Fash­ion’s Fo­cus: Get­ting Out The Vote

De­sign­ers and brands have been try­ing to in­crease voter turnout with free trans­porta­tion to the polls, tu­to­ri­als about elec­tion is­sues and vot­ing-themed T-shirts.

WWD Digital Daily - - Front Page - BY ROSE­MARY FEITELBERG

The cliché used to be that the con­sumer votes with their wal­lets. Now Amer­i­can fash­ion brands are step­ping up ef­forts for them to vote at the polls.

While Oprah Win­frey cam­paigned for Ge­or­gia gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Stacey Abrams in At­lanta last week and Tay­lor Swift helped spike voter reg­is­tra­tion by re­mind­ing her 112 mil­lion In­sta­gram fol­low­ers, Amer­i­can fash­ion brands big and small have been do­ing their part to ramp

up voter turnout in ad­vance of Tues­day’s midterm elec­tions.

In these politi­cized times when an anti­estab­lish­ment move­ment is tak­ing hold in dif­fer­ent parts of the globe, fash­ion — like art, mu­sic and other in­dus­tries rooted in self-ex­pres­sion — is speak­ing up in dif­fer­ent ways. While Democrats are bat­tling Re­pub­li­cans to try to re­gain con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, sev­eral ex­ec­u­tives and univer­sity lead­ers em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of bi­par­ti­san­ship in their pre-midterm elec­tion mes­sages.

Per­haps em­bold­ened by Nike’s con­tro­ver­sial — and much-her­alded and crit­i­cized — cam­paign around the for­mer NFL player Colin Kaeper­nick, who protested against po­lice bru­tal­ity, brands are warm­ing up to the idea of how sup­port­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism and other so­cial jus­tice is­sues can woo con­sumers.

Last week, Emanuel Chirico, chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of PVH Corp., urged his fel­low busi­ness lead­ers to speak out more on key is­sues given the ab­sence of lead­er­ship in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

“Our in­dus­try is fac­ing many is­sues to­day, and as busi­ness lead­ers, we are be­ing forced to deal with rapid change and un­prece­dented chal­lenges. At the same time, we have seen many gov­ern­ments around the world, in­clud­ing our own, ab­di­cate their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and not pre­pare for the fu­ture, whether it’s is­sues rang­ing from re­tire­ment and in­fra­struc­ture to au­toma­tion, im­mi­gra­tion and worker re­train­ing. As a re­sult, so­ci­ety is de­mand­ing more from the pri­vate sec­tor and its busi­ness lead­ers,” Chirico said in ac­cept­ing the Ed­ward Nar­doza Honor for Cre­ative Lead­er­ship at the WWD Hon­ors event.

“Whether it’s tax re­form, taxes, im­mi­gra­tion or just the gen­eral role of be­ing a good cor­po­rate ci­ti­zen, as busi­ness lead­ers we have the re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­gage in the im­por­tant is­sues of the day. To pros­per over time, ev­ery com­pany must not only de­liver fi­nan­cial per­for­mance but also show how it makes a pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety. As busi­ness lead­ers, I chal­lenge all of us to work to ben­e­fit all of our stake­hold­ers, not just our share­hold­ers. We also have the re­spon­si­bil­ity to con­sider the needs of our em­ploy­ees, our cus­tomers and com­mu­ni­ties where we op­er­ate. There is a lead­er­ship void to­day around the world and es­pe­cially in the U. S. There are tra­di­tional in­sti­tu­tions that our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are not ad­dress­ing. As busi­ness lead­ers we have a ma­jor role to play in fill­ing this vac­uum. I chal­lenge all of us to en­gage on im­por­tant is­sues that we all face, and col­lec­tively as an in­dus­try to make sure our voices our heard,” he con­tin­ued.

Still there are dan­gers of a back­lash

— as ev­i­denced by the on­line videos of con­sumers burn­ing their Nike sneak­ers and some call­ing for a boy­cott, af­ter the Kaeper­nick ads broke in Septem­ber. Leonard Kim, an in­de­pen­dent brand con­sul­tant, typ­i­cally ad­vises com­pa­nies to avoid three sub­jects on­line — pol­i­tics, re­li­gion and sex — via their re­spec­tive com­pany’s sites and so­cial me­dia, as well as their per­sonal ones. Jus­tice war­riors of­ten “bully up” on­line against com­pa­nies and con­tro­ver­sial per­sonal posts by ex­ec­u­tives can be made pub­lic, he said.

