PR trends & subtle discrimination in retail

How do you overcome social challenges within the fashion industry?

Just like the global economy, the fashion industry is facing several challenges. Environmentally conscious production is becoming increasingly important and social issues such as diversity and inclusion are crucial to create a sustainable society.

How will the fashion industry evolve? How can you communicate as a brand about this topic? And how can you as a retailer help eliminate discrimination? On our Fashion Community Night, we took a close look at the fashion industry with four experts. We discussed the current trends and cast a glance at the future.

The future is circular and inclusive

Niki de Schryver opened the panel discussion with her vision of the fashion industry which is according to her not only circular but also ethical and inclusive. An honest economy, without egos, is what COSH! is all about. In Europe, sustainability is decisive for 20% of customers when they buy clothes and we know that this will become even more relevant in the future.

The sustainable world is turning white today

The vast majority of campaign images remain white. Often, when we have non-white models in the campaign, we have” wokewashing”, which refers to a marketing strategy that does not bring real change in the industry. Even within fashion companies themselves, there are few people of colour. Structural racism and discriminations are unfortunately deeply ingrained, even in the sustainable fashion world.

"Structurally excluding a certain group is anything but sustainable," stressed Niki de Schryver. It is crucial that the fashion world embraces inclusiveness in addition to sustainability.

Future PR Trends

How do you communicate as a brand or a store?

The way you present your store or brand into the world is becoming increasingly important. This is why PR (public relations) expert, Ikram Annouri was present on our event. She has 5 years of experience in the PR world and works as a lifestyle and fashion consultant. She also works for the cultural sector.

"Today, the focus on culture is increasing," says Ikram Annouri. It is therefore very important to think about your target group before launching an advertising campaign. For each group, you should know their habits and what is important to them in order to create a link with the customers. By making a connection as a brand or a store, you will be able to reach them.

Actions speak louder than words

"Several brands set goals that they want to achieve by a certain year (such as sustainable goals or being more inclusive). But if you want to build a credible brand, your actions are the most important," says Ikram Annouri. "A large part of your audience is online and has access to a lot of information. This allows them to make quick judgments about your brand. Nice words are not enough to convince consumers," Ikram emphasizes.

Researcher Aurélie Van de Peer agrees. Last year we saw many well-intentioned initiatives that called for the fashion industry to slow down. "Unfortunately, these often remained words. A large group of people is still standing on the sidelines."

How can you reach a diverse group of consumers?

It is important to be inclusive. But why exactly? Niki de Schryver explained that a world without inclusion will never be fully sustainable. We also asked this question to PR expert Ikram Annouri: “The world is diverse. Talking to one particular target group is increasingly irrelevant as a result."

The tip for reaching a diverse target group? "Involve someone in your communication team from the start who thoroughly understands your target group," Ikram advises. Only then, you will be able to communicate an authentic message. It is important to make the right choices internally.

Discrimination in retail

Research in 301 Flemish and Brussels clothing shops

Structural racism is unfortunately still present in our society, including in clothing stores. Shopping is therefore not always pleasant for everyone.

COSH! talked to the doctoral researcher Dounia Bourabain. She investigated ethnic and gender discrimination among fashion retailers in Flanders and Brussels through 602 practical tests in 301 clothing stores. The research team compared two individuals who entered a store with a 15-minute difference. White men of Belgian and men of Maghreb origin. The same test was carried out on women. What did it show?

  • Sales clerks put less time and effort into the customer of Maghreb origin. They were also 16% less guided to the right clothing rack and less likely to consult the stockroom to find a particular size.
  • While 4% of customers of Belgian origin felt watched by sales clerks, this was a staggering 19% for customers of Maghreb origin. An exceptionally large difference.
  • 19% of customers of North African origin feel watched by salespeople compared to 4% of white customers.
  • There are also gender differences. Men are greeted more quickly and are also more likely to be offered spontaneous assistance. The price range of the store also plays a role. Discrimination decreases as the price range increases, but discrimination will take a more subtle form.
What can stores do to address discrimination?

Dounia Bourabain explains that sensitizing and informing the retail sector is crucial. The differences in treatments are so undetectable and often based on biases that people are often unaware of. Creating more awareness is certainly necessary.

What can you do as a retailer? We asked this question to researcher Dounia Bourabain. Through tailor-made trainings you can learn about discrimination and how to counteract the biases that give incorrect information about the customers who enters the store. This can also be accompanied by an anti-discrimination policy that is supported by the staff.

The next step is to conduct an anonymous test on the field. From Dounia, we learned that large chains already conduct practical tests to test customer satisfaction. It is therefore a small effort to include other elements such as subtle discrimination.

After sensitizing and informing, you can be proactive as a store by adjusting the work culture. This will prevent discrimination and ensure that all customers feel welcome.

On to the future

In addition to sustainability, include inclusiveness

As with sustainability, we at COSH! believe that inclusiveness should also be an important value in businesses and stores. We take into account sustainability and diversity. This is the only way to a society in transition.

Good examples show the way

During the panel, Researcher Aurélie Van de Peer explained how the corona crisis provided a "stop signal" to the fashion industry but it did not really change the industry. "The industry still has a long way to go and we have to dare to question the foundation of the system," Aurélie concludes. She is hopeful though. Many small initiatives today demonstrate how things can be done differently. Good examples that show the path to a better future.

At COSH! we are in favour of putting good examples in the spotlight. We believe that they are the engine for change. We are very happy to have welcomed so many alternatives at our Fashion Community Night.

Do you want to discover brands and stores that strive for a better world? Find sustainable clothing within your style and budget with the COSH! shopping guide!