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How Brands Can Contribute to the Social Justice Movements of Today

Jul 9, 2020

This week on The Fast Traack podcast we have the enormous pleasure of interviewing the team behind Taraji P. Henson’s TPH haircare. Specifically, Erin Williams, Director of Marketing and Product Development and Jennifer Johnson, Social Media Manager, for TPH by Taraji joined us to help answer the question, “How Can Brands Contribute to the Social Justice Movements of Today?”  We are so pleased to have the absolute best guests to answer this question! 

TLDR: Listen before you act, read the room, make sure not everyone in the room looks like you. But don’t wait too long, because otherwise people will think you’re not with them. 

Having a famous founder helps, but it should not hold you back. . 

TPH is just over 6 months old and while the brand may be new to the shelves, Taraji has decades of experience pushing hair culture forward, which is the brand’s overall goal. The brand’s founder is passionate about social justice and mental health, and so are their customers. The TPH team is fully aware that their shared values make it easier to authentically integrate their social platforms into the Black Lives Matter Movement.  

However, it’s important for ALL companies to look inward and see how they can contribute to the movement in a way that feels genuine. Consumers expect action from the brands they choose to shop. In this year’s Consumer Report, it was reported that 71% of millennials prefer to shop with companies that align with their values. It’s good business to commit to social change, but that’s not why you should do it. 

Brands can do pretty much anything, it’s a matter of what they want to do.

It’ll take a long time to undo years of hiring bias and it can feel frustrating that you can’t act on this right away. Fortunately, this isn’t the only way you can support the BLM movement. 

  1. You can show public support for the movement 
  2. You can uplift minority voices that exist within your company
  3. You can hire diverse influencers and content creators

Remember, small wins add up! A monetary donation is nice, but long term change requires action. People ultimately want to have their voices heard, and providing a platform for them to speak about issues that are important to them is empowering and can be done now.

Bring people into the room who can help you strategize.

If you're making decisions on how your brand will continue to respond to the movement and everyone in the room looks like you, you’re bound to make some mistakes. It’s important to make sure there are people of color overseeing these conversations. Depending on where you are starting from and the diversity of your current team, you can also bring in an external group or invite influencers of color to help guide your company into making long term and sustainable change. 

The most important thing you can do is ensure that you’re building a diverse team around you. Different voices add to the energy and the dimension of your brand.

Don’t pander to the movement. 

As most of us learned in elementary school, it’s important not to make promises we can’t or don’t intend to keep. Posting a black square with the promise of change isn’t enough. Your brand must diversify their influencer roaster, uplift marginalized communities, and have a strong plan in place to ensure this social justice is part of your evergreen strategy. 

Ultimately, you will get cancelled if your activism proves to be lip service. 

Remember, that these are not new issues and they are not going away!

It may feel like police brutality is at an all-time high, but these are issues the Black community have contended with for a very long time. Jennifer and Erin suspect the change comes from the conditions created by COVID-19. 

With everyone sitting in their houses, social distancing and/or locked down, it’s impossible to ignore the implications of police brutality. People who previously excluded themselves from these conversations are now having them. 

For the five months of 2020, prior to the murder of George Floyd, beauty and fashion influencers almost never posted using #BLM-related hashtags. At most, we’d see 20-50 posts per month and they often came from the same group of influencers.

The week of June 1-7, that increased to an all-time high of 36,100 posts. And while the spike has subsided, the conversation continues. In the last week of June, influencers were still actively publishing #BLM content. In fact, if you compare the last week of June to the previously most active week in #BLM content in 2020, we are seeing about 4000% more posts.

This conversation is really just starting.

Use social media to communicate with your customers.

Social media was initially created for the purpose of sharing messages in real-time, and great social media managers know how to use this to their advantage. It’s important to hire people you trust to do the right thing. People expect brands to respond to what’s happening in the moment. If you have too much red tape or too many layers of approval, you cannot be agile. For large brands, this may be hard to accept.  

When it comes to your brand's shortcomings on racial diversity, it’s important to address it head-on before getting called out. Rent the Runway did this on instagram. Although their statistics weren’t exactly palatable, they outlined how they plan to improve them with time, and opened up the conversation to their followers. 

View this post on Instagram

As we announced last week, we’ve started the important work to enact change within the fashion industry and beyond. Being transparent about where Rent the Runway is today is critical to moving forward. That’s why we’re sharing how we show up to the world across our creative productions, marketing and designer and ambassador communities – and where we want to be. We are proud to have made strides in some areas, and we have much more work to do in others. This is just the start. Inspired by @aurorajames’ #15PercentPledge, we announced that we are focusing on increasing Black representation across our channels and partners, from the models and styling talent we hire, ambassadors we work with and the people we’re representing on our brand channels. We’ve also announced that we’re allocating $1M to support and expand Black brands and designers in our Unlimited Closet – especially new brands that have not had the capital to launch on their own – through design, data and financial resources. We’re committed to use our platform to uplift talented, yet historically underrepresented Black designers to help bring the exposure they deserve. In the coming weeks, we will also pull up and publicly share this same detailed breakdown of RTR leadership team, our Board and our corporate employees. We know we have more work to do, and we own that. We are committed to making our platform as diverse as the community we serve.

A post shared by Rent the Runway (@renttherunway) on

Speaking directly to your audience is an opportunity to crowdsource ideas. If your followers are well acquainted with your brand and product, they probably have some great ideas for how it can improve. Why not ask?
Erin and Jennifer shared so much goodness with us in the podcast. I highly recommend giving it a listen. We look forward to continuing this conversation and implementing our action plan to support the Black Lives Matter movement.