Fashion is shifting. You’re probably thinking that I’m stating the obvious. Of course fashion is shifting, there are new collections hitting runways season after season. Styles change, hem lines get longer or shorter, trousers get wider or more fitted, colours come in and out of fashion. But I’m talking about a bigger shift. A societal one. What people wear used to be an indication of their class and status, but now if you look around you’ll see that it’s much more than that. Fashion brands that people choose are increasingly recognised as indicators of their social identity (Entwistle, 2015). Fashion brands have gained credentials as legitimate opportunities for living out human values, and for good reason.

In an era of polarising societies, what we choose to wear, what we choose not to wear, and importantly the brands we align ourselves with, all play into defining who we are. This is true across demographics, but most notably amongst Gens Y and Z who are looking for brands that connect with them. 66% of Gen Yers are abandoning fashion brands that no longer fit into the expression of their identity (Canvas8, 2017). This is a big wake up call for fashion brands, after all it is predicted that Gen Y and Z will account for close to half the personal luxury goods market by 2025 (Canvas8, 2017). These young consumers need brands that understand them and connect with them on more than just a surface level.

Our ethos at GOOD is to build brands people believe in, because ultimately people do more with these brands. Bolting a statement about corporate social responsibility onto a website is not enough to make people believe in a brand’s values. They must live and breathe them. Gucci, is case in point. The luxury brand has donated $500,000 to the student anti-gun campaign ‘March For Our Lives’. Gucci are not just talking about their values, they are demonstrating them through their actions. They are being vocal and standing in solidarity with US students. It is a political stance that young consumers not only appreciate, but something they expect from brands they support and love.

Taking a strong political stance isn’t limited to luxury fashion brands. In a very different space to Gucci, but demonstrating the same values, Patagonia sued the Trump administration on behalf of the environment following plans to drastically reduce land protection in the US. It was a bold move, but one that gained respect from consumers, particularly amongst an increasingly politically-minded young audience.

Fashion is the most visibly obvious expression of identity. So, it is only fitting that people look to fashion brands as a way to express their identity in order to quite literally wear their hearts on their sleeves. Brands can help people develop their sense of self and development on a personal level, but also their sense of belonging. This is part of what we, at GOOD, call building emotional capital. Fashion brands are in a unique position to do this by bringing existing and future consumers together around shared values. Jigsaw’s award-winning heart immigration campaign is a great example of doing exactly that. Consumers recognised that Jigsaw care about immigration, just like they do. There was an instant connection.

Hot off the Paris Fashion week runway, Lacoste have launched their ‘Save Our Species’ range. They removed the iconic Crocodile logo from their polos to make way for a special-edition range featuring 10 endangered species that could use the visibility more. Crucially, this isn’t just a brand stunt, but a high-fashion way to support the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with sales going towards the preservation of its species. Lacoste has recognised the power of exclusivity, or scarcity as a brand value that their buyers place importance upon. Simultaneously, they recognise the irony, and desperate situation of scarcity amongst these animals. By leveraging their values, Lacoste can make a difference to a cause they, and their buyers care about.

There’s a shared desire amongst consumers to associate themselves with fashion brands that have values that match their own. They want meaningful relationships. They want to use Patagonia’s ‘Action Works’ tool to support environmental and social causes that matter to them. They want to take a stance by signing the Body Shop’s anti-animal testing petition. They want the clothes that they decide to put on every day to act as a vehicle to support something bigger than the fashion and beauty industry.

Ethics are not a fleeting fashion trend, they’re here to stay.