International Women's Day: Should Retailers Observe Movements?

Did you catch the news reports or flurry of social media posts for International Women’s Day on March 8? Retailers showed up in full-force, using creative images and messaging to tie the movement into their regular marketing efforts. This has us asking, is it tasteful for retailers to promote social justice issues? If so, who is doing it right?

The national observation has existed for over 100 years but seems to have sparked a revival in 2018. “Now, more than ever, there’s a strong call-to-action to press forward and progress gender parity,” says the International Women’s Day website. “And with global activism for women’s equality fueled by movements like , and more—there is a strong global momentum...”

Like GLS Apparel, many retailers shared women-positive sentiments, largely targeting the up-and-coming generation. Most messages promoted power, individuality, and value, which obviously hit home for businesses with a large female customer-base.

Image courtesy of GLS Apparel

Other retailers seemed like they couldn’t decide whether to formally participate or not. In a somewhat uncharacteristically quiet stance, Target shared an Instagram post from a mom and daughter wearing their pro-female graphic tees, with a simple heart emoji caption. It’s unclear whether the women-positive clothing line was specifically designed for International women’s day, or as year-round support for the cause.

Image courtesy of Target

By far, the greatest media attention went to Old Navy, who decked-out all female statues in New York City with living flower embellishments. In their Twitter post, Old Navy noted that only six of the city’s 150 statues are female—including the most recent edition, the “Fearless Girl.” Unlike other retailers, Old Navy did more than share a post on social media. The covert flower operation was a public display of social solidarity, and for that, customers responded with positive feedback. But is it enough?

Image courtesy of Old Navy

“International Women’s Day on Thursday is intended to celebrate women’s cultural and economic achievements and call for more gender parity,” says Claire Zillman, a Contributor for Fortune. “But as the calendar turns to March 8, it’s also time for the corporate pile-on of feel-good ads and product rollouts as brands rush to chime in on the pro-woman conversation.”

Retailers across the globe who highlighted International Women’s Day weren’t exempt from criticism. In China, business owners used “Queen’s Day” to tap into the country’s growing “she economy,” which is expected to reach $700 billion by next year.

Retail giant, Alibaba shared the message: “give life to your women-power,” and a Chinese gym tried to snag extra subscriptions with the tag: “It only takes three months to become a queen.” Many retailers overshadowed activists’ attempts to progress social justice issues in China, like sexual harassment.

Some are demanding that retailers use their influence to promote action for gender parity, not just positive words. And some are taking steps. “Today and through the month, QVC will offer a special curated selection of products featuring apparel, jewelry, accessories, beauty and home items from 15 women-led brands such as Peace Love World, LOGO by Lori Goldstein, Mally, Tarte, and It Cosmetics,” says Lisa Lockwood, a Contributor for Women’s Wear Daily.

“QVC, HSN and participating brands from both retailers [also] plan to donate a minimum of $325,000 to benefit Nest, a nonprofit that empowers artisans worldwide to bring their talents, creativity and craftsmanship to the global market,” says Lockwood. So, where should retailers stand?

Our takeaway from International Women’s Day is that retailers should participate in social justice movements, so long as:

  • Their messaging, images, and other content is genuine and respectful
  • The goal is not to make a sale, but a display of solidarity
  • Their plans include action on behalf of the cause, whether it be donating, volunteering, campaigning, or other strategies that directly benefit the those facing injustice

If you’re ready to start your retail store’s social justice strategy, register to attend the upcoming OFFPRICE Shows in New York City, June 11-12; and Las Vegas, August 11-14.

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