“There is one ex­cep­tion to the rule: If you al­ready stated your po­lit­i­cal be­liefs on so­cial jus­tice when you first founded your com­pany and it’s a part of your mis­sion, then con­tin­u­ing to state your be­liefs does not work against you since it’s embed­ded into your brand. When you are al­ready es­tab­lished and be­gin to take a side, that’s when it af­fects the cus­tomer base,” he said.

Hav­ing said that, head­ing into the hol­i­days, more shop­pers are keep­ing tabs on where man­u­fac­tur­ers and re­tail­ers stand on cur­rent so­cial, en­vi­ron­men­tal and po­lit­i­cal is­sues, ac­cord­ing to a new sur­vey from The NPD Group. Com­pared to last year’s sur­vey, more re­spon­dents in­di­cated that brands’ views would af­fect buy­ing de­ci­sions in the cru­cial fourth quar­ter. Mar­shall Co­hen, NPD’s chief in­dus­try ad­vi­sory, noted how in this midterm elec­tion year, “po­lit­i­cal po­lar­iza­tion and ac­tivism is on the rise” in the U.S. and “it’s bleed­ing into the up­com­ing hol­i­day sea­son, es­pe­cially among younger con­sumers.”

Sixty-five per­cent of the sur­vey’s Gen­er­a­tion Z re­spon­dents and 55 per­cent of Mil­len­ni­als said they were par­tic­u­larly in tune to a com­pany’s so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. Gen Z’s con­sci­en­tious­ness is worth not­ing since those born af­ter 1997 will ac­count for 40 per­cent of all con­sumers in just two years. Younger gen­er­a­tions want and

“will pay a pre­mium for brands that stand for some­thing,” and that have cor­po­rate so­cial pro­grams in align­ment with their own, Co­hen said.

Lead­ing the charge to the polls is Patag­o­nia Inc., which re­vealed this sum­mer that it will close for busi­ness on Elec­tion Day so that ev­ery one of its U.S.based em­ploy­ees can vote. The com­pany also made that com­mit­ment in 2016. In a post last month on the com­pany’s site, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Rose Mar­cario en­cour­aged other com­pa­nies to sup­port Time to Vote in or­der to “en­cour­age all Amer­i­can work­ers to be ci­ti­zens and vot­ers first.” Other com­pa­nies joined the cam­paign to foster voter par­tic­i­pa­tion by of­fer­ing paid time off, a day with­out meet­ings and re­sources for mail-in bal­lots and early vot­ing, she wrote.

Mar­cario also wrote, “We also know that Rus­sian pro­pa­gan­dists worked hard on so­cial me­dia to in­flu­ence our elec­torate, di­vide our coun­try, and stoke di­vi­sions and ha­tred. In fact, they’re still at it. And we have all seen the im­pacts on our em­ploy­ees and their fam­i­lies; what were once good-na­tured spir­ited po­lit­i­cal de­bates have be­come hurt­ful di­vi­sions.”

Levi Strauss & Co., Wal­mart Inc. and Lyft are among the 400 com­pa­nies that have since joined Time to Vote af­ter Patag­o­nia reached out to them, ac­cord­ing to Dean Carter, head of hu­man re­sources and shared ser­vices.

“I don’t know that our in­tent was to quan­tify this in any other way than get­ting more com­pa­nies to par­tic­i­pate. The re­sponse, though, has been over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive on so­cial me­dia, and all of our chan­nels,” he said.

“We’ve al­ways be­lieved in civic par­tic­i­pa­tion all the way down to if some­one is ar­rested while protest­ing for the en­vi­ron­ment, we will pay for their bail. This idea of giv­ing peo­ple time off work [to vote] — we didn’t re­al­ize that maybe we were get­ting in the way. Sta­tis­tics show that 34 per­cent of peo­ple who were un­able to vote said it was due to con­flicts with work or school,” said Carter, re­fer­ring to a Pew Re­search Cen­ter study.

Levi’s lead­ers pegged civic en­gage­ment as a pri­or­ity from the be­gin­ning of the year and voter reg­is­tra­tion was a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion. Through its em­ployee-en­gage­ment pro­grams, Levi’s brass “heard from a lot of em­ploy­ees who par­tic­i­pated in the Women’s March and ►

em­ploy­ees who have been stump­ing for dif­fer­ent can­di­dates across the coun­try, want­ing to know if they could use their vol­un­teer time for that,” said head of pub­lic pol­icy Anna Walker.

