1) Bonobos strives to connect with all types of men through its marketing and personalized fit.

At the menswear brand Bonobos, customers can purchase items online or in stores (Guideshops), where they can book a one-hour appointment at a store, complete with personal styling and fit—afterward, orders are shipped to customers’ doorsteps. If 40 was an unprecedented number of foundation shades in the beauty market, Bonobos offers pants for a whopping 172 different sizes and fits.

This scope was recently featured in a May 2018 marketing campaign, Project 172, with 172 different models—170 men and two women of various sizes, ages and races—alongside the slogan “However you fit, Bonobos fits you.” At the time of writing, the campaign is being adapted for a short documentary series—an extension of Guidebook, Bonobos’ editorial project, which highlights various inspiring people and their work, from Llew Mejia, an print designer whose work reflects his Latinx heritage, and Peter Saji, the co-executive producer of “Black-ish.” For a company that prides itself on tailoring its clothes to each customer, Project 172 and these other projects work to elevate Bonobos’ brand so that anyone can imagine himself a customer.

Turning inclusivity marketing into an inclusive business model

Though it’s significantly easier to articulate brand values in marketing than execute them in practice, Bonobos’ advocacy for inclusivity is a welcome peculiarity from a menswear brand. According to Micky Onvural, co-president of the brand since 2016, holding Bonobos up as a leader in enlightened masculinity—one that promotes gender equality, diversity and empathy—is central to the ethos of the brand’s founder, Andy Dunn. Despite the patent promotionality of an ad, Bonobos is working to show that the values expressed in Project 172 are not a marketing ploy, but rather baked into the brand itself. Because Bonobos representatives provide customers the option to meet in person and customize each product to him, continuing to improve the mechanics around fit will symbiotically carry Dunn’s vision and Bonobos’ value system forward.

Right now, Bonobos’ inclusivity is most visibly limited by geography—Guideshops appear in 23 states and in Washington, D.C., mostly in affluent urban areas. But Bonobos’ $310 million sale to Walmart in June 2017 will likely muster up growth and scale the business further with the help of its new parent company’s infrastructure, meeting new customers where they already are, provided that Bonobos appeals to shoppers outside of the 20-to-30-something Brooklyn types. Still, its founder, Andy Dunn, sees the target demographic for the brand as men between the ages of 25 and 45, which somewhat contradicts the premise of a brand that truly anyone can wear, as it so advertises. But utilizing its inclusive marketing, Bonobos could reach older audiences, tapping into shoppers with more spending power than millennials and growing its business to realize Project 172 for all ages, shapes and sizes.

2) Lush’s nonbinary advertising is attempting to build a genderless shopping experience.

Lush, a British cosmetics retailer known for its bath bombs and natural soaps, advertises its products on Instagram featuring a balance of men and women, same-sex and heterosexual couples. Though the brand sells products for beards, there is no men’s section either in store or online—all customers are invited to a holistic shopping experience and walk away with genderless black or neutral packaging.

Lush’s advocacy backs up its marketing and aesthetic efforts: When the brand launched in 1995, it spoke out against animal testing and promoted environmental consciousness, and today, the company is using its marketing as a platform to champion trans rights and gender fluidity (it also raises money for these causes).

While the company benefits from having a brand conscience, it also appeals to a wider variety of consumers simply as a brand that sells soaps, shampoos and conditioner—universally used items, unlike products sold by a menswear brand like Bonobos, whose attempts to indoctrinate wide-spanning inclusivity into its business model is much more of a challenge. At the same time however, 89% of Lush’s Instagram followers are women, who also comprise the majority of the brand’s target audience. Though the company claims that its male consumer base is growing, this statistic makes the company’s Instagram account more like genderless marketing for a targeted consumer base.

3) Sephora’s community classroom embraces trans and nonbinary customers.

While Lush attempts to build a store and shopping experience untethered to gender, Sephora is utilizing its community program, Classes for Confidence, to empower trans and nonbinary consumers. With the tagline, “Fearless is the new flawless,” the free, in-store courses are dedicated to consumers who are reentering the workforce or facing cancer—the new class, beginning in June 2018, will serve those undergoing a gender transition or living as trans.

Aside from being cost-free at 150 Sephora locations, the tutorials will be published on YouTube so that even those who don’t live in proximity to a Sephora store can participate and glean new information. As the program was developed by Sephora’s trans “cast members”—the company’s slang for sales associates—and taught by the retailer’s trans Beauty Advisors, the classes will lead with authenticity and empathy, tailoring to the interests and needs of the nonbinary community. Overall, the courses reflect the company’s internal culture, speaking to the depth and long-term commitment of its inclusive mission, rather than simply capitalizing on Pride Month. The retailer is also selling a line of products to help finance Bold Beauty for the Transgender Community—all in all, explicitly stating that trans and nonbinary people are integral to the Sephora community and the company’s future.

4) Nike’s foray into products for women and minorities is laudable, but until diversity is integrated into the company culture, this inclusivity will remain a facade.

With the recent incidents at Nordstrom Rack, where three black teenagers in Missouri were accused of shoplifting, and at Starbucks, where two black men in Philadelphia were arrested for loitering, retail has a lot of work to do to fight racial profiling. After the Starbucks episode, the company pulled an unprecedented move, shutting down 8,000 of its locations in the U.S. for an afternoon of diversity training led by advisors from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and other like-minded organizations. While a few hours cannot solve racial bias in retail, the hope is that it will improve the service customers receive from Starbucks employees in the future.

Nike is one of the most interesting case studies exemplifying an asymmetrical relationship between brand and company culture. The activewear company has made significant strides in attending to diverse customer needs, moving away from a male-engineered strategy and product to include women and minorities. In December 2017, Nike became the first athletic company to release the sport hijab, which received praise for its efforts, but failed to deliver on functionality. The hijab comes in only two sizes, and Muslim women athletes largely found the product unfit for sport—the hijab shifted during workouts, affecting visibility, and its advertised light and breathable fabric trapped in sweat and air.

In early 2018, Nike announced that it would include women’s sizing for some of its most sought-after sneakers, including the classic Air Force 1s and a collaboration with Virgil Abloh. To include women beyond just size, Nike also opened a sneaker boutique for women called Unlaced, which it will bring to other Nike locations as store-in-stores and use as a hub to present collaborations with other female designers.

The limits to Nike’s initiatives for women and minorities

Catering to the women’s sneaker market—and especially female sneakerheads—in an overwhelmingly male-dominated space is a constructive path forward for Nike, a brand that claims that “if you have a body, you’re an athlete.” But it also stands in stark contradiction to the revelation of sexual harassment within Nike’s own company—since March 2018, 11 male senior executives have left or said they plan to leave the company after reports from employees surfaced about the “boys club” environment. Without inclusivity in the workplace, it’s hard for consumers to stomach Nike’s newfound attentiveness to female customers, though the replacement of these male executives with women will likely help advance these initiatives.

Though at 54 years old, Nike is an established and preeminent force in the activewear industry, until the company can internalize the same values it purports to champion in its mission and brand, its inclusivity will be viewed as perfunctory and its reputation and relevance will be at risk. What’s more, as the company develops its range of products for diverse body types and needs, it will need to do so with customer feedback as a priority and with more women and minorities in top decision-making positions. The good news is that as more instances of profiling and harassment are made public, and the more that companies receive criticism and are forced to react, the more brands will model themselves after companies that dealt with similar issues in a constructive way. Increasingly, as consumers expect the brands they spend on to represent their own values, companies will have to match greater expectations for inclusivity. The brands that fail to match these requirements will see their relevance dip.