Strategy — brands that are using authenticity to make a difference

As a consultant, and prior to that as an executive, I have seen the word ‘strategy’ being brandished around almost like a magic wand that will solve all businesses pain points. The trouble is, people often lose sight of their intentions in lengthy strategy decks. Or in general. Companies, and people for that matter, often walk through the world without clear intention.

Journalist, curator and professor, Paolo Ferrarini was my guest for the seventh episode of Out of the Clouds, my podcast about the relationship between business and mindfulness.

During our conversation, he offered bold thoughts and wonderful insights on the future of fashion and how company strategy should be based on genuine love and creativity, making authenticity a business blueprint, rather than merely a philosophy.

Paolo started his career in trend forecasting before becoming a design journalist and teacher at several of Europe’s most prestigious schools. He writes for Cool Hunting and Italian design title Interni as well. We met a few years back in Milan and were lucky to have the opportunity to spend more time together during a couple of press trips (which I organised), back in the days when we could, you know, travel; until we ended up living in Rome at the same time.

I value his opinion and his words resonated with me in the days after our call.

So, when it comes to strategy, I feel it’s important to get back to basics first. Whenever a company embarks on a new project, particularly when it is external communication, executives should be asking some essential questions. I am not above asking myself any of these, any time I sit down and start something.

  • What is this for?
  • What do we want to achieve?
  • Who are we doing this for?
  • What is the change we seek to make (in the world, with our customers)?
  • And who do we want to be?

In a recent coaching session I attended with leadership coach Tara Mohr, a woman in the group questioned: “Will I be able to make a difference?” To help open up her vision to new possibilities, Mohr suggested she pivot the question to: “What will make a difference?”

So with that in mind, I have shortlisted the companies and brands that have made interesting strategic moves (in my eyes) recently.

First Condé Nast, who appointed their first Global Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Yashica Olden; then 1stDibs landing Virgil Abloh’s second Off White home collection exclusively for their site, positioning them as the de facto go-to for fabulous homeware (interiors being a major growing segment this year in personal goods) — these companies are making a difference with their strategy. And that’s what counts.

I have been interested in exploring this subject for a while. For those of you who haven’t heard of the acronym, DEI stands for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Firstly, a few weeks ago, I read the HBR piece, which discussed the reasons why companies need to create a Chief Diversity Officer role: it was a powerful article.

Indeed, it stands to reason that if we want to positively change company cultures, hiring practices and behaviour, business leaders should put their money where their mouth is and make the right hires to drive this change with a clear intention. For a spoof on this, I highly suggest you watch this sketch from the always excellent Saturday Night Live.

A few days ago, closer to home so to speak, I was happy to learn about the appointment of Yashica Olden at Condé Nast, as their first Global Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer. She and I met years ago by chance in an overcrowded Eurostar where we were the only women, bar one other, in a sea of dark suits. All three of us were by chance (?) seated close to each other and we started chatting (my fancy Louboutin handbag was the opener that broke the ice). Years later and thanks to LinkedIn, we are still in touch somehow.

After working for years in diversity and inclusion roles with companies ranging from Credit Suisse to the UN World Food Program, Olden joins the publishing house late October and will report into Stan Duncan, their Chief People Officer.

“I want to spend my first few weeks on the job really getting to know the different teams, brands and markets that comprise Condé Nast, and I want to promote the idea that D&I isn’t just a team or function within HR — it’s something that must be embedded in everything we do,” she said.

“As for our consumers and audiences, it’s so important that we have these conversations about our content and our people, and I respect them for holding us accountable. I think we can all expect some exciting, hopeful changes ahead.”

Read Olden’s full interview with Digiday

Off White Umbrella in stand — image via @dezeen magazine

I have been slightly addicted to 1stDibs for many years. I am not ashamed of it, on the contrary, I am happy to reveal that it is one of my favourite online “sports”. Move over fashion, it’s all about adding vintage interiors pieces to my wishlist now. I was happy to notice that the online platform was making some shrewd moves first into Fine Jewellery.

With most of us in cocooning mode through no choice of our own, Virgil Abloh’s choice to partner with 1stDibs for the launch of his second line of homeware seems on the nose:

“For this special collection, I’ve taken familiar items in the home and produced them in a way akin to my personal signatures, prioritizing craftsmanship, celebrating the ideals of both the sophisticated modernity of Off-White and the timeless luxury of the 1stDibs shopping experience,” Abloh said in Introspective Magazine, the platform’s editorial title.

“Especially during these times, when we are increasingly seeing fashion influence home and design, Virgil Abloh’s visions are perfectly positioned to help transform our familiar material world into something extraordinary and conceptual, a boost many a quarantined design lover will embrace,” says CCO Christina Miller. The Off-White home collection will be available until it sells out. Discover the collection at HighSnobiety.

Lee Broom Mastro chair
Lee Broom Mastro chair
Image via @Lee Broom

Paolo, in our interview on the podcast, mentioned Lee Broom as one of his favourite current designers, even naming Lee’s film for his new “Maestro” chair as one of the most beautiful he has seen this year. I met Broom a few years ago on a design project for Christian Louboutin at Harrods, before he opened his beautiful showroom in Shoreditch. Indeed he has a way of creating particularly experiential product launches.

In the three-part cinematic short, the new Maestro chair, which pays homage to musical instruments, was unveiled with the help of the Parallax Orchestra, a 30 piece London ensemble which performed magical Debussy for a pandemic-friendly launch during the London Design Festival.

It’s refreshing to see all these brands using a clear focused strategy to really make a difference. Perhaps the days of meaningless ppt presentations are finally over.

This post was originally published in the AVM.Consulting newsletter, which comes out every Wednesday. To sign up for insights into fashion, luxury, design, communications and more, please visit: https://avm.consulting/

Swiss Int’l light. Likes to make magic happen ✨