Formerly Karl Lagerfeld’s vice president of global licensing, Terry Dean Pepper launched his namesake consulting firm at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Pepper Consulting–headquartered in Frankfurt am Main–specializes in helping companies build their business by discovering and activating their brand purpose. In his guest comment he explains why now is the time for fashion brands to leverage purpose for relevance and growth in a new reality.
“2020 marks the 30th anniversary of Madonna’s runaway (and runway) hit “Vogue” and its glamorous aesthetic fusion of pop music and fashion. An iconic moment in pop culture history, forever memorialized by Jean-Paul Gaultier’s cone bra. 30 years on, those exaggerated poses speak uncannily to our particular time: as a fascinating representation of many a fashion brand’s allure–and the pretentious vacuousness of so many others.
The Covid-19 crisis, bringing business as usual to a screeching halt, has dramatically amplified that other lingering crisis–the crisis of meaning. Now more than ever, employees and customers alike are looking to the C-suite for answers and inspiration. Many leaders are in full panic mode, unable to give guidance. And that uncertainty fuels fear.
Genuine purpose-driven leadership, on the other hand, answers the why of everyone’s work, creating a strong sense of hope and opportunity. That’s why so many purpose-led brands are responding to this crisis with reassuring determination. It’s also the reason they typically outperform purpose laggards: Years of research show, for example, that the top 10% of most productive companies are driven by purpose (Prof. Henderson, Harvard Business School).
Yes, face it: your brand’s purpose is not to generate profits. Returns are the result of how your company operates. Purpose is why your brand exists, its aspirational reason for being.
But, then, why is it that purpose, despite all the attention of late, has yet to assume greater business relevance in the fashion industry? Why is it often confused with a woke tagline and greenwash? Is it too Gandhi-esque for many boardroom bigwigs?
Socks by Scott Sternberg’s purpose-driven label Entireworld
This pause from the crazy collection cycles is the perfect opportunity for you to refocus and reimagine a post-Covid-19, or, better, a business-as-unusual return through the lens of purpose. An opportunity to create 20/20 clarity amid the 2020 crisis. And there are quite a few successful purpose-led lifestyle brands to learn from, such as the usual suspects Patagonia, Lululemon, and Asics. But there are also a growing number of more discreet purpose leaders you’re probably not familiar with, like Entireworld, launched by Band of Outsiders founder Scott Sternberg. What they all have in common is that they link purpose to strategy: They practice what they preach about their brand’s purpose, and back up words with meaningful actions, whatever the weather. And that’s exactly what the growing majority of today’s consumers expect–their bullshit meter is always on.
Purpose doesn’t just come out of thin air. The discovery process starts by asking a series of fundamental questions: Why are we in business? What was the founder’s original intention? Where have we come from? What makes us unique? What’s the job people hire us to do? But it also requires you to look forward and around your broader ecosystem to identify new needs and opportunities: Where can we take this? How can we make a meaningful difference in people’s lives? Once your purpose is formulated, the next step is to activate it consistently and continually throughout the entire organization. Remember: it’s your business purpose, not a marketing exercise. It inspires innovation and informs decision-making. It provides employees with a sense of meaning and fulfillment, creates stronger customer connections, and, ultimately, makes a positive impact on their community. In other words: The soft stuff gets you the hard stuff.
So, ask yourself: What might business as unusual with purpose accomplish? As Madonna said: Don’t just stand there–let’s get to it.”