Last Friday, I found myself at Sheltersuit Label’s collection debut at Palais de Tokyo in Paris. It is a new luxury streetwear line launched by a non-profit organisation, aimed at the wealthy, with the purpose of helping people at the opposite end of the economic scale. The show was a reality check and a source of inspiration for me on multiple levels.
Sheltersuit is a non-profit organisation that aims to help the homeless. It partnered with Chloé, the renowned French fashion house, to launch their own fashion label during Paris Fashion Week. A world of contrast and a unique partnership.
A Sheltersuit, created by the Dutch designer Bas Timmer, is a combination of a wind- and waterproof jacket and sleeping bag, made entirely from upcycled materials and assembled in the Netherlands by refugees and formerly homeless people. In 2021, Chloé x Sheltersuit partnered to create backpacks from Chloé waste fabrics to finance two Sheltersuits and to support Sheltersuit’s mission. This then evolved into 550 backpacks sold, the making of 1100 Sheltersuits, 5500 kg of upcycled materials and three full-time jobs (Unsheltered Moments, 2021).
The unexpected collaboration is, as Bas says: “a fantastic example that stems from Chloé’s drive to change the narrative of luxury fashion and to infuse it with purpose”. One that is very welcome considering the fashion industry’s reputation of being unethical and ecologically harmful.
Given this unusual premise, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I attended the launch last week. On my seat was the first edition of ‘Unsheltered Moments’, Sheltersuit’s own magazine, which includes stories of 20 individuals who live on the streets. Each story is written with an inspirational flair. It also featured close-up photos and a QR code that enables the reader to learn more about each person and their experiences. Words are deliberately chosen to create connection, engagement, empathy. For example: “Meet Sandra”, “Listen to Mike”.
During the show, the audience – consisting of journalists, influencers, as well as friends and family – heard stories and inspirational talks from people who experience homelessness, whilst the models walk in. The models, each presenting luxury streetwear pieces, represent the society in which we live.
As marketers, we mostly think about concepts such as differentiation, values, impact and, perhaps more recently, sustainability. We try and demonstrate a brand’s values. We aim to close gaps between said values and actions. Sheltersuit Label’s show prompted me to reflect on my role as a marketer and look at it from a different perspective. For them, purpose is the most important driver, the rest follows from that. Not every business can put purpose first, but perhaps we can put people first?
Gen Z and millennials are gaining more wealth and are seriously concerned with social and environmental causes (Amed et al., 2019). This drives where they buy from, what brands they engage with and who they work for. The vast majority of young consumers say they would be more loyal to employers that are aligned with those values (Amed et al., 2019).
Some companies in fashion are sitting up and listening more carefully to their audience. Consumers expect more from their clothes and the brands that produce them, according to Perryer (2019). Companies must step up their ethical practices and credentials to keep hold of their customers. With this, many are implementing corporate social responsibility policies to transform their business processes, and they are witnessing a bonus uplift in consumer loyalty as a result (Perryer, 2019).
Right in front of me was a show – a brand – that has put thoughts into actions. Sheltersuit showed commitment to its purpose and communicates this well to their stakeholders. Purpose flows through its product, marketing and partnerships. Sheltersuit’s reason for existing is its mission to tackle a specific global issue, and the attitude towards the problem is not simplistic or superficial, to solve it in its entirety, but to have focus. In other words, start small but just get started!
Sheltersuit nailed it from a brand perspective. They are purpose-led, genuine and use fascinating, raw, yet cool marketing tools that can speak to its multifaceted audiences, while being authentic. Perhaps its success comes down to three simple words: listen, act and communicate. The more that companies express an authentic view, the more that those who don’t will be exposed (Amed et al., 2019).
I keep thinking about their motto, which appears loud and clear on their clothing pieces and on their website: people helping people. A reminder for us marketers not to forget the human element, connectivity, empathy in our daily work. It’s a journey that the asset management industry is only just beginning. But we are seeing real engagement with and commitment from our clients to articulate their story, values and purpose in a way that is authentic to their audience as people, not just as businesses.
Amed, I., Balchandani, A., Beltrami, M., Berg, A., Hedrich, S. and Rölkens, F., 2019. The influence of ‘woke’ consumers on fashion. [online] www.mckinsey.com. Available at: <https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/the-influence-of-woke-consumers-on-fashion> [Accessed 8 March 2022].
Sheltersuit, n.d. About Sheltersuit. [online] Available at: <https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/12qKTJz7FZkqkWnT_t5u3MJ5vXIu9Vy1h> [Accessed 8 March 2022].
Perryer, S., 2022. Fashion industry seeks to shake bad reputation with CSR initiatives. [online] Europeanceo.com. Available at: <https://www.europeanceo.com/business-and-management/fashion-industry-seeks-to-shake-bad-reputation-with-csr-initiatives/> [Accessed 8 March 2022].
Unsheltered moments, 2021. Unsheltered moments. (01), p.5.