#SWAAYthenarrative

It's Time For The Fashion Industry To Stop Ignoring Older Women

6 Min Read
Culture

A few months after I left my corporate job as the Head of Merchandising for Old Navy Online, I walked into the Everlane concept store in preparation for an upcoming meeting at their corporate office. As I looked around trying to find an outfit, a feeling of alienation came over me. From the perky twenty-something sales associate that looked at me askance when I walked in, to the array of androgynous, box-llooking, nondescript apparel, it was clear that I didn't belong. I finally landed on a streamlined navy dress that was seemingly appropriate for my meeting — a nothing special, medium quality, basic dress that felt like a millennial uniform. I never wore that dress again.

Many other women in my community also felt forgotten by many of the DTC brands focused on social media marketing, "cool girl" messaging, and most of all, a product aesthetic and quality that missed the mark.

At the time, a swarm of DTC (direct-to-consumer) brands were coming into their own — each of them targeting millennials. Brand after brand was cropping up with streamlined basics, a claim of quality, and often a particular gender-neutral aesthetic that felt like it had nothing to do with me.

I realized other women in my community were converging around a similar complaint. They wanted chic, high-quality products but struggled to find pieces that felt special yet appropriate for their busy lifestyle. They also felt forgotten by many of the DTC brands focused on social media marketing, "cool girl" messaging, and most of all, a product aesthetic and quality that missed the mark.

Women at every age, especially older women, are experiencing a new wave of power, influence, and relevance across industries, yet that same generation of women is being seriously overlooked as consumers in the fashion space. Where are the modern, cool (in their own right), online luxury brands that understand and speak to an older customer?

The majority of women over 40 that we heard from don't feel included or represented by the fashion marketing they see on social media.

With Bells & Becks, I set out to solve what I recognized as a product-void in the marketplace, but over time, it's become clear that there's a much bigger issue at play. Older women are still largely ignored by modern fashion brands. Whether it's their current style of social media marketing, their lack of understanding when it comes to mature women's functional needs and quality expectations, or simply their product aesthetic, most brands in the DTC space target a younger demographic.

Perhaps the most grievous mistake brands make here is failing to connect with women over 40 on social media. Digital marketing has evolved as one of the most effective forms of brand building. But here's the issue, while it's true that millennials grew up with technology, there's an assumption that it's predominantly this younger demographic that engages (and purchases) online, especially in the fashion space. This is simply not correct.

In a 2020 consumer survey, 68% of people ages 35 – 54 (and over half of those over 55) reported daily Facebook use, and nearly 40% are on Instagram daily, as well. When asked about factors that impact purchasing decisions, close to 50% said their purchase behavior is influenced by someone they follow on Facebook — 41% say the same of Instagram.

Older women are active participants on social media and are just as clued in as their younger peers. In a recent survey we conducted as a brand, we found social media was the single most important factor driving awareness of new brands and purchasing, and yet, the majority of women over 40 that we heard from don't feel included or represented by the fashion marketing they see on social media.

Another factor that brands fail to notice is the tremendous buying power held by older women. Some demographic data suggests millennial purchasing power is the strongest, and so many legacy and newer brands target these dollars for good reason. It's no wonder that DTC brands coming up during the age of social media marketing would largely focus on a group of digitally native purchasers. But women over 40 have massive spending power — Gen Xers have been reported to spend as much as one-third more each year than their millennial counterparts — and don't find purchasing luxury products to be a serious stretch. We have money to spend, and we're looking for a special product that also delivers incredible quality.

As consumers begin to make decisions based on sustainability practices and the environmental impact of the fashion industry, DTC brands have done a great job targeting millennials with a "less is more" mindset focused on fewer, better quality things. For grownup women, however, this is hardly a new idea. We've embraced this mentality for years and understand that an impeccably produced, high-quality piece is worth the investment and lasts for years to come.

Older women are still largely ignored by fashion brands.

Over the years, I've learned that style is only one factor of many influencing the wardrobe decisions of women over 40. When I launched Bells & Becks, I was entirely focused on distinctive, chic, and feminine shoes for a reason; I couldn't find them myself. Grownup women are comfortable in their own skin, have great taste, and still care about appearance. This truth has finally grown more culturally accepted. We may be aging, but we're still chic and fabulous — in the extreme, think J. Lo today vs. Betty White at 50.

That being said, our tastes and functional needs do evolve. Finding wearable clothing and shoes that are also chic is difficult, and most that deliver on style and femininity are only available at the designer level — and certainly not from DTC brands targeting millennials.

Our recent survey suggests that older women want something special with an element of style but it must be wearable. When we looked into how brands are addressing functional needs, only 22% of respondents over 40 said they find online brands that cater to their age while also meeting their fashion needs, and 65% felt most brands are either geared toward younger women or are too focused on style and sacrifice comfort.

As I consider the context of fashion and function during the COVID-19 era, it's clear that the tides were already shifting toward women wanting function in their wardrobes. Now, more than ever, comfort is critical but that doesn't mean we have to sacrifice style.

Reflecting back, I'm so grateful for that very stark purchasing experience at the Everlane store. It reinforced so much of what I'd been feeling as I was getting older in my career and personal life, and it was around that time that I decided to launch my company. I'm a mother, a wife, and an entrepreneur; this year, I turned 50. All of these things are true, and I'm also someone that loves (and will always love) fashion.

What started as a mission to fill a quality and aesthetic void I saw in the footwear space turned into something much bigger. I ended up becoming part of the movement to address the needs of grownup women who are confident, seeking true luxury quality, have great taste, and are equally savvy online consumers.

How to Learn Much More From the Books You Read

It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.

Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.

Read with a Purpose

Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.

Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.

Pre-Read

When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.

Highlight

Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.

Speed Read

You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.

Quality Reading

Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.

Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.

Summarize

If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.

Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.