The Future is Not Your Heritage, Sorry

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The most meaningful necklace I received said, “Always Go Forward and Never Turn Back.” Sure, it had some religious connotations, but the message stuck. Every generation cycles though craving past comforts to then seeking future products. In a world of a young, well-informed, future-focused generation, going forward is crucial. True heritage for a fashion brand can make a roadblock from a trampoline and should be approached with as much caution as opportunity.

Over the past three years, a clear backlash against heritage in fashion emerged. Consumers are not dazzled anymore by a brand’s heritage as some brands still choose to ride the same old horse. As heritage gets used to reference looks rather than a well-deserved history, it starts to lose meaning, even slipping into the underworld of cliché. It’s very easy for consumers to say that looks old, worn out or done before, but it’s even harder for brands with a strong heritage to move beyond their history and dimensionalise their image.

When we meet someone new, conversations start with our past. “Where are you from?”, “How did you get here?”, “What do you do?” and “Have you been here before?” are common questions over a late night beverage. We pursue getting someone “up to speed” on our past in the hopes to make a connection over shared or interesting points. But brands are not your friends - they are enactors and mentors. Brands should lead with authority, resources and new points of view for consumers to enjoy both within the brand’s overall message and products. Consumers want to hear a brand’s story, but not to the point of exhaustion.

For many, this is hard to hear. Our perspectives on information, storytelling and authority we were reared on differ from the current consumer expectation. Consumers disregard seals of approval from either heritage storytelling or market testing. They are more apt to adapt beta technologies or young brands whose history could fit onto a Post-It note. Life unfolds today as more of an experiment than ever before. Younger generations adapt multiple personas, chase varying interests, live wherever they want and know more than our parents. Their allegorical car drives forward without rear view mirrors.

So why do brands keep looking in the past for their future story? Simple – they’ve worked hard to get here and find that longevity proves legitimacy. Think of it like earning your Masters, Doctorate or MBA. However, unlike each of us who takes out those credentials only for job interviews, brands use them often to create company unity. A brand comprises of hundred, thousands, even millions of people. Its heritage is open sourced and easy to understand for employees and new leaders. However, consumers already know (if they wish to) that Filson, Burberry and Red Wing, for example, have a long history outside of fashion. History lesson-like reminders will not move consumers to action, as it might do for an employee.

An authentic heritage should be celebrated in surprising, and even humorous ways in these forward-looking times. Consumers admire brands that salad-shake themselves up by telling new stories, initiating innovative approaches and deploying their resources for visions years ahead. They prefer heritage brands to unlearn and unravel versus build up and barricade. Stop trying to prove that you’re worthy of the party, heritage brands. You are already here, we already like you, so now take my hand and let’s go dance.