The apparel market is a difficult business arena: as many as 75 million competitors, a history of astronomical waste, and the constant battle over inclusion. Since so many voices interact with fashion brands on a regular basis, a PR-crisis can quickly take on a life of its own: broadcast across social media, re-tweeted and re-shared by the masses, in a matter of moments.
When an apparel brand takes a hit to their reputation and still manages to rebuild, it’s certainly worth taking notes–if a top brand like H&M and Lululemon fixed their damaged reputation, so can you. What’s more, you can learn a few things about how to build a good reputation, through such observation.
Ignorance is Irrelevant
A decade ago Gap dealt with a situation related to child labor in factories from which they sourced materials. No stranger to controversy, Gap tackled the problem head on: immediately expressing outrage, severing ties with the subcontracted company from which the claim was made, and refusing to sell the offending garments in stores.
Too often, in the face of controversy, a company will move to voice ignorance, which can come across as denial. In a digital age of global communications a simple, “We didn’t know this was going on” is grossly insufficient. Consumers want:
- Expressed outrage
- Quick action
- Restitution, if at all possible
Consequently, Gap, Inc continues to be one of the world’s largest clothing companies, known for its commitment to sustainability and industry best practices, with reasonable pricing
Restitution = Reputation
Lululemon spent years reputation building in their Vancouver, Canada community, through active participation. Their business model continues, where employees engage in athletic activities, testing their own gear, and encouraging the achievement of personal goals with genuine personal interaction.
But in 2013, after a debacle with transparent black yoga pants (and some inappropriate commentary from the CEO), Lululemon saw a decline in sales that looked like it might sink their downdog ship.
Within a few years, the company had recovered, but it took more than a costly pants recall: only after the founder stepped down did things really take an upward turn.
Sometimes the only restitution that will restore reputation is a change in personnel.
Transparency and Timelines
H&M is no stranger to controversy: copyright infringement, outright copying, and marketing that misses the mark— nearly every time the Swedish mega-apparel company turns a corner, it seems they hit a wall.
One of the biggest hits had to do with chemical pollutants used by contractors selling to H&M and other fast fashion retailers. H&M saw its name dragged through the mud, but it made two very smart decisions: be transparent, and set specific targets.
H&M published targets for conscious consumers about sustainability, waste, and a commitment to improvement. Water stewardship and chemical management were at the top of their list, including a goal to “help to lead our industry towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals” by 2020. Other targets have already been met. The report does 3 things well:
- Acknowledges customer concern, going so far as to call them “conscious consumers,” a validation of those concerns.
- Offers transparency, while at the same time outlining some of the difficulties in the industry as a whole–which, in effect, also disperses some of the blame.
- Names specific goals, thereby likely alleviating the concerns of many or most consumers.
Take a Thread from Fashion
If you want to develop a reputation as a leader in your industry, you can learn from top apparel brands like H&M and Lululemon: even tears in the fabric of a reputation do not necessarily last forever.