From Chanel to Burberry to Oscar de la Renta, fashion brands have consistently striven to integrate their founder’s vision into the very fabric of the company, long after they’ve gone, writes Shilen Patel, co-founder of Independents United.
Why has the ”founder mentality” struggled to make it into the mainstream, with only a few notable brands putting their founder’s ethos front and centre?
Why the founder mentality at all?
I have worked with entrepreneurs for more than 10 years and there’s one thing that sets the successful ones apart from the rest: an irrational belief in their idea. No matter how many stats you have to back up your business plan, at some point you will have to deviate to create something truly disruptive – encountering naysayers along the way. Keeping the founder mentality front and centre makes sure everyone is aligned with what the company is trying to achieve, and feels more connected to the business and brand they’re contributing to.
A strong legacy keeps going
The North Face’s co-founder Doug Tompkins set out to create a brand that would enable anyone – of any ability, and from any background – to experience the great outdoors. Despite leaving the company just two years after co-founding it in 1968, Tompkins’ ethos extended outside of the office through his life-long dedication to conservation and environmentalism. Tompkins passed away in 2015, but The North Face continues to mirror his original mission to make the outdoors accessible to all. Forty years later and it has broadened its original market to include everyone from endurance runners to extreme snowboarders. Moreover, the company is dedicated to conservation and environmentalism, just as Doug was: its California headquarters runs on 100% renewable energy. The North Face has demonstrated that what resonated with its founder on a beach in the 1960s continues to resonate with customers today.
The founder mentality should become part of every employee
Outside the boardroom
The founder mentality should become part of every employee, inside and outside the boardroom. Everlane, an online clothing company committed to “radical transparency” as a founding principle, relies on its customer base for continuous feedback, which allows it to focus on improving the shelf-life of staple products. It applies this transparency to its hiring process, sending news of any openings within the business straight to its customer list.
Toms is another company using the founder’s initial mission statement – “one for one” giving – to direct growth. It has expanded into sunglasses, and each pair sold provides sight-restoring treatment for someone in need. Toms has also assembled a specific division, within its Giving Team, to identify the greatest needs around the world and come up with action plans for how Toms can apply its one-for-one model to address them.
With growing uncertainty around the world, and companies often stepping in to serve a purpose, the founder mentality will act as a linchpin to help entrepreneurs and legacy brands alike weather – and thrive – through any storm.
- Independents United is a corporate venturing and innovation agency