Storytelling and identity for fashion brands: What it means

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Before we get to the meat of this article, we need to express an unpopular opinion: No one cares about your brand’s origin story. 

Well, they care—but not in the way you might think. Do a quick search for “brand storytelling”, and you’ll be bombarded with marketing advice about how “consumers want to be associated with brands that have a meaningful story.”

Many brand marketers and founders misconstrue this advice to mean that consumers care about the details of their backstory. They like this advice because it’s self-indulgent and satisfies our need to feel seen when we’ve done something difficult—like start a company. 

But the truth is, consumers, want products that make them feel good and solve real problems. What they care about are brand stories that revolve around how products achieve these goals. They want to see themselves in the story. 

3 key elements of an effective brand story

An effective brand story—and by “effective”, we mean one that will generate revenue—features three key elements:

1. Your customer

2. How your product will make your customer feel 

3. The features that make your product different than other products like it 

Some stories will emphasize one area over the others. Warby Parker, for example, goes all-in on differentiating themselves with their “How Our Glasses Are Made” video, which explains how they’re able to produce high-quality glasses at a fraction of their competitors’ price. 

Fashion and identity: Ripe ingredients for an effective brand story

To demonstrate how these key elements come together, we’re going to highlight fashion brands.

Why fashion brands? Because for as long as we’ve adorned our bodies, our clothes have been attached to our identity. 

In her book You Are What You Wear, Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner says, “Taking care of yourself begins with self-discovery. The clothing you put on your back is an incredibly accurate indicator of what you think of yourself and your life. Cracking open the closet doors can lead to great insight. When you strive toward self-discovery, improvement often follows.”

In other words, we buy clothes to feel good in our skin and differentiate ourselves from others. That’s why fashion brand stories that double-down on identity are so powerful—they allow the customer to envision themselves as an ideal version of themselves through clothing. 

5 fashion brand stories that hit the mark 

1. Wildfang

Wildfang was founded by women in 2013. Beloved by LGBTQ+ women, Wildfang set out to create clothes that exist outside gender binaries, so that more women can feel comfortable in their gender expression. 

Wildfang: Born To Stand Out

Core audience

LGBTQ+ women and nonbinary folks who like masculine-of-center clothing

Core values

“A woman has the right to wear whatever the hell they want and be whoever the hell they want.”

They support charities that uplift reproductive, immigrant, and queer rights.

Why they’re different

Menswear tailoring that works for women’s bodies

The stories they tell

Wildfang produced a short film with Evan Rachel Wood—called “Evan Rachel Would”. The film is about what happens when a self-described “tomboy” takes the reins of her own life and accepts challenges outside her comfort zone.

How you can take a page from their book 

Don’t be afraid to get specific with your audience target. Tell a story that only a niche audience would understand. The more targeted you are, the more opportunities you have to use insider references to strengthen your story. 

Think of your story like a substance that becomes more potent with higher concentration. 

2. Loud Bodies

Patricia Luiza Blaj founded Loud Bodies in 2018 after she walked into a mall and couldn’t find colorful clothing in her size. Everything made for bigger bodies was “plain, baggy and in colours, I hoped I wouldn’t feel like wearing even at 80.”

Core audience

Women of size who don’t want to wear boring clothes

Core values

“It’s time to embrace who you are. We all have bodies, we all have insecurities. So why stress so much about it, when it’s something we all have?”

Why they’re different

Their sizes go up to 10XL so that larger bodies don’t have to sacrifice on style to feel good in their clothes.

The stories they tell

Loud Bodies doesn’t have the budget for high-cost ad campaigns, so they’ve turned their core story into a slideshow. Taking a page from Warby Parker, Loud Bodies walks the transparency path to describe exactly how their clothes are made. 

Fun fact: Loud Bodies pays their two employees twice the minimum wage. 

How you can take a page from their book 

Embrace transparency about the process of making your products—but do it in the right place at the right time. Loud Bodies communicates their bonus benefits on their About page, but their homepage is all about the customer.

3. Andrew Christian

Founded in 1997, Andrew Christian has since been carried in hundreds of stores around the world, including Nordstrom USA, Selfridges UK, Kadewe Germany, and Simons Canada.

Core audience

Gay men who love stylish underwear

Core values

Sex positivity and pride within the gay community

Why they’re different

A “waist slimming elastic” and “FlashLift” Bottom-Lifting Technology

The stories they tell

Andrew Christian’s “Animal Instinct” ad is an unflinching representation of the brand’s target audience—which is more aspirational than reality. While it’s doubtful that most of Andrew Christian’s customers look like the beefy men in the ad, the core message is clear: “You can feel sexy in our underwear.”

