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Retail Trends

How Income Can be Used to Build More Inclusive Brands

Erik Joule

May 21, 2024

On Tuesday, April 30th, MakerSights kicked off Perspectives, a podcast series aimed at expanding minds by sparking thought-provoking discussions and reflections among those passionate about apparel and footwear. This first conversation focused on inclusivity in the apparel and footwear space, providing insights beyond the expected pillars of race and gender into income.

Blake Simpson, who started her career at Gap and Levis and is now the Chief Communication Officer for Adtalem, a for-profit education company focused on the medical field, shared her insights on the importance of access when discussing inclusion. In this instance, the outdoor industry was the topic. Is access to the outdoors as crucial as the products' pricing strategy? Dicks Sporting Goods was highlighted as a brand getting it right. It is recognized by over 80% of people across all income levels1. It has chosen to be broad in its offering and messaging to appeal to the inner-city kid who enjoys a bike ride at the local park and the suburban mountain biker with access to the open spaces.

On the other hand, the panel discussed REI, which enjoys wide brand recognition with the $150K/year cohort but is almost unknown to those making less than $75K. This divergence is undoubtedly driven by price. However, it is reinforced by messaging that feels more exclusive, depicting adventures in remote and exotic locations. This could feel exclusive to groups that historically have experienced steep barriers of entry regarding access to the outdoors. This could be an opportunity for REI to capitalize on.

Shoes were, of course, a topic. The running industry has been focused on bringing innovation at the pinnacle price points. The $500 running shoe has become the main conversation amongst some runners. The panel challenged the industry to double down on innovation at lower prices. This is a tough but worthy challenge that would position brands as valuing and caring about the taste and expectations of lower-income (and younger) consumers. The various innovation kitchens typically ignore this group. The critical insight here was that a more balanced innovation strategy is essential rather than one trickling down.

The ubiquitous Adidas Samba shoe was also mentioned as a symbol of inclusivity that appealed to all cohorts. It is stylish indeed, but it is also priced at $65! This indicates that Adidas's ‘high and low’ inclusive pricing strategy is winning. Accessible price points also enable brands to tap into Gen Z, a generation that is becoming the leading cultural and consumption influencer. Tapping into these audiences and income brackets whilst protecting legacy price point shoes will allow brands to have a high penetration level across multiple income segments and age brackets, a vital benefit of this more inclusive approach.

This is an exciting time for retail, requiring new thinking, a willingness to let go, and a heightened awareness of the broader culture and societal context. The balance of quantitative and qualitative data insights will play a significant role in helping brands move forward in these fast-evolving cultural times.

Erik Joule
PFSK Speaker, Former Levi’s Executive

Erik Joule has over 25 years of experience leading teams to spark innovation in product, merchandising, design, and marketing campaigns.

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