How Language Frames Reality: Changing the Perception of the Apparel Industry for Younger Generations


In a recent webinar presentation with Ed Gribbin, we heard the following quote: “We are in a war for talent.” This was in reference to the desperate need in our industry to create a talent pool and a training complement that enables the technological changes that have occurred in manufacturing to reach their full potential. This is necessitated by two stark realities well documented by Gribbin:

1.     The Boomers, who were the apparel workers of the 50’s to 90’s are all but retired, and with them, the skill sets that underwrote our industry.

2.     What is learned in school today does not necessarily correspond to what one does at work today.

But we have a more basic problem. Technology has created new types of jobs but these are described both within our trade and in our want ads in language that belies their modern and challenging character. For Millennials and Gen Z (and even Gen X), this is tantamount to asking them to enter into the dreary confines of their fathers' factories.

Whether it’s playwright William Shakespeare’s words, “What’s in a name … tis but thy name that is my enemy!” or Daniel Kahneman and his concept of language priming, “words that precede our experience influence our perception of that experience” as biasing perception and skewing behavior, it is clear that words are purveyors of powerful images and their corresponding lasting values.

So, for example, in a complementary piece to this one, I’ve argued that the use of the phrase “supply chain” inhibits the type of change we need to make in end-to-end PLM as it no longer describes the emerging reality of collaboration and integration and actually reduces the velocity needed to bring the necessary changes to market. “Supply systems” says it better.

Now we see a similar challenge with “factory” and similar such linguistic throwbacks.

The root of the word “factory” —to do or to make things — and the priming/word association it too often conjures up, are likely to reinforce, for the next generation, some of the following outdated negative perceptions. They will be led to believe that factories and factory work are:              

·       Grimy

·        Noisy

·       Boring

·       Dangerous

But what if “factory” had a different name, one that wasn’t anchored to the past and derived its meaning from positives such as modern facilities and imaginative production processes?

We would be wise to approach this as a brand-naming exercise. Begin by asking a series of questions as to what “positives" accrue from modern factories and what engaging processes support the creation of those experiential outcomes. When you've derived a variety of positive attributes, work with those that align and resonate with the values of the audience you are trying to reach, i.e. if it's going to succeed, it must be “customer-centric!” Here are the next steps:

Modern factories no longer simply make things; they solve things and they do so through sophisticated technologies made possible in part by digital software and automation. Looking at the language in this prior sentence, we’ve already introduced words (e.g., digital, technologies, automation, solutions) that reflect some of the key experiential values of our audience. In an actual brand-naming exercise, we would identify many others and begin to play with combinations, hyphenations and other wordsmithing techniques to arrive at brand acceptable names. Here are some possibilities: A Digital Plant, or Digital Production.

Or if you wanted something more direct and playful, consider Push Button Plants.

It isn’t necessary to change a company name to use any of these or others you might create. Simply make it a tagline, so long as it fulfills the promise of the company to the customer.

               North Carolina Mills

               A Push Button Plant

Then, don’t forget to include it in your brand narrative, web site and in all marketing communications. With repetition, its value proposition can begin to take hold, and with it, the change in perception we all know is needed and which will usher in our new reality.

Bill D’Arienzo is the founder of WDA BrandMarketing Strategies.

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