Reverse Mentoring is the New Black

By Niamh O'Keeffe

Gucci is having a moment.

The long-established Italian luxury brand, synonymous with fine leather goods and red-carpet ready gowns, recorded an eye-watering 49% increase in sales compared to the equivalent quarter last year - enough to make any major fashion house drool.

This dramatic and unexpected development for an established (and arguably at one stage fusty) brand is in stark contrast to its peers.

Across the fashion universe, brands are struggling to make themselves relevant. Ten years ago, hoodies, t-shirts and jumpers screamed ‘Gap’, ‘Hollister’ and ‘Abercrombie & Fitch’ in big bold letters. However, as the financial results of these companies indicate, by and large millennials are rejecting big name  high-street brands and flashy logos.

Recently the House of Chanel introduced its first new perfume in fifteen years. Named ‘Gabrielle’ (Coco Chanel’s real first name), the fragrance is designed to represent the rebellious and free-spirted era of the designer’s life. As the Guardian noted, “bringing to life the notion of Coco Chanel as a young woman is a no-brainer for a brand that must win over millennials to survive.”

So as other brands force themselves to adapt to this new reality and grapple for authenticity, why is a 96-year-old Italian brand, known for its arguably brash ‘GG’ logo and loud red and green stripes flourishing?

If you want a hint, I suggest you take a look through the social media feeds of top influencers and see if you can spot any clues. Across the increasingly blurred lines between the commercial and artistic spheres – vloggers, models, rappers and artists - are all embracing and advocating for Gucci.

Fashion pundits and Frow-ers* alike are piling on praise and attributing this success to Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele’s bold,  dynamic aesthetic and directional style which undoubtedly has a role to play. But Gucci’s Chief Executive Marco Bizzarri takes a wider view.

Speaking at a retail conference last month, he revealed that he has formed a “shadow committee” of millennials under 30 within the company which gathers regularly. The committee discusses the same topics as Gucci’s Senior Leadership Team and shares ideas on different processes. Bizzarri also frequently lunches with young employees and asks them for ideas about how to improve the company. Among the outputs from this committee was identifying a more efficient way of cutting leather which improved Gucci’s bottom line and was more environmentally-friendly.

Challenging the senior and emboldening the junior.

Other organisations and businesses are seeing how reverse mentoring is adding value, and are  following suit in an effort to keep apace with the latest trends and daily digital revolution

When time is in many ways the most precious resource a senior executive has, investing it in people on a one-to-one basis clearly demonstrates their commitment to their workforce. The quest for the leaders of brands and businesses to capture their all-important authenticity can be simply achieved: by listening.

 

*A high-fashion term for people who are sufficiently high-profile and influential to be given front row seats at fashion shows

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