There are people and organizations at every level of society professing values they do not live up to. Integrity does not require perfection. It requires a conscious commitment to live and do business congruently with whatever we say is truly most important. You are out of integrity somewhere. So am I. Whatever you are stressed about is probably the very place to find what you have not yet taken ownership over.
I am a recovering shopping enthusiast and disillusioned fashionista. As a design school grad with a larger-than-life father, I have a long history with brands and came by my fascination somewhat honestly. (My dad used to say he had more style than class.) I understand how great brands become great and how they command enduring loyalty and high margins. I've also learned some expensive lessons as a few have fallen from grace. The fall is not reserved only for fashion brands but political parties, parents, community leaders and companies small and large.
On one occasion years ago, I opened a Fedex box with a degree of enthusiasm as I was excited to see the new cashmere gloves I ordered from Brunello Cusinelli's new on-line store. Cucinelli made his name offering cashmere pieces and his design and business savvy led to global brand super stardom and an initial public offering. I paid a handsome premium for the gloves as well as numerous other pieces prior to the rise of the brand. I was emotionally connected to what the man himself said he was about. He espoused a new approach to treating workers ethically, imputing quality benefits that would supposedly justify the price premium. I slipped a glove on and it instantly disintegrated. The replacements they supplied were no better. Buttons started falling off other pieces. Clearly the accountants were now running the show: the product was incongruent with the brand.
A true impact player is someone committed to end-to-end integrity.
My first exposure to the idea of a premium brand was in design school when a visiting lecturer referred to the "myth" at the heart of every great fashion brand. Myths are of course are not false truths; they are stories that embody a moral truth in a metaphorical context and in the case of a brand, the origin story, philosophy and core values of an enterprise. The more powerful the myth the more premium the brand. The premium pays off as higher prices, longer commercial relationships, more forgiving clients and an enthusiastic fan base that often does a lot of the marketing on social media.
Morgan Hamel (née Amonson) was the first person I hired after publishing my first book Higher Purpose Higher Profit. She went on to work for a large Calgary-based oil and gas company in the integrity and compliance office and then became a fashion ethicist founding a company called the Garment. In her on-line business, she connects ethical smaller-batch producers with customers seeking impact players looking to make a bigger difference.
Kiton is another fashion company that has fully embodied its values and become massively successful doing so. Tania and I visited their factory in Naples on the way to the Tuscan wedding of a friend who had his tuxedo made there. We saw sewing circles of master tailors constructing garments by hand, many of whom were graduates of the company's in-house school. We were fortunate to have lunch with the owner, Maria Giovanna Paone. She and her sister took over the company after their father had a stroke. Her brand and customer base were growing exponentially, while their traditional production methods were only growing linearly. Production output was somewhat capped, even through they used high technology where it seemed appropriate. Seeing the arising collision of supply and demand, I asked her what all of her new customers were supposed to do. "They'll wait", she said with all the grace and nonchalance I might of expected from a Neapolitan woman in charge of a fashion empire.
Photo credits: Nuvo Magazine
A true impact player is someone committed to end-to-end integrity. It's not any easy game to play or win. The brand values and story they tell has to be congruent with both the product design and its means of production. This is what Morgan is working to make her site an arbiter of. We both decided it does not end there: full congruency requires that the founder not only talk about their values and embody them in their business. It requires that they live them at home, with their families, their recreational pursuits and how they take care of their health. Anything else is bullshit.