Levi’s has been work­ing with Rock The Vote to get its own em­ploy­ees reg­is­tered, and with Head Count to give em­ploy­ees the op­por­tu­nity to vol­un­teer at dif­fer­ent mu­si­cal venues and Levi’s Sta­dium dur­ing San Fran­cisco 49ers home games. In the U.S., roughly 10 per­cent of Levi’s pop­u­la­tion has ei­ther reg­is­tered or checked or up­dated their voter sta­tus since July, she said. The com­pany de­clined to pin­point how many em­ploy­ees work in the U.S. “It is com­pletely non­par­ti­san. It is not about party or po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion. It’s about get­ting peo­ple out par­tic­i­pat­ing, ed­u­cated about the process,” Walker said.

Levi’s has also been sell­ing a T-shirt through Time to Vote that ben­e­fits Rock The Vote, and the brand’s cur­rent com­mer­cial is aimed at get­ting out the vote. Levi’s ef­fort has been na­tion­wide. “We have big pop­u­la­tions of em­ploy­ees in Mis­sis­sippi, Ken­tucky, Ne­vada, Texas, Florida and Ore­gon. In all those states, em­ploy­ees have raised their hands to be vot­ing cap­tains to or­ga­nize the voter reg­is­tra­tion and voter ed­u­ca­tion in those lo­cal ar­eas. The League of Women Vot­ers and other non­par­ti­san groups have been brought in to help in­form staffers about both sides of bal­lot is­sues. “In the last four weeks, we’ve fo­cused more on be­come smarter about your bal­lot. That’s been sort of a per­sonal in­ter­est of our chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer — a feel­ing that a lot of peo­ple drop out of vot­ing be­cause of the com­plex­ity of the bal­lot or feel­ing dis­con­nected from some of the is­sues,” Walker said.

Vot­ers in New York will be meet­ing Mon­day out­side of Rachel Comey’s SoHo store to board a bus to can­vas nearby swing dis­tricts. The de­signer, who ral­lied a large New York con­tin­gency to at­tend the Women’s March in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in 2017, is join­ing forces with Swing Left and Down­town for Democ­racy for the pre-midterm ef­fort.

Like Nike Inc. ceo Mark Parker, Columbia Sports­wear’s chair­man and ceo Tim Boyle wrote a for­mal op­po­si­tion in Ore­gon’s Voter’s Guide op­pos­ing Mea­sure 105, which would strike down the state’s 30-year- old sanc­tu­ary law. Boyle said of that de­ci­sion, “I be­lieve that im­mi­gra­tion is good for our coun­try and good for our busi­ness. My mother fled Nazi Ger­many as a child and thanks to a wel­com­ing en­vi­ron­ment in the United States, her fam­ily had a chance to buy and grow the Columbia Hat Com­pany.

It’s safe to say that Columbia Sports­wear Co. would not ex­ist if the U.S. had not let my grand­par­ents into the coun­try. As Amer­i­cans we’re stronger be­cause of the di­ver­sity of thought, opin­ion, race and eth­nic­i­ties that ex­ist in the U.S.”

As for how this res­onates with con­sumers, Boyle said, “We are a global com­pany with con­sumers all over the world. To the ex­tent that they fol­low pol­i­tics in Ore­gon, I think they will re­spond well to our stands on the need for tol­er­ance and re­spect for im­mi­grants.”

In re­gard to how the $2.47 bil­lion brand may be more proac­tive about so­cial jus­tice is­sues in the fu­ture, Boyle said, “We will get in­volved as we see nec­es­sary.” Boyle, who do­nated $1.5 mil­lion for a home­less shel­ter in Port­land, Ore., ear­lier this year, said most con­sumers ap­proved. Con­trary to spec­u­la­tion, Boyle said he will not run for mayor of Port­land.

New Bal­ance is try­ing to ap­peal to younger vot­ers with #Run­tothePolls, a dig­i­tal cam­paign launched with the help of Betches Me­dia, a com­pany for “Mil­len­nial women to ex­pe­ri­ence com­edy and em­pow­er­ment in an hon­est en­vi­ron­ment.” In ad­di­tion to cus­tom­ized memes and con­tent, a dou­ble-decker bus in New York City will be fer­ry­ing vot­ers to the polls on Tues­day. Poll- go­ers can be picked up at such stops as Soul Cy­cle’s East 18th Street out­post, Barry’s Boot­camp on West 20th and the New York Pub­lic Li­brary.

