Over the rainbow: How retailers are embracing inclusion beyond Pride month

or who have simply not been considered in traditional business models. By leaning into their specific needs, paying careful attention and placing people at the heart of the design process, we can better address their needs and start to make incremental but sustainable change to build more inclusive businesses. Companies are making inroads by showing true empathy and driving tangible outcomes when it comes to inclusion. And there is a great deal more to be done.

Nike’s positioning has been based on the empowering and accessible idea that ‘everyone can be an athlete’. In 2012,a customer faced an enormous challenge in accessing that aspiration. Matthew Walzer outlined how cerebral palsy meant that he had limited use of his hands and, as such, shoelaces posed a problem for him. What is straightforward to most was a distant reality for Walzer –  attending college without having to worry about who would tie his shoelaces. 

What happened next is what we need to see more of: taking a need and turning it into purposeful action. As Walzer recounts on his website, he was invited to co-create a prototype for what is now known as the Nike FlyEase – a shoe that is totally hands free, for all. This took both the bravery of one person to speak up and the action of an organisation.

The global adaptive apparel market is forecast by Coresight to be worth $502.2 billion worldwide by 2023. A market of this size offers infinite opportunities for businesses to lean into the true challenges their consumers face, place empathy and need at the heart of the solutions they create and, in turn, become relevant, equitable brands.

Fenty and Sephora connect, Revlon falls

Brands must be adaptive, aware and connected with their consumers to survive and thrive. The recent demise of the Revlon brand, in contrast to the triumph of more inclusive brands, is a reminder that it is no longer viable to rely on brand economics, when dominance is shifting towards inclusive consumerism. Brands must evolve with consumers, ensure more diverse perspectives among their teams and create and build their businesses around the needs of all of their customers. Early movers are succeeding with this approach. 

Global pop star, entrepreneur and founder of Fenty Beauty, Rihanna, stated on the LVMH website that “Fenty Beauty was created for everyone: for women of all shades, personalities, attitudes, cultures and races.” From the beginning, Fenty has delivered on this commitment, with 40 shades of foundation, formulated to meet the needs of diverse skin types, in its original September 2017 launch. Fenty Beauty has now expanded to include concealers, powders, lip products and more, all with an extensive shade range, with the aim of catering to all consumers. With a current estimated value of $2.8 billion, the evidence that it meets untapped consumer need is clear. 

Sephora, in the US, went deep to understand its consumers’ reality. In 2018, the beauty brand commissioned a survey that revealed 30 per cent of its consumers felt they were treated differently based on their race or complexion. Sephora took bold action. It made the survey results available to all US retailers and, going one step further, they made themselves accountable for addressing the results. 

An e-book on the study stated that some customers experience a “racial bias tax”, where biased treatment and exclusion results in an added burden for consumers. In response, Sephora committed to increasing diversity in its products, creating more inclusive marketing, and investing in new policies and training for its teams to ensure inclusive in-store experiences for its consumers. By June 2021, the company had more than doubled the Black-owned brands it carried in-store, had a workforce in which 64 per cent of its employees identified as people of colour and 16 per cent identified as Black or African American, it reported in a fact sheet. With a product range and workforce that better reflects the fabric of the community, its consumers are now able to find products that meet their needs and see themselves represented in the people they engage with in-store. 

For Fenty and Sephora, creating products and experiences that reflect and respond to their consumers’ needs is being rewarded with their loyalty and advocacy. For Revlon, as we know, the outcome has been very different. 

All meaningful change matters

Not all change needs to be radical. What matters is making meaningful, inclusive change that signals all humans are included and their needs are considered, as the following examples demonstrate.  

Target US committed to spending more than $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by 2025 to provide more equitable economic opportunities. Between 2020 and May 2022, the retail chain has increased its investment with Black-owned companies and suppliers by 50 per cent. In an article on its corporate website from May this year, Target US reported that it now stocks 100-plus Black-owned brands at Target across major categories. The retailer is delivering on its mission, with brands such as Honey Pot reporting 40-50 per cent sales growth with Target’s support, Refinery29 reports. 

Australia’s major supermarkets have also shown great progress, with meaningful initiatives designed to increase inclusion. 

To support young Australians who have learning or development delays, Woolworths, in collaboration with Fujitsu, launched ‘Mini Woolies’, a program that partners with local schools and inclusive recruitment specialists to support the learning of customer service skills, how to handle money and process sales, by creating Mini Woolies on site at educational facilities. 

Coles initiated ‘quiet hours’ for those on the Autism spectrum, partnering with Autism Spectrum Australia, an initiative Woolworths quickly replicated, making shopping more inclusive for more Australians. 

These are great examples of how organisations are starting the journey to better serving all consumers and their needs. 

So as Pride Month comes to an end, we should reflect on the progress that has been made to build a more inclusive world, and challenge ourselves to do more. What matters is not statements of intent, but the outcomes we drive for consumers in their daily lives and in the moments that matter to them.  

Retailers have some excellent inspiration to draw from as we take thoughtful and deliberate action to build more inclusive communities. 

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