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What Fashion Can Learn From Burning Man

The festival’s CEO Marian Goodell highlights the importance of community in garnering a following.
Marian Goodell speaks during #BoFVOICES | Source: Getty Images for The Business of Fashion

OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — One of the trickiest components in fashion marketing is building an authentic community amongst a brand’s consumers.

The death of traditional retail, after all, was in part spurred by the savviness of digitally native upstarts in building fan bases via Instagram or through carefully curated events.

It’s precisely this element of community that the fashion industry should pay attention to when it comes to Burning Man, the annual arts event in the Nevada desert that’s garnered a massive, cult-like following.

Burning Man, according to its CEO Marian Goodell at BoF VOICES, is simply an environment for play. Per strict rules of the festival, the only things sold on the premises are coffee and ice, making it virtually impossible for companies to sponsor tents or activations.

The idea is that without transactions at Burning Man, its nearly 80,000 participants can be more engaged in interactions with one another.

“When you’re set outside your comfort zone to play, to talk to other people, to build with other people, it actually brings you a little bit closer to yourself and how you want to engage with others,” said Goodell.

While fashion brands may never get the chance to promote themselves at Burning Man, they can take a cue from this ethos: consumers don’t want to be pushed products, they want genuine human engagement, whether that’s through training retail associates to be friendly and honest or building store experiences that prioritise fun over sales potential.

“At Burning Man, it’s not that we don’t believe in money but what we don’t believe in is the idea that transactions create relationships,” Goodell said. “It’s the immediate experience that creates relationships.”

To learn more about VOICES, BoF’s annual gathering for big thinkers, visit our VOICES website, where you can find all the details on our invitation-only global gathering.

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