Having worked in advertising for four years, I’ve had moments where I question if this is the industry I want to work in. Digital marketing and communications initially caught my eye because I crave creativity and opportunity to learn in my job. Advertising delivers on both. What I struggle with is the (sometimes) misleading nature of it, trying to persuade an unknowing customer to purchase something they don’t really need, adding more clutter and not telling a complete story. With all the bombast, half-told stories and fudging the truth that goes on, it has me thinking more about the notion of brand transparency. For me, transparency is when a brand or company can be truthful and honest about who they are. They are in existence because they genuinely add value to their customers’ life.
Recently, I attended a talk at Everlane’s new San Francisco store. Everlane founder, Michael Preysman who was interviewing Sam Mogannam, founder of San Francisco’s community grocery store, Bi-Rite, led the talk. The topic was how local communities influence the businesses around them. The notion of transparency was implicit throughout the evening.
Preysman led the conversation, uncovering Bi-Rite’s history and background. As his story unfolded, the similarities between Everlane and Bi-Rite became clear. Sam discussed how his company has always been committed to creating community through food. As the company has grown, it has become more selective and intentional about the products they sell; it’s now a mixture of homemade products and produce grown with good practices on farms in the Bay Area.
Similarly, Everlane acts as the connector between its customers and ethical clothing factories. The company partners only with factories that provide appropriate working conditions for their employees. Preysman said that Everlane has actually taken a lot of inspiration from the food industry as a development model for his business. If you think about it, there is a lot of similarity between the movement to organic food from convenience and how today’s customers’ desire to better understand where their clothes are coming from and their rejection of fast fashion.
Why is this relevant?
Bi-Rite is an amazing store, but its goods are expensive. Preysman asked Mogannam how he balances cost versus accessibility. The response:
“Our food is a connector…the moment we favor our guests over our producers we’ve failed.”
Bi-Rite puts equal weight on giving its customers and producers the best prices, and Mogannam said the reason people keep coming back is because they understand and appreciate that this is what the company is doing.
Mogannam told another story about how the company made the decision to stop selling farmed salmon. Initially, people were displeased because their only choice was to buy organic salmon for $5 more per pound. Instead of caving to the customer demands for cheaper salmon, Bi-Rite used it as an opportunity to educate its customers on the negative environmental impact of farmed salmon. In the end, Mogannam said his customers were happy that Bi-Rite had made this decision for them. A great example of brand transparency.
More and more, people are asking questions about where products come from. It’s companies like Everlane and Bi-Rite that give me a sense of hope that a new wave of brand building is on the horizon, one that is about delivering the stories and messages that really matter.
Everlane believes it can make a difference and always encourages its customers to ask why. What I’m beginning to understand is that we need to hold ourselves accountable, to be relentlessly curious when it comes to the products we buy. I’m hoping that as more people begin to shift their mindsets, companies respond and brand transparency becomes more common.
That’s the type of industry I want to work in.
Read more about Everlane here.