Al­lie Tsav­darides, New Bal­ance’s global mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor for per­for­mance, said, “The #Run­tothePolls ac­ti­va­tion is not about sell­ing shoes or ap­parel, but en­gag­ing young women in a new way and en­cour­ag­ing them to get in­volved.” Through @nb­wom­ens chan­nel and Betches’ po­lit­i­cal site, Betches and Betch­es_Sup, New Bal­ance is “striv­ing to shine a light on the im­por­tance of get­ting out to vote,” she said. “This is just one of many ways New Bal­ance is striv­ing to sur­prise our con­sumers with un­ex­pected part­ners and ac­ti­va­tions.”

Last month, Tory Burch rolled out a lim­ited-run $68 T-shirt em­bla­zoned with “Vote” and all of the net pro­ceeds will ben­e­fit ac­tor and ac­tivist Yara Shahidi’s “Eigh­teen x 18” youth group. There was also the #OwnYourVote so­cial me­dia cam­paign to drum up the bur­geon­ing num­ber of Mil­len­nial vot­ers.

“Thrilled” by the re­sponse, par­tic­u­larly among young peo­ple, Burch said Fri­day, “Vot­ing is an is­sue I am in­cred­i­bly pas­sion­ate about. It is an in­te­gral part of what it means to be an Amer­i­can and de­fines our coun­try’s char­ac­ter.…Cre­at­ing this T-shirt is not about par­ti­san­ship, it’s sim­ply about vot­ing. To me, vot­ing is an ex­pres­sion of pa­tri­o­tism. I never feel more Amer­i­can than in the vot­ing booth.”

Mar­cia Pat­mos has joined a post­card writ­ing group aimed at swing-state vot­ers that was or­ga­nized by Var­i­ous Projects’ El­iz­a­beth Beer and tex­tile de­signer Rosie Kanel­lis. Fash­ion types, mod­el­ing agents, graphic de­sign­ers, pro­duc­tion peo­ple and other cre­atives have helped to pen more than 2,000 post­cards so far. Pat­mos, who re­cently opened a Brook­lyn store, said, “I have had a nice re­ac­tion to it from my whole­sale and re­tail cus­tomers. Of course, maybe some have not said any­thing, but the ones that like it re­ally like it.”

As part of a to­mor­row-you-havethe-right-to-vote In­sta­gram Story, The­ory pho­tographed 20 em­ploy­ees, who are com­mit­ted to vot­ing. Each por­trait in­cludes the em­ployee’s name, depart­ment and “I am a Voter.” Anya As­sante, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions and strate­gic part­ner­ships, said, “We are en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to vote. For the first time, we’re shar­ing per­spec­tive from our em­ploy­ees — some­thing we have never done across so­cial be­fore.”

Mean­while, as a lead-up to the midterms, Car­bon38 part­nered with the “I Am a Voter” cam­paign to cre­ate 300 lim­it­ededi­tion $52 “Rally” tanks — a sta­ple with the brand — and 300 pins to try to drum up vot­ing. The de­mand was so strong that the com­pany quickly ran a sec­ond pro­duc­tion run and re­stocked. All of the pro­ceeds will sup­port such grass­roots groups as Democ­racy Works, Head­count, Non­profit Vote, Rock the Vote, Vote. org, #VoteTo­gether, Voto Latino and When We All Vote. Car­bon38 co­founder and ceo Katie Warner John­son said, “We no­ticed heav­ier-than-usual traf­fic on our site and likely reached a broader de­mo­graphic than just our core cus­tomer, since so many peo­ple are proud and com­pas­sion­ate about this.”

The women’s em­pow­er­ment-lean­ing la­bel Wild­fang de­vel­oped a “midterm col­lec­tion” with T-shirts im­printed with “She Came She Saw She F+cki*g Voted” and “On the Left Side of His­tory,” and other po­lit­i­cal-themed items. Wild­fang will do­nate a per­cent­age of sales to She Should Run. To cel­e­brate voter rights, Bishop Col­lec­tive co­founders Mai Vu and Dim­itri Koumbis will be of­fer­ing vot­ers a 15 per­cent dis­count in their Lower East Side store. By wear­ing a “I Voted” sticker, shop­pers will re­ceive the sav­ings of pur­chases for the Amer­i­can-made sus­tain­able la­bel.

Fash­ion schools in the U.S. are also do­ing their part to get their stu­dents to vote.

