As part of our latest Special Edition, BoF has produced a series of video articles with entrepreneurs and business owners on how to build a responsible business. Hear from The Rebel, The Upcycler, The Anti-Consumptionist, The Manufacturer and The Social Good Brand and explore the Special Edition here.
LONDON, United Kingdom — Covid-19 has thrown the fashion industry into disarray.
“Everything is a disaster,” Brendon Babenzien, founder of menswear brand Noah, told BoF. Thanks to Noah’s price point and WFH-friendly range, the brand has been luckier than most. And as of last year, around half of the brand’s business was already happening online.
However, Noah is selling a lot less of its higher-priced items and had to shut down its physical store on New York’s Mulberry Street. “Anyone you know who kind of tries to say this is not a disaster for them is lying.”
Even so, the brand’s commitments remain intact. “Our values haven't been tested... they’ve been enforced,” he said. “We feel stronger about the things we believe in now.” For Noah, this means making quality products ethically and aligning with value-driven movements like Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock Preservation. Here’s how Babenzien and his team are weathering the current crisis.
Know when to compromise. Though Babenzien has fought against digital marketing since the brand was launched, he’s had to compromise as the business shifts its focus. “We've definitely switched gears a little bit because we're basically an online business now,” he said. “So we're going to use some of the tools necessary to stay in business.”
The bottom line isn’t the be-all and end-all. To the former Supreme design director, removing greed from the equation makes purpose-driven decision-making more straightforward. “You make responsible decisions, you probably make less money, but does that really matter?”
Purpose can and should be personal. To Babenzien, hiring people with shared values and beliefs is core to staying motivated as a small, purpose-driven team of around 40. “It's just a gratifying way to exist, because you can wrap [up your beliefs] in your work... you get weird phrases like, ‘it's not personal, it's business.’ That's just never really felt correct to me.”
Purpose-driven marketing only works if you do. “It's only a problem if it's not genuine and people kind of come and like find out you're full of shit.” Rather than staying silent or addressing the crisis through a corporate lens, Noah raised $65,000 for charity Direct Relief and encouraged its Instagram followers to support small, independent businesses in a letter penned by Babenzien. The post garnered over 22,000 likes and almost 400 overwhelmingly positive comments. “Businesses that really do care about their community... those are the businesses that need to get through this [and] need to really set the standard going forward.”
Give consumers credit. “Consumers do have the power, they’ve just forgotten,” said Babenzien. “Trust the consumer because there are a lot of consumers who are trying to move forward and be progressive in their thinking and how they spend money.”