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How brands are diluting the meaning of empowerment

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I once joined a webinar at which a marketer for a popular fashion brand was in attendance. The topic was ‘purpose’ and this particular marketer was proud about their brand’s purpose: to empower women. How are they empowering women, you might ask? “When women wear our clothes, they feel good and confident,” this marketer said, prompting aggressive nodding and approval from other CMOs.

Going by this marketer’s logic, isn’t that the case with… every other fashion brand? After the webinar, I sniffed around the brand’s social media and website but failed to find any information on how it was ‘empowering’ women across its entire supply chain. The language used across its platforms, however, was assertively uplifting, encouraging shoppers ‘to become the woman they want to be’. Whether cloaked in blazers (for the boardroom!) or flowy pastel dresses (for brunch!), these homogenously fair-skinned, thin women could have it all.

The etymology of empowerment is rooted in ‘ability, strength and might’, powerful attributes that people—especially those that are marginalised—should be aided to gain. When I think of what the word ‘empower’ means to me, I think about having faith in my sense of self, my personal freedoms, and the ability to stand up for my principles and safety.

Somewhere down the road, brands began to own the narrative of empowerment as they used its political gleam to sell products and services. It is perceived that brands can provide their consumers with the spirit of empowerment if the product in question can improve their consumers’ lives in some way.

Fitness gyms, FMCG, and insurance brands are just some categories that appear to leverage this narrative as a purposeful brand strategy. Whether or not they are majorly supported by questionable labour practices or the trappings of patriarchy is........

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