There’s progress in so many aspects of our lives these days, it can be hard to keep track. A major move towards inclusivity has meant that, although we still have a very long way to go, American culture has taken important steps toward equality in the realms of gender, race, sexual orientation, and more. Those strides have often been followed by companies trying to make their products more diverse and inclusive, often to great success.
“Traditional” sales behavior creates blind spots, which creates opportunities for new businesses. Consider women who wear above a size 8 or 10. Despite accounting for 10 percent of retail sales — or $21 billion of the fashion market — many mainstream companies have nevertheless overlooked them when designing clothing, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. Because of that, small businesses geared towards such customers have been able to break in and cleanly build themselves a niche.
But there’s a fine line between entering a market because you think it will be lucrative and entering a market because you truly want to serve a certain subset of customers. Julie Arsenault, the founder and CEO of underwear subscription service Panty Drop, found this out the hard way when her company began offering plus-sized products up to 3x. But, she tells the Journal, that wasn’t going to cut it. After hearing “loud and clear” from body-positive communities on social media, they began carrying sizes up to 6x.
“They told us… that if we really want to serve this market, we need to go higher than 3x,” Arsenault says.
So, how to walk the razor’s edge between jumping on a hot trend and actually filling a gap in the market? Here are some suggestions.
Do Your Research
Of course, if you’re launching a brand, you’re going to go bananas with research in advance. But if it’s a brand that is tied to any sort of cause — say, clothing for plus-sized women — be sure to dig deep into social media to find out what your future customers want. Maybe more importantly, find out what they don’t want. Nobody wants to be talked down to or told what they need; particularly not people who have not been getting what they need for decades.
And in this day and age, this type of research should go beyond just reading. Reach out to leaders in the field you’ll be targeting; listen to them and take their concerns into account as you begin to design your product.
Avoid Making an Ass Out of You and Me
Even if you are a member of the community you’re seeking to serve, you still only know what’s best for you. Don’t assume that what’s good for you is good for everyone in your demographic; bear in mind that people have different tastes and different goals. Talk to friends, or think about how you would approach something if you were coming from a different background.
Make Sure You’re Partnering With Equally Responsible Brands
Listen, consumers these days are savvy. They know that you’re taking VC money, they know that you might outsource some manufacturing or marketing, and they will have no trouble whatsoever tracking down who you’re doing business with. So be sure that the people and companies you hire are equally on board with your social justice goals, even if it means painfully cutting ties (or even worse, painfully turning down money). And be sure that you’re conscious of causes other than your own. Going back to our plus-sized clothing example, you might find yourself dealing with a company that’s very aware of that particular issue, but meanwhile scores extremely poorly on environmental concerns. Unfortunately, that’s not a good look for you or your company.
Make Your Mission Clear
To ensure that you’re not supporting one cause at the expense of another, lay out a clear and concise social responsibility mission. Nikki Korn of Cause Consulting tells Entrepreneur that such missions should be authentic, transparent, passionate, and locally focused. She also suggests that goals should be attainable: you won’t transform an entire industry in one fell swoop, but you can do your part to begin making change on a smaller level. Then, once you’ve got your foot in the door, you can bring your vision to larger and larger audiences.
Entering a market that’s focused on social justice is a great way to put your passion to work — and hopefully make a living doing it. Just remember that you’re there for a greater cause; and the more focused and deliberate you can be, the better chance you have of effecting real change.