At one time, a mink coat or a fur-lined jacket were the ultimate in luxury goods and sure to signal the high status of the person porting it. The intersection of business and social activism has resulted in many luxury brands stopping the use of fur in their clothing – a bow to the power of consumers. But fur is only one example of how the millennial generation’s social consciousness affects the world of business.
Our furry friends
In the late ’60s, “What becomes a legend most” was one of the most successful advertising campaigns ever. “Legendary” women such as Elizabeth Taylor, Faye Dunaway and Bridgette Bardot were photographed by Richard Avedon, himself a famous fashion photographer, wearing mink coats. That, however, is old school.
“We understood from our employee population and from our consumers that it was important to them that we take a stand on this issue,” Coach’s CEO and President Joshua Schulman said in an interview with Business of Fashion, regarding their decision to stop using fur. Some companies, such as Diane Van Furstenberg’s DVF are going further and partnering with animal rights groups such as PETA or the Humane Society to stop the use of fur. Other luxury brands that have vowed to stop using fur this year alone include Burberry, Versace, Gucci and Armani, among many others.
Millennials shop with heart
Millennials, more than other generation, are likely to link their purchases with social causes or to look for products that express their political values. Boycotts, protests and movements on social media are some of the tactics millennial consumers have used to influence corporate practices. Millennials are also likely to demand that investments over which they have some power, invest with a socially responsible point of view. In response, companies not only monitor but actually change their business practices. More than 50 percent of the S&P 500 companies today have someone on their board whose job it is to monitor and advise on issues of social responsibility or environmental policy, compared to only 12 percent in 1990.
Fur is not the only target. Sustainability tops the list of issues that millennials care about. They have almost single-handedly created the organic food or farm-to-table movement and have proven they are willing to pay more for these values. But in even more specific ways, they influence businesses. For example, when Adidas received flack for using Brazilian leather in their products, Nike joined Greenpeace in boycotting Brazil.
Why do businesses care?
The Millennial generation is quickly becoming a generation with sizeable purchasing power as consumers. They are also rapidly assuming powerful positions in businesses. They are taking over from the baby boomers, and the millennial generation is the largest in American history, really, larger than the baby boom and notably larger than Generation X, so their interests are important to businesses. More than 50 percent of millennials make an effort to buy products from companies that support the causes they care about, according to research from Barkley, an independent advertising agency.
Moreover, millennials are a notoriously social generation. They interact on social media, where they often express their opinions, and they are even more likely to shop, eat and travel in groups — increasing their consumer power exponentially. Millennials can share their point of view on a product or business with multitudes of others via an Instagram photo or a posting to friends on Facebook.
Millennials already have influenced business practices in many ways. They were instrumental in changing the way consumers shop, using online shopping and demanding 24/7 availability a priority that revolutionized buying practices. Whether it is dropping the use of fur or other causes, businesses will have to pay attention as research suggests millennials care about social issues in much greater numbers than older generations.
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