RISD pres­i­dent Rosanne Somer­son will e-mail the 3,500 stu­dents and fac­ulty mem­bers to­day to re­mind them to make their voices heard on Elec­tion Day. She wrote, “We live in a time of rhetoric that of­ten in­cites fear and di­min­ishes our com­mon hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence. Our re­spon­si­bil­ity as learn­ers, ed­u­ca­tors and re­searchers is not to re­spond with fur­ther rhetoric, but with bold ac­tion — and the bold­est of ac­tions is to par­tic­i­pate in the demo­cratic process. For those who can vote in the up­com­ing elec­tions, it is not only our re­spon­si­bil­ity, but our priv­i­lege — a way for each of us to feel agency in a world where we may of­ten feel pow­er­less.”

In re­cent weeks, stu­dent-run groups like the RISD Global Ini­tia­tive and the RISD Stu­dent Al­liance have set up vot­ing in­for­ma­tion ta­bles on cam­pus. There, stu­dents can get help with voter reg­is­tra­tion forms and ab­sen­tee bal­lots. And RISD’s hu­man re­sources e-mailed em­ploy­ees to make ar­range­ments with su­per­vi­sors if they will need time away from cam­pus dur­ing nor­mal work hours. If trans­porta­tion is needed, Buz­zfeed and Lyft part­nered to of­fer dis­counted rides to the polls.

Can­vass­ing and tabling has been un­der way at The New School for the past month in its main build­ings’ lob­bies. Joel Tow­ers of Par­sons School of De­sign said, “In the main univer­sity cen­ter, there are over 3,000 stu­dents plus fac­ulty and staff go­ing through there on a daily ba­sis, so it’s im­pos­si­ble to miss it,” adding that lines were typ­i­cally three to seven peo­ple deep on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. “Like all non-for-prof­its, we are non­par­ti­san. While our ef­fort is to get peo­ple out to vote, we don’t take an of­fi­cial po­si­tion on who they should vote for,” Tow­ers said.

Ear­lier this month, The New School’s 14,500 stu­dents and fac­ulty re­ceived an e-mail from its pres­i­dent and deans in re­sponse to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s con­sid­er­a­tion of defin­ing sex in bi­nary terms. Re­cip­i­ents were told that the univer­sity would never sup­port that ex­clu­sion of com­mu­ni­ties “who are both here and be­yond,” Tow­ers said. (Par­sons com­prises about 55 per­cent of The New School.)

Af­ter men­tion­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion on cam­pus that ex­plores race and fash­ion, and his plans to take 500 stu­dents to the United Na­tions for a cli­mate change lec­ture spon­sored by the Dan­ish gov­ern­ment, Tow­ers said, “eq­uity, so­cial jus­tice, en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice are re­ally threaded through our cur­ricu­lum, and us­ing de­sign is a way of ad­dress­ing these is­sues. So vot­ing is a jus­tice ques­tion and a civic re­spon­si­bil­ity ques­tion. It doesn’t feel in any way of the mo­ment. It just feels very nat­u­ral for what we do.”

Aware of the fact that The New School’s 10,000 stu­dents are part of that age bracket that doesn’t vote at high lev­els, Tow­ers said, “We’re aware of the fact that mak­ing the po­lit­i­cal per­sonal — in what ways does pol­i­tics im­pact your daily life, your field of work and your fu­ture — on the fi­nite side — needs to be talked about. Then we trust to the stu­dents that the de­ci­sions they make are in­formed as a re­sult.”

Ni­cole Miller’s 75 em­ploy­ees can take time off if they plan to vote, but ceo Bud Kon­heim isn’t about to dole out ad­vice. “We are mak­ing a con­scious ef­fort to not be part of the po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion. Do you see what’s go­ing on around the coun­try?” he said. “We’re in the dress busi­ness. We like all the em­pha­sis to be on taste and is this good de­sign, good man­u­fac­tur­ing — not pol­i­tics. It’s a charged is­sue right now. Peo­ple are find­ing a way to get hys­ter­i­cal about the right and left. It’s just re­ally bad quick­sand to try to walk across.”

Kon­heim con­tin­ued, “There is no way we could give ad­vice that would be taken uni­ver­sally as good ad­vice — no way. The way the at­mos­phere is right now, some­one would take of­fense ei­ther way. If there is noth­ing else to talk about, you’ve got a pretty empty life.” ■

Tory Burch cre­ated a lim­ited-edi­tion T-shirt to en­cour­age vot­ersto go to the polls.

New Bal­ance and Betches will be shut­tlingvot­ers to the polls.

Patag­o­nia will close its stores in the U.S. on Nov. 6 so that em­ploy­ees can vote.

Var­i­ous Projects has helped host post­card writ­ing nights.

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