It took five minutes for Amanda Gorman to take America by storm — both for her poetry and her Prada. And in that short time, she has come to represent a new kind of style icon for fashion.
Even though fashion hasn’t yet clamored for a poet’s favor, the 22-year-old Inaugural poet and first U.S. National Youth Poet Laureate may mark a first there, too, as the consuming public starts to look past celebrities to purpose-driven people as the models they’ll exalt.
Purpose, if it hasn’t already been made clear to the industry, is what carries cachet today. And it’s the message fashion brands should be looking to rally around.
President Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday was one that wove a message of unity, hope and a new vibrancy through every speech, moment, hue and garment, re-creating the fabric of a country long in darker days. Gorman, a young Black woman who has spoken out on issues related to race, voting and sustainability, proved a particularly bright spot.
Louis Vuitton Men’s Fall 2021
The poem she penned and recited for the moment, which served as the catalyst for sending her Instagram following from 50,000 to 2.9 million in less than 48 hours (and her two September-slated books to the top of bestseller lists), “The Hill We Climb,” addressed the direction the country needs to go in — and it isn’t terribly different from the path fashion should be forging going forward, either.
As Gorman wrote, “…yes we are far from polished / far from pristine / but that doesn’t mean we are / striving to form a union that is perfect / We are striving to forge a union with purpose / To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and / conditions of man…”
Brands that aren’t actively addressing diversity and inequality, sustainability and consideration for the underserved garment workers who undergird the industry yet see little support from it, will find themselves hard-pressed to win favor, especially from the incoming crop of Gen Z consumers who have often expressed little tolerance for it. Though some in business may see focusing on purpose as a divergence from bottom-line results, it might be the very thing that secures it.
“Purpose can generate top-line growth (or serve as an insurance policy against revenue slippage) by creating more loyal customers, fostering trust and preserving your customer base at a time when 47 percent of consumers disappointed with a brand’s stance on a social issue stop buying its products — and 17 percent will never return,” McKinsey & Co. said in a quarterly note last year.
What’s more, celebrities and influencers who don’t speak to a purpose, a message, an ethos the conscious and increasingly active consumer wants to align with, may start to prove less of a pull for brands, particularly those that haven’t taken a stand on much at all, instead hoping to rely on long-standing cred alone. Gorman, and others who may have traditionally been industry outsiders but are focused on being active about issues at hand, may be the new type of brand ambassador for fashion as it works to assert its relevance amid a wreckage made worse by the pandemic, and tries to reckon with its age-old exclusivity and recent history of overproduction at a time when consumers aren’t buying into it.
“Customers are boycotting the products of companies whose values they view as contrary to their own. Investors are migrating to ESG funds. And the majority of employees in the corporate world feel ‘disengaged’; they are agitating for decisions and behaviors that they can be proud to stand behind and gravitating toward companies that have a clear, unequivocal and positive impact on the world,” McKinsey said. “Organizations turning a blind eye will face inevitable blowback.”
Fashion’s new style icons will support a more authentic marriage between activism and capitalism; and transparency that proves a prizing of purpose and not just profit.
Certain brands have, in some ways, already caught onto this, like Prada, which had aligned itself with Gorman ahead of Biden’s inauguration, inviting her to speak at its “Shaping a Future” conference in 2019, an event designed to explore ways of shaping a more sustainable future for the next generations. Apart from poetry, Gorman has been active in social outreach, founding nonprofit One Pen, One Page, which was dedicated to elevating underserved youth through writing and creativity. She has also been an advocate for sustainability.
“Amanda Gorman’s vision and quest for a more sustainable future are an immense source of inspiration for the Prada Group,” the luxury house told WWD Friday. “At the 2019 edition [of the conference], titled ‘Shaping a Sustainable Society,’ the conversation was centered on the moral obligation of public and private entities to create an environment that promotes freedom, equality and justice. Amanda Gorman inspired the audience, as well as all panelists, through her speech urging to reframe the whole perception on sustainability. Here is a portion of her speech: ‘What are we willing to give up for a sustainable future? That question requires a major re-shift in how we think. We need to imagine that sacrifice now doesn’t mean scarcity in the future. It will be a reimagined amalgamation of resources.’”
Continuing, the brand said, “Prada has long admired the profound talent of Amanda Gorman. We were honored to dress her as she made history as the youngest inaugural poet and a messenger of hope. We are thrilled that the world has had the opportunity to experience Amanda’s brilliance.”
Prada invited Gorman to attend her first show for the house during Milan Fashion Week in February 2019, after which she penned a poem called “A Poet’s Prada.” Published in Vogue, the piece articulates in her profound but precise way, how fashion — and the brands that create it — should start to see themselves.
“Seeking: Well-crafted, high-end / Fashion that transcend trends / Looking: To challenge fashion codes / Dance off previously carved roads / Unafraid to experiment, explore, explode / Demanding: ready-to-wear style in our hands / Giving us power, which makes it a power brand…”
Increasingly, a power brand will be one that puts its power back in the hands of those who make it and those who wear it, supporting them as they support the brand.
Nike, in its own effort to secure its status as a power brand in the new climate of purpose and social justice, has also embraced a nontraditional fashion icon in Colin Kaepernick, despite the pushback the athletic brand received for aligning with the activist and NFL free agent who made waves by taking a knee during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality and police brutality in America.
The move to more purpose-driven messaging has also had its effect on the slew of brand ambassadorships tennis player Naomi Osaka can now count. This month alone, the 23-year-old who took a very clear stance against inequality last year — boycotting a semifinals match in the Western & Southern Open and donning masks during matches displaying names like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor to draw attention to recent victims of racial injustice — was named a brand ambassador to Louis Vuitton and Tag Heuer. Outside of fashion, cloud finance, HR and planning system Workday just signed the tennis player, too.
For Amanda Gorman, fashion, as history, will have its eyes on her.
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