Retail plays a role in pride, all year long

How Macy’s, Puma and more are committing to diversity, representation and inclusion

For some retailers, June is an opportunity for special product offerings, strategic partnerships and charitable donations to support the LGBTQIA+ community. For others, the work is as internal as external — and it continues all year long.

As the youngest of the Millennials and oldest of Gen Z increasingly enter the workforce — and make their buying power known — they bring expectations of equality, inclusivity and affirmation. Transparency matters, too.

“Imagine that they’re leaving their universities, where they’ve talked about pronouns,” says Rob Smith, founder and CEO of The Phluid Project. “Many of their friends are nonbinary, or gender fluid or transgender. They’ll come to an organization and expect that same kind of inclusive space. Companies have to work really hard to create it.”

In retail, doing so means listening to — and supporting — both internal and external customers. Far beyond a rainbow-themed or gender-neutral product on the shelf, that might also mean updating policies, educating customer-facing staff, rewriting language and perhaps even revising signs like “women’s dresses” or “men’s shoes” to be more inclusive. And yes, Smith admits: It’s a massive undertaking.

“Once you start, you realize that it continues a ripple effect,” he says. “But any forward-thinking, progressive company will be up for a chance to evolve, relooking at everything.”

And in this season, which has in many ways offered businesses a “big reset button,” this may be the perfect time to rebuild better in the sense of diversity, representation and inclusion.

Diversity and inclusion

Learn about how retailers are committed to keeping diversity and inclusion at the forefront of their hiring and workplace culture.

Valuing each as they are

Smith, with three decades of experience in retail, is uniquely positioned to field the barrage of companies now seeking guidance. In addition to being a pioneer in the gender-free fashion movement, his company has become a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion training with the G.E.T. (Gender Expansive Training) Phluid program. The Black Lives Matter movement, he says, opened the door for a greater conversation around social justice and representation.

“Gender identity and gender expression is about a group of folks that haven’t been really discussed in the past,” he says. “We’ve discussed females. Lesbian and gay. Race. Abilities. But this is a topic that folks are largely unaware of and unprepared for. It’s like speaking a new language.”

Consider that there’s the sex a person is assigned at birth, that person’s gender identity, their sexual orientation and their gender expression. “And that can all exist separately or together,” Smith says. “You can’t make assumptions based on one or another.”

But accepting and valuing each person as they are isn’t just kind, he says; it also makes business sense: “People who are their authentic selves perform at a much higher level.”

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Making a positive impact

The Trevor Project is another key partner for retailers; it’s the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people. More than 1.8 million LGBTQ young people are estimated to seriously consider suicide each year in the United States.

This year’s retail partners (many long-term) include Abercrombie & Fitch, Harry’s, Macy’s, Morphe, Puma and Williams-Sonoma Inc., and its brand family.

“LGBTQ young people are at increased risk for negative mental health outcomes, such as anxiety, depression and seriously considering suicide, because they are at increased risk for experiencing rejection, discrimination and physical harm,” says Shira Kogan, The Trevor Project’s director of corporate development.

“In The Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, more than half of youth said brands who support the LGBTQ community positively impact how they feel about being LGBTQ — a protective factor against negative mental health outcomes.”

Macy’s has partnered with both The Trevor Project and The Phluid Project.

“For diversity and inclusion efforts to yield progress, retailers must approach the subject with a holistic plan that focuses on its employees, customers and the broader community,” says Shawn Outler, chief diversity officer of Macy’s, Inc.

"For diversity and inclusion efforts to yield progress, retailers must approach the subject with a holistic plan that focuses on its employees, customers and the broader community."

Shawn Outler, Macy’s, Inc.

“Our partnership with The Trevor Project helps tackle a significant need in the LGBTQ community, supporting life-saving services for at-risk LGBTQ youth. Aligning with LGBTQ-owned businesses like The Phluid Project serves to empower the community and provides authenticity in speaking to our customers through the lens of a peer.”

The partnership with The Trevor Project goes back more than a decade on various initiatives.

“In 2019, we were thrilled to support The Trevor Project with more than $1.2 million in donations achieved through our first-ever national giving campaign for Pride Month and through exclusive products that benefited the organization,” Outler says.

“As we looked to expand our efforts, we saw an opportunity to use our scale across a portfolio of nationwide stores and via our digital platforms, to provide The Trevor Project with the showcase not only to raise much needed funds, but most importantly to enhance awareness of their life-saving services for at-risk LGBTQ youth. The combination of the two helped to showcase The Trevor Project’s services to more than 6 million people during the first campaign. We are excited to build on that this year.”

Year-round support

Puma, meanwhile, didn’t have far to look for inspiration: One of the brand’s ambassadors, Cara Delevingne, was already working with The Trevor Project.

“When brainstorming how we could have meaningful impact with The Trevor Project, we grounded our discussions around sport, which led us to talking about inclusivity in the locker room and how we could help foster positive mental health outcomes for young LGBTQ+ athletes,” says Adam Petrick, global director of brand and marketing for Puma.

This year, #REFORMTheLockerRoom became the latest addition to Puma's #REFORM social justice platform.

"It’s important to invest in the community and make a meaningful impact."

Adam Petrick, Puma

“It’s great if a company wants to support the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month, but at Puma we believe in supporting and celebrating the LGBTQ+ community year-round,” Petrick says.

“Throughout the year, we support local and global organizations like BAGLY, a Boston-based, youth-led, adult-supported social support organization committed to providing services for the LGBTQ+ youth community, and Football v Homophobia, the U.K.-based football charity that exists to challenge discrimination based on sexual orientation gender identity and expression at all levels of football,” he says.

“It’s important to invest in the community and make a meaningful impact. We don’t see ourselves as just a financial supporter. We are a dedicated partner working in tandem with great organizations to create change.”

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