How Brands Are Using Their Retail Spaces to Register Voters - Fashionista

This week, on National Voter Registration Day, Saks Fifth Avenue unveiled a new display at its highly-trafficked Fifth Avenue flagship windows. It chronicles different voting milestones through U.S. history. It's timely, and it's not just for optics: Inside, the retailer has set up a booth where customers can register to vote, print absentee ballot applications and check their registration status through October 9.

This set-up is done partly in partnership with HeadCount, which will have experts on-site, on the Saks Fifth Avenue sales floor, to answer any questions and to register voters. The retailer also launched a portal online with Vote.org that has information about voting. 

"While Saks has a long-standing history of championing a number of important causes, engaging with our community to get out and vote — and using our influence to generate excitement around voting — is a first," Emily Essner, CMO of Saks Fifth Avenue, tells Fashionista, in an e-mail. "We're thrilled to be part of a movement that inspires Americans to get involved and encourages our community to take action."

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The retailer's in-store efforts are exclusive to its New York flagship, though it's offering more resources for customers online. "We wanted to do everything in our power to support this important cause in an effective way. By devoting physical space in our New York flagship, Fifth Avenue windows and creating a digital platform, we were able to make the experience impactful and accessible to all," Essner says. 

Saks Fifth Avenue confirmed that it would make Election Day a paid holiday for all U.S. corporate associates, following similar announcements from Birkenstock, Buck Mason, H&M and Nordstrom, among other brands. (For store, distribution and fulfillment centers, the retailer pledged to work with their schedules to allow time to cast their ballots.) Patagonia's headquarters, distribution center and retail stores will be closed on Nov. 3, so its employees can go vote. Earlier this month, on National Poll Worker Recruitment Day, Old Navy and Tory Burch said they would grant a paid day off to any employee who volunteers as a poll worker on Election Day; soon after, Target, Warby Parker, Patagonia and Gap Inc. (parent company to Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic and Athleta) revealed they would, too. 

What we're seeing increasingly, too, is brands utilizing their retail real estate, both brick-and-mortar and virtual, to boost awareness around voting. 

Steve Madden was one of the first major brands to encourage voter registration at its stores, partnering with Voto Latino on a campaign that started in March — before pandemic-related retail closures — through which shoppers could text a special code that was displayed at its brick-and-mortar locations and be directed to a voter registration website. (It's also closing its HQ on Nov. 3 so employees can go to the polls.) H&M and COS (which are both owned by H&M Group) have rolled out in-store signage in the U.S. that allow shoppers to check their registration status and have forged partnerships with the ACLU to share information and resources about voting. Dover Street Market recently added physical and digital "touchpoints" at its stores in New York and L.A. that allow shoppers to access information about from When We All Vote; it's also launching merchandise later this month with 25 U.S.-based brands, to benefit the Michelle Obama-backed organization.

When it came to its single retail outpost on Manhattan's Lower East Side and its studio, beloved menswear brand Bode was "early to close and late to open," according to founder Emily Adams Bode. "We were trying to be as careful as we could." By the time it flipped the lights back on in August, it had forged a relationship with When We All Vote, through which it was able to add a tab to the navigation menu of its website through which it can register voters and to train its store employees on how the organization's voter portal works, should interested parties want to then go and register themselves.

Currently, Bode is only allowing one party at a time inside its store, as a Covid-19 precaution — something the designer describes as "actually so lovely... because you really get to know who's coming in your door." When We All Vote sends the brand information regarding deadlines and voting statistics, which it then shares on its platforms and can also pass on to employees.

"I think so much to do with voter registration is about accountability and actually just doing it," Adams Bode argues. "It's the same thing with the census: You can be told to do it hundreds of times and you can see to do it on Instagram over and over, but [it might not happen] until someone actually stands there and asks, 'Have you done this?'"

When speaking with fellow designers, Adams Bode says there's a sense of urgency, about how quickly they need to act and communicate the importance of registering to vote (and then actually casting their ballots). And regardless of whether they have a brick-and-mortar presence, more brands are using any and all of their platforms to mobilize voters.

In addition to their in-store efforts, both Steve Madden and Bode have voter registration landing pages on their e-commerce sites. Rachel Comey linked up with Vote Forward and Swing Left to host a letter-writing campaign targeting potential voters at both her SoHo store and on her website. Nordstrom is offering curbside voter registration, as well as sharing resources online about the census and about voting, courtesy of When We All Vote and the National Urban League

Warby Parker put up QR codes across all of its retail locations so customers can easily access voting information from Vote 411 while shopping. Dr. Martens has its Lace Up and Vote page with TurboVote online. Toms is pushing a similar campaign with Vote.org across its site and social media platforms. That’s just a sampling of the many, many election-related campaigns that are being rolled out by your favorite brands, in the lead-up to voter registration deadlines. 

Within the fashion industry, Fashion Our Future 2020 is working with Voto Latino to provide brands with tools to integrate voter registration into their websites and share information via their social media channels. Jonathan Cohen was among its initial partners, having signed on after being in touch with fellow designers throughout pandemic-related lockdowns about ways they could come together to address issues within the larger fashion industry. It was there, he says, that the American contingent began rallying around the issue of voting and voter suppression.

"What I really love [about] and why I really respect the fashion industry is we do, at the end of the day, come together to make these changes," he tells Fashionista, highlighting Abrima Erwiah of Studio 189 and Victor Glemaud, specifically, for leading and organizing designers around Fashion Our Future 2020. "I love that we took the initiative to do something instead of sitting [around like], 'What do we do?'"

The voter registration button on the brand's website is but its latest effort to bring awareness around political issues. Sarah Leff, the brand's CEO and co-founder, explains how it's always been a part of storytelling with the clothing — especially, and more explicitly, after the 2016 presidential election — but its digital Flower Shop has given them a more actionable platform. (Each illustrated bouquet gives back to charities and non-profit organizations, ranging from The Bail Project to the Bowery Mission to Voto Latino.) Cohen also designed a T-shirt for the Biden Victory Fund, as part of its Believe in Better collection to fundraise for Joe Biden's presidential campaign. 

"We keep getting asked that question, 'Why the brand?' I guess because we're such a small company, I didn't think about it. Of course we're going to do this," Cohen adds. "The younger generation of designers, we don't even question that — we just do it. I even think back to being in the [CFDA/Vogue] Fashion Fund, designers were not scared of those topics. That's what's really special: Just because it's a brand doesn't mean we can't have those values. It's so important that they go together."

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