Read any trend report and you’ll hear that Gen Z is the ‘activist generation’. 

It's easy to see marketers have been taking notes, with greenwashing a growing concern, Justin Bieber calling his album ‘Purpose: the movement,’ and toxic wellness industry influencers have been co-opting words like ‘gratitude’ to create multilevel marketing schemes. 

A global pandemic. An environmental crisis. An increasingly polarised world. Currents of change are bringing to the surface movements that have been simmering away for some time now.  

In response, businesses are remodelling themselves and rethinking the status quo to incorporate doing good for people and the planet. People are savvier than ever and willing to align themselves with businesses driving positive change. 

Right now, some of the smartest businesses are recognising this and responding accordingly.  

Is this self-preservation, advocacy, or both? While purpose matters, putting people and the planet first is a clever business move regardless. If brands find better ways to enact social change, in ways that also benefits consumers, the future of business might be doing good.  

These businesses are some of the latest to tap into the zeitgeist to ensure their own relevancy.  

Seed-to-sew fashion supply chains are gaining traction

Fashion business models are changing; not only to cater to a wider range of body types, but also to reflect broader society in marketing material and resist binary thinking. People are becoming aware of the detrimental environmental and social implications of fast fashion. 

"Fashion business models are changing; not only to cater to a wider range of body types, but also to reflect broader society in marketing material and resist binary thinking."

Ōshadi is a regenerative fashion initiative that markets itself on a seed-to-sew supply chain in rural India. Run by Nishanth Chopra, who saw his family’s factory as wasteful and the industry as upholding modern slavery, he flipped the model on its head by producing the cotton, manufacturing and finishing everything on site. Handwoven products, natural dyeing processes, and in house block printing are some of the offerings.  

Although the product comes at a premium, there are advantages to quality as well as the guarantee of regular income to workers. Brands can leverage these storytelling elements to celebrate craft and champion fashion that doesn’t come at a cost to people and planet. And with a growing global middle class of consumers worldwide, this business model might be the one that fits the best.

As I was writing this article the Dutch trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort announced a talk series through her business World Hope Forum: From Farm to Fabric to Fashion which suggested this idea is still novel, but holds a lot of promise for the future.  

Department stores are becoming hyper-localised 

Viewers of The Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That might have shed a tear when Carrie Bradshaw put the ashes of her former husband Mr Big into a Barney’s bag – and it wasn’t just his loss they were mourning. Department stores have been experiencing volatility as supply chain issues create shortages, consumer confidence dips, and online ecosystems like Amazon thrive. New distribution models as well as the rise of direct-to-consumer consumption and declining footfall in malls are threatening the giants of retail.  

They have been forced to re-evaluate. In an increasingly localised world, Nordstrom Local has shifted to a more local focus serving people by creating smaller neighbourhood stores offering customers support with ordering online, more convenient pickup and return locations. Nordstrom's focus has switched to become more focused on how to better serve people.

According to Forbes, Nordstrom has opened further Nordstrom Local stores due to early successes saying that customers spend more and return goods faster, giving the retailer a better chance of reselling returned products. 

green building against pink sky

Flexible working is finally going mainstream

COVID-19 has prompted a rethink in the way we work, and not for the first time.  

Ten years ago in the United Kingdom, businesses encouraged their employees to work from home if possible to minimise disruption to the City of London during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.  

But working from home didn’t stick. It was hard to shift the belief that time spent in the office was linked to promotion. A third of respondents to the Institute of Leadership and Management’s survey had heard colleagues make derogatory comments about those working flexibly, and one in five sees flexible working as career limiting. 

One decade on and over 160,000 people have died during the pandemic in the UK. Physical distancing has been proven to slow the transmission of Covid-19. Working from home has become commonplace and conversations about the four-day work week have been revived.  

Ways of working have shifted to suit people over businesses – for example, prioritising safety and childcare responsibilities over being present for the sake of being ‘seen’. Now, flexible or hybrid working is seen as an asset for employers, allowing for greater quality of life for employees; and businesses that resist this change are seen as outdated and undesirable.  

TRA has adopted TRA Flex, a new way of working that transcends location and even time zone.  

Delivery culture takes off, making individuals' lives easier

When New Zealand first went into lockdown and restaurants were having to close their doors at an ordinarily busy time, Service Foods made a significant pivot to delivering groceries to people’s homes rather than food businesses.  

Service Foods increased its range of products to include household basics such as toilet paper and personal products like body wash and baby food for those seeking convenience in ordering online and deliveries at a time when it became difficult to secure a booking via the big supermarket chains. 

Countdown repurposed one of three Grey Lynn outlets into a dark fulfilment centre in an effort to protect employees, and allow delivery orders to be processed more efficiently.

Meanwhile, Nandos now offers its own in-house alternative to Uber Eats, presumably because of the large margin the delivery service takes despite low pay and poor working condition for drivers and tax avoidance in New Zealand.  

smiley face on the ground

Businesses make supporting charitable causes and philanthropy the new norm

Ockham Collective is a charitable trust supporting arts and culture initiatives including the Auckland Writers Festival, NZ Geographic Photographer of the Year, and the (you guessed it) naming sponsor of the Ockham Book Awards.  

It was created by the founders of Ockham Residential, a business with a kaupapa of reimagining urban communities. CEO Mark Todd has worked on codesign with government agencies such as Kāinga Ora, KiwiBuild, Panuku and others to build affordable housing near public transport hubs.  

The launch of Ockham Collective and its support of the arts allowed the property development company behind it to build its brand on the back of creative projects across Aotearoa New Zealand, as part of its focus on creating better lifestyles for the communities where it operates. Also – charitable support can mean tax back for companies – a kick-back that goes back to the idea of the triple bottom line. 

The world is changing, and businesses are changing to keep up. To stay relevant, some may need to remodel. Stay ahead of this and other cultural trends by following TRA on LinkedIn

Written by Sahar Lone, Cultural Lead, TRA