceptance?

Earlier this month, Pride celebrations erupted in the nation’s capital for London Pride. This only bolstered the marketing of Pride collections from fashion brands such as H&M and Nike. And while the whole country was caught up in a frenzy deciding whether to invest in. Whether it was a rainbow t-shirt or rainbow-strap bag, the whole thing couldn’t help but feel like a very cleverly packaged marketing ploy. Was it?

There’s no denying Pride collections do some good. They raise money for LGBTQ+ organisations and present the community as one which should be celebrated. For their 2019 Pride collection, ASOS partnered with the LGBTQ+ organisation GLAAD and donated 100% of the net profit from the collection to the organisation.

Other companies gave a significant proportion of their profits to similar groups, such as Ralph Lauren Polo who gave 50% of the proceeds from their collection, and H&M who gave 10%. In addition to raising funds, Pride collections show a positive representation of the community, such as H&M’s campaign that starred transgender actress and LGBTQ+ advocate Laverne Cox.

A survey by digital marketing agency Reboot Online found that 84% of the LGBTQ+ community feels “positively” about branded Pride campaigns. However, when looking at the benefits, it’s also important to look at the costs. And no, I’m not referring to the cost of plastering a rainbow stripe on the sole of a trainer – but the cost to the LGBTQ+ community itself.

Reboot Online revealed that just 64% of brands with Pride collections donate money to relevant charities. The agency claimed many brands are simply “jumping on the rainbow bandwagon without giving back”.

Brands are becoming more aware of the financial benefits of monetising Pride. According to LGBTQ+ research firm, Community Marketing & Insights, 78% of people surveyed said they tend to support companies that market and back the LGBTQ+ community. Furthermore, companies are beginning to understand the power that the community have as consumers.

According to the most recent data from Witeck Communications, the marginalised group have a combined buying power of around $917 billion. Therefore, is it really all that surprising that more brands are choosing to capitalise on what has quickly become the latest fashion trend?

So it would seem – big surprise – that there are financial benefits of monetising Pride. The problem with this is it means that often there is minimum payout from brands, in the sense that not much is required from them when it comes to charitable donations or providing actual support to LGBTQ+ individuals. However, they achieve maximum reward when it comes to profits and their brand image.

Pride collections themselves may not be the problem, but instead the actions, or rather the lack of yearround action, from fashion brands when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues. Transgender and non-binary actor and model Indya Moore took to Twitter to express their issues with Pride collections after fronting Calvin Klein’s 2019 Pride campaign. The actor and model wrote, “Celebrating Pride month is giving to queer not selling to queer.”

They added, “Representation shouldn’t be an annual event, holiday or a marketing strategy. It should be a normalized & regular protocol whenever it’s time to hire.” This suggests that Pride collections are too much about the products and not enough about the message or actions of the fashion brands who offer them.

Showing a continued commitment to LGBTQ+ issues even when there is no financial incentive to do so would show consumers that a brand’s celebration of Pride is legitimate. Year-round support for LGBTQ+ issues may not carry a financial incentive, but the impact on the community would be just as powerful, if not more so.

Some fashion brands seem to be getting it right. Take Adidas, for example. The sportswear company enlisted drag performer Flawless Shade, among other celebrities, to make a short film talking about their experiences and the LGBTQ+ movement.

Canadian clothing company Club Monaco launched their ‘Love Starts Here’ campaign, which featured their employees wearing the sweatshirt from the brand’s Pride collection and sharing personal stories on how they’ve been impacted by the LGBTQ+ community. In both of these instances the focus of the campaign did not lie solely on the products but instead on real people and their real experiences. The products were merely an extension of this.

Lack of representation isn’t just an issue involving the models cast in campaigns but one facing companies as a whole. In some cases brands seriously miss the mark when it comes to the narrative their Pride campaigns run with. For example, in 2018 sportswear brand Nike released their ‘Be True’ collection for Pride which featured many of their classic designs with the pink triangle. This symbol has been systematically used throughout history to draw attention to LGBTQ+ people, including as a way to mark LGBTQ+ individuals who were murdered by the Nazis. Regardless of the brand’s intentions, they clearly missed the mark, and their collection was deemed insensitive by many.

When brands try to align themselves with a certain group but don’t have enough representation of this group within their management, they can end up getting the narrative all wrong. Some brands have made efforts to tackle this issue. As the Associate Director of Global Beauty Communications at Procter & Gamble and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Brent Miller led haircare brand Pantene’s 2019 “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m BeautifuLGBTQ” ad campaign.

This is an example of a Pride campaign allowing LGBTQ+ people to have control over the way their community’s stories are told. If brands want to get their narrative right and therefore truly appeal to the community their posters say they care about, they should be committed to representation – from their ad campaigns and runway shows, to their head office.

There is the fear that Pride collections will only marginalise the LGBTQ+ community further within the fashion industry. In 2017, LGBTQ+ model, Elizabeth Pinzon, said, “In the industry, in order to fit the ‘glass slipper,’ I have to delve into my femininity or else I will only be able to model in a niche market.”

Any fashion brand that launched a Pride collection this year has a commitment to not only support, but promote and progress LGBTQ+ rights and representation. If brands make money out of a social issue by commercialising it, then they have the responsibility to support and promote active social change long after the rainbow banners have come down. London Pride may be over – but the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights is not.

You can read more of Olivia’s work on Twitter by following @livielliott09

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