• Lwam Negusse

3 Brands Taking the Lead to Seed Powerful Social Change

More often and more strongly these days, brands are not as much lauded as expected to be socially active and responsible. Consumers want to know the products they are using are easy on the environment and the companies that they are buying from are giving back in some way. Today, I want to draw your attention to some brands that are not only responding to what their consumers want, but also inspiring and leading social change by altering the way we shop.

Beauty and cosmetics:

Generally, the beauty section is broken down into a few aisles: skincare (soaps and lotions from Aveeno to Aquaphor), cosmetics (occasionally with a smaller subsection for women of color from brands like CoverGirl Queen and Meilani), and hair (from cleansers to styling products and tools). Either at the end of the hair aisle or, often, around the corner is the ethnic aisle. The ethnic products, aside from the tiny column that is sometimes found in cosmetics, are placed separately from the vast aisle full of shampoos, conditioners and mousses. This is where the curl activators, relaxers, and rich moisturizers with pictures of men, women, and children of color are kept. In order to shop them, the consumers are pulled away from the rest of the beauty products into a somewhat isolated section.

This spring, Shea Moisture announced their new #BreakTheWalls campaign that is working to make a shopping the beauty section a more positive and inclusive experience and, in effect, exposing and challenging all consumers in these categories to consider a broader more representative definition of beauty. The brand that has historically been found in the ethnic aisle has now moved to be a part of the comprehensive hair selection. As CEO Richelieu Dennis stated, “Separating ‘Beauty’ from ‘Ethnic’ has only served to further perpetuate narrow standards of what is considered beautiful in our industry and our society—which is why we began leading the efforts to break down those walls.”

Grocery store:

There have been many strong, innovative efforts placed to minimize the waste of packaging, but we still face issues with our landfills continuing to grow, especially as there is a certain amount of packaging generally needed. This is specifically something that has become troubling to me as I make frequent trips (on my bike!) and shop in smaller quantities so as to reduce the waste from my kitchen. There is just a base-level of packaging that we expect to find, and dispose of, when dealing with our groceries: milk jugs, cereal boxes, egg crates, even the plastic bags to get bulk grains.

One grocery store coming to Brooklyn is working to interrupt this shopping experience and make a dent in this issue. The Fillery is going to be an all bulk, no disposable packaging grocery store. While offering mostly dried goods and non-perishables, they are working with a dairy farm to offer bottled milk and will be a CSA pick up location to also act as a source for produce without packaging. This will allow consumers to purchase the exact amounts they need and fill only using reusable packaging like tins and glass jars. Owner Sarah Metz hopes to not only reduce waste and make a more sustainable store but also aims to get “people to really start thinking in terms of their purchasing habits. To be thinking in a more eco-conscious way…” So while reducing the waste in the specific products shoppers will pick up at The Fillery, she also inspiring and empowering them all to carry this line of thinking through to any other shopping experiences, hopefully sparking further innovation in packaging and changing the way we all see the impact of all the basic things we shop for.

Casual dining:

As we are all well-aware, our phones are now ever-present. It’s become small talk like the weather or weekend plans; everyone is used to the conversation about how our phones solve all our problems but are also putting up social barriers. Any time there is a moment of pause, that break is suddenly occupied by tapping of thumbs to check social media feeds, update calendars, or catch up on the news. With the increase in productivity and comfort of our entire worlds being available at any moment at our fingertips, we’ve traded away so much of the intimacy found in natural conversations and the charisma and connection that occurs when we don’t have the ability to think before typing.

Chick-fil-A is taking some initiative to combat this current standard of social dynamics by incentivizing direct human interaction. They’ve introduced baskets that they call Cell Phone Coops where customers can keep their silenced phones during the meal. If the group keeps their phones in the Coop for the entire meal, they get free ice cream cones at the end. As the HuffPost states, “Research has shown that using phones during meals not only leaves you incapable of fully enjoying the food, but damages romantic relationships and contributes to feelings of depression when you’re socially snubbed by your partner. Plus, being distracted by a screen may cause you to eat more than you normally would.” With many of the franchises now offering the Coops, Chick-fil-A is promoting a way to positively encourage people to put their phones away and enjoy their time together by changing how they participate in mealtime at their restaurants.

Shea Moisture, The Fillery, and Chick-fil-A are not just reacting to the opportunity to be corporate citizens and give back in some way, they are taking the lead on significant social issues in a way that is relevant and complementary to their brand. By aligning to a social issue that is not only au courant but also well-suited to their identity and offering, they remain authentic and have even greater power in the change they hope to incite.