How you can take a page from their book 

Be bold! Andrew Christian doesn’t hold back on their sex-positive brand messaging, making for an undiluted point of view. If your brand is loud, it needs to be loud—your audience will feel it if you deliver a watered-down version of your story. 

4. Ffora

FFORA is an anagram for Fashion For All. They use functional design and real-life experiences to create accessories that work for people with physical disabilities. 

Core audience

People who use wheelchairs

Core values

People with disabilities should have access to beautiful, well-designed products made to improve accessibility 

Why they’re different

Ffora actively works to cut out “design bias”—meaning they use principles of functional design to make accessories that people with disabilities want to use.

The stories they tell

Ffora hardly talks about themselves at all—instead, they partner with athletes, artists, and other professionals with disabilities who can share their lived experiences. Ffora partners with people like Jourdie Godley, a fashion consultant, to model their accessories and talk about how the brand makes their lives better. 

How you can take a page from their book 

Work with micro-creators with lived experience who can perhaps tell your story better than you can. 

5. The J. Peterman Company

The J. Peterman Company has been around forever—they were founded in 1987 and have since folded and brought back to life. 

Core audience

People who love vintage looks from the early 20th century that are hard to find

Core values

Taking the road less traveled and experiencing life from multiple points of view

Why they’re different

Their product descriptions throw away the SEO rulebook in favor of flowery language that tells a full story about every product and its target customer.

The stories they tell

What stories don’t they tell? Their “On the Cape Ruffle Sleeve Dress” tells the story of an elegant woman frolicking around a beach town at the end of the season—“Not quite fall. Not quite not.”

How you can take a page from their book 

Try throwing away the SEO handbook for a little more creativity with your product descriptions. Make up a character who will use your product for its ultimate purpose, and build a full story around it with a beginning, middle, and end. For more about how to pull this off, see this article here

Key takeaways

  1. Be as specific as you can about your audience target and use insider references to tell your story. 
  1. Be transparent about how you make your products––but tell that story in the right place at the right time, ideally after your audience knows the core benefits of your product. 
  1. Be bold and don’t dilute your story because you think some people might not embrace it. 
  1. Work with micro-creators who have lived the pain points you’re trying to solve. They may be able to tell your story better than you can. 
  1. Try getting creative with your product descriptions by telling a full story about each product, using a character that represents your ideal customer.
Share

Storytelling and identity for fashion brands: What it means

Before we get to the meat of this article, we need to express an unpopular opinion: No one cares about your brand’s origin story. 

Well, they care—but not in the way you might think. Do a quick search for “brand storytelling”, and you’ll be bombarded with marketing advice about how “consumers want to be associated with brands that have a meaningful story.”

Many brand marketers and founders misconstrue this advice to mean that consumers care about the details of their backstory. They like this advice because it’s self-indulgent and satisfies our need to feel seen when we’ve done something difficult—like start a company. 

But the truth is, consumers, want products that make them feel good and solve real problems. What they care about are brand stories that revolve around how products achieve these goals. They want to see themselves in the story. 

3 key elements of an effective brand story

An effective brand story—and by “effective”, we mean one that will generate revenue—features three key elements:

1. Your customer

2. How your product will make your customer feel 

3. The features that make your product different than other products like it 

Some stories will emphasize one area over the others. Warby Parker, for example, goes all-in on differentiating themselves with their “How Our Glasses Are Made” video, which explains how they’re able to produce high-quality glasses at a fraction of their competitors’ price. 

Fashion and identity: Ripe ingredients for an effective brand story

To demonstrate how these key elements come together, we’re going to highlight fashion brands.

Why fashion brands? Because for as long as we’ve adorned our bodies, our clothes have been attached to our identity. 

In her book You Are What You Wear, Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner says, “Taking care of yourself begins with self-discovery. The clothing you put on your back is an incredibly accurate indicator of what you think of yourself and your life. Cracking open the closet doors can lead to great insight. When you strive toward self-discovery, improvement often follows.”

In other words, we buy clothes to feel good in our skin and differentiate ourselves from others. That’s why fashion brand stories that double-down on identity are so powerful—they allow the customer to envision themselves as an ideal version of themselves through clothing. 

5 fashion brand stories that hit the mark 

1. Wildfang

Wildfang was founded by women in 2013. Beloved by LGBTQ+ women, Wildfang set out to create clothes that exist outside gender binaries, so that more women can feel comfortable in their gender expression. 

Wildfang: Born To Stand Out

Core audience

LGBTQ+ women and nonbinary folks who like masculine-of-center clothing

Core values

“A woman has the right to wear whatever the hell they want and be whoever the hell they want.”

