Lately, a ton of brands have been slapping statement-making phrases on apparel, accessories, window displays, and more. “Retail activism” is hot right now - look left and you’ll see “Girl Power” tees all over Instagram, on the right, pride-themed rainbows scattered around H+M. There’s a lot to love - and question - about this new trend. Many of our brands’ products + Bulletin original merch calls attention to political and social issues, organizations, or causes we support. And now, with brand after brand releasing styles to honor pride, I decided to have a convo with our team and figure out why this trend has taken off in 2018 - and how to know when and if it’s fueled by good intentions. Meet Maggie Braine, Director of Product + Brand Experience, Vanessa Enriquez, Product + Visual Manager, and Elle Draper, Graphic Designer: the geniuses behind Bulletin’s store experience, product development, and brand assortment.
It seems like all of a sudden, brands, and retailers are backing certain causes and taking very public stands through the products they sell or the campaigns they run. Why did this blow up in 2018, and what does this newfound “retail activism” mean for the industry?
MB: It's no secret that 2016 brought upon a pretty seismic shift in both the political and emotional landscapes of this country (and in many ways, globally). Fashion is an accessible personal canvas for self-expression and people wanted to wear their beliefs on their sleeve - literally. Social media not only emboldened people to speak out, be political, to protest, etc, but it also showed the fashion and retail industry that there was a consumer hunger to blend protest with personal style. As for in-store experience, 47% of brick-and-mortar shoppers shop physical retail versus online to "discover.” We need store experience to be educational, enlightening, and allow customers to "discover" a new community that speaks to them or to "discover" something within themselves. Activism unites communities, but it also contributes to personal identity and self-discovery.
Do you think most brands are doing this from a genuine place, or are some just following the herd? As a consumer, how can you tell which brands have an actual value system and which are using activism to help their bottom line?
MB: I think a value system is only a value system if it runs deeply within your organization. There are a few obvious ways to tell if companies have one. At Bulletin, we host programming and design merchandise to support organizations we believe in. Our goal is to create a liberating and empowering platform for women through programming and merchandise. We are not only empowering our brands, but we're empowering and liberating our customers with the unapologetic and confident merchandise we sell.
VE: It’s important for companies to practice what they preach. More and more companies are starting to become vocal about their beliefs, whether it be in commercials or on social media. To Maggie’s point, they definitely had to change with the times and talk about certain issues because of consumer expectations, but I'd like to believe that these companies are genuine and treating their employees fairly no matter their gender, sexual orientation, or skin color. Proud to say that at Bulletin, we do take retail and activism very seriously - our pride tank benefitting the Trevor Project, and our ongoing contributions to PPNYC send that message loud and clear.
It seems like a lot of brands use merchandise or ad campaigns to send a message or spotlight their cause. I know Bulletin relies heavily on our in-store experience to promote a specific message. What is that message, and how does the store help bring it to life?
MB: Every single day we have some activation in-store that can educate and empower customers when it comes to a specific political or social issue. This also creates a community and point of engagement that is impactful and memorable. Beyond activations, we also aim to empower and liberate women by the tone and atmosphere we create in the store. It runs deeply through every aspect of the store experience, from the Remy Ma and Cardi B music playing to the team welcoming you like a best friend to the neon signs in our stores that say "I am a Fucking Lady.”
ED: Yes! Before we even start building out a store, we decide how and where we’re going to accommodate our activism stations, events, and informational signage about our brands and partners. We curate our stores with merchandise that aligns with our messaging and creates exciting ways for our customers to get involved. For example, this past Mental Health Awareness Month, we created a postcard station where people could write their ‘mental health mantras’ or ‘feel good notes’ and post them up on a wall. By the end of May, there were tons of positive messages written by our customers.
While taking a stand and having a value system can help certain brands connect with customers, it’s also kind of risky, right? Do you ever worry that with certain brands or programming, Bulletin is taking things too far?
MB: It's a risk we're willing to take because we genuinely and deeply stand for what we believe in. We've had Trump protesters outside of our store before, we've had male shoppers call us "militant" for having items that say "Male Tears" on them, and we've had brands decline to work with us because we donate to Planned Parenthood. However, we stand by every organization we support and every product we sell.
Because Bulletin is a multi-brand retailer, is the store experience the only way for Bulletin to find its own voice?
MB: No! We have a partnership with Planned Parenthood of NYC, but outside of that, we often design merchandise or set up activations to support certain causes when we can. We released our Working Grl collection on International Women's Day and sent proceeds to Dress for Success, our We Call BS tee was created in collaboration with a student designer from March For Our Lives and benefitted Everytown for Gun Safety, and our Love Wins tank that dropped the first day of Gay Pride Month raises money for The Trevor Project, a LGBTQ+ youth crisis hotline.
VE: Like Maggie said, activism plays a huge part in Bulletin's original product. Before we even decide to design a shirt, our team will discuss what the best organization to partner with would be. That way, we help so many people all while giving the consumer a tangible item for their contribution to the cause.
Speaking of original product, I know Bulletin created an original tank for pride month. What was the inspiration behind that?
MB: Inclusivity! I felt strongly about speaking to the trans community in this tank.
VE: The message of this design is a clear one: LOVE WINS. Love goes beyond any boundaries, standards, or gender norms. It is inclusive, and it is a language we all speak. I think Elle did a great job at conveying that message with the different sets of hands and symbols in her design.
ED: Thank you, Vanessa! Hand-holding is universal to all humans of all genders; it represents a support system, which is what The Trevor Project is for LGBTQ+ youth. After doing a ‘hand study’ of sorts, I re-imagined how to add the rainbow flags and hearts we constantly see to represent pride. I wanted to use that community’s iconic symbolism in more of an original way that would both reflect Bulletin’s fresh aesthetic while expressing the all-inclusive message.
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