They support charities that uplift reproductive, immigrant, and queer rights.

Why they’re different

Menswear tailoring that works for women’s bodies

The stories they tell

Wildfang produced a short film with Evan Rachel Wood—called “Evan Rachel Would”. The film is about what happens when a self-described “tomboy” takes the reins of her own life and accepts challenges outside her comfort zone.

How you can take a page from their book 

Don’t be afraid to get specific with your audience target. Tell a story that only a niche audience would understand. The more targeted you are, the more opportunities you have to use insider references to strengthen your story. 

Think of your story like a substance that becomes more potent with higher concentration. 

2. Loud Bodies

Patricia Luiza Blaj founded Loud Bodies in 2018 after she walked into a mall and couldn’t find colorful clothing in her size. Everything made for bigger bodies was “plain, baggy and in colours, I hoped I wouldn’t feel like wearing even at 80.”

Core audience

Women of size who don’t want to wear boring clothes

Core values

“It’s time to embrace who you are. We all have bodies, we all have insecurities. So why stress so much about it, when it’s something we all have?”

Why they’re different

Their sizes go up to 10XL so that larger bodies don’t have to sacrifice on style to feel good in their clothes.

The stories they tell

Loud Bodies doesn’t have the budget for high-cost ad campaigns, so they’ve turned their core story into a slideshow. Taking a page from Warby Parker, Loud Bodies walks the transparency path to describe exactly how their clothes are made. 

Fun fact: Loud Bodies pays their two employees twice the minimum wage. 

How you can take a page from their book 

Embrace transparency about the process of making your products—but do it in the right place at the right time. Loud Bodies communicates their bonus benefits on their About page, but their homepage is all about the customer.

3. Andrew Christian

Founded in 1997, Andrew Christian has since been carried in hundreds of stores around the world, including Nordstrom USA, Selfridges UK, Kadewe Germany, and Simons Canada.

Core audience

Gay men who love stylish underwear

Core values

Sex positivity and pride within the gay community

Why they’re different

A “waist slimming elastic” and “FlashLift” Bottom-Lifting Technology

The stories they tell

Andrew Christian’s “Animal Instinct” ad is an unflinching representation of the brand’s target audience—which is more aspirational than reality. While it’s doubtful that most of Andrew Christian’s customers look like the beefy men in the ad, the core message is clear: “You can feel sexy in our underwear.”

How you can take a page from their book 

Be bold! Andrew Christian doesn’t hold back on their sex-positive brand messaging, making for an undiluted point of view. If your brand is loud, it needs to be loud—your audience will feel it if you deliver a watered-down version of your story. 

4. Ffora

FFORA is an anagram for Fashion For All. They use functional design and real-life experiences to create accessories that work for people with physical disabilities. 

Core audience

People who use wheelchairs

Core values

People with disabilities should have access to beautiful, well-designed products made to improve accessibility 

Why they’re different

Ffora actively works to cut out “design bias”—meaning they use principles of functional design to make accessories that people with disabilities want to use.

The stories they tell

Ffora hardly talks about themselves at all—instead, they partner with athletes, artists, and other professionals with disabilities who can share their lived experiences. Ffora partners with people like Jourdie Godley, a fashion consultant, to model their accessories and talk about how the brand makes their lives better. 

How you can take a page from their book 

Work with micro-creators with lived experience who can perhaps tell your story better than you can. 

5. The J. Peterman Company

The J. Peterman Company has been around forever—they were founded in 1987 and have since folded and brought back to life. 

Core audience

People who love vintage looks from the early 20th century that are hard to find

Core values

Taking the road less traveled and experiencing life from multiple points of view

Why they’re different

Their product descriptions throw away the SEO rulebook in favor of flowery language that tells a full story about every product and its target customer.

The stories they tell

What stories don’t they tell? Their “On the Cape Ruffle Sleeve Dress” tells the story of an elegant woman frolicking around a beach town at the end of the season—“Not quite fall. Not quite not.”

How you can take a page from their book 

Try throwing away the SEO handbook for a little more creativity with your product descriptions. Make up a character who will use your product for its ultimate purpose, and build a full story around it with a beginning, middle, and end. For more about how to pull this off, see this article here

Key takeaways

  1. Be as specific as you can about your audience target and use insider references to tell your story. 
  1. Be transparent about how you make your products––but tell that story in the right place at the right time, ideally after your audience knows the core benefits of your product. 
  1. Be bold and don’t dilute your story because you think some people might not embrace it. 
  1. Work with micro-creators who have lived the pain points you’re trying to solve. They may be able to tell your story better than you can. 
  1. Try getting creative with your product descriptions by telling a full story about each product, using a character that represents your ideal customer.