Next week, Clarks is opening its doors to a group of LGBTQ+ creatives, to share a behind-the-scenes look at its design process, marketing approach and collaboration strategy.
The event, dubbed “Clarks Week,” is part of an ongoing mentorship series created by The Elephant Room, a U.K.-based creative agency dedicated to fostering more diversity in the advertising industry.
Tara McRae, chief marketing officer for Clarks, said she was drawn to this initiative because it gave the company an opportunity to directly impact the lives of LGBTQ+ community members.
“There are enough awesome rainbow shoes in the market,” she said. “Me and my wife and kids, we’ve got rainbow shoes for days. What I wanted to do was really use the power of the Clarks brand to give back to the community in a meaningful way.”
As part of the Champions of Pride One Month Mentors program, The Elephant Room selects 12 mentees from a pool of applicants and pairs them with leaders at top companies. McRae will serve as a mentor to one of the participants, a young transgender man from Scotland who works in a Clarks store.
“I met recently with my mentee and it was one of the most exciting meetings I’ve had,” said McRae. “They married us up perfectly. And it was awesome hearing about his journey and the role that Clarks plays.”
In addition, McRae will give a keynote speech to the entire group of mentees and mentors, focusing on the importance of representation, especially in business. “Representation mattering is huge for me,” she said. “We have made progress and we need to celebrate that progress, but there’s a lot more that we need to accomplish as a community.”
McRae said that Clarks had been looking for opportunities to support the LGBTQ+ community. After considering and rejecting a variety of Pride options — rainbow shoes, nonprofit donations — they were approached by Shannie Mears, co-founder and head of talent at The Elephant Room, with whom they’d worked on other projects.
The Clarks team jumped at the mentorship opportunity not only because of its impact but because of the dual benefits. “Who knows, we might potentially find awesome creative talent that we want to steal for the company — it’s a win-win,” said McRae.
She noted that as a nearly 200-year-old company, Clarks has a long history of giving back to its communities. That entails support at the corporate level, like its longstanding partnership UNICEF, as well as more regionalized initiatives.
The key, McRae explained, is that the project matter to both the brand and to its customers. In particular, she highlighted Clarks’ work in Jamaica. (The Clarks Originals shoes have been a hit there since the 1950s, and Jamaica’s musicians helped make the brand a staple of the American hip-hop scene.) “Jamaica is just so important to our brand. So we’ve been partnering with them to give back to certain communities within the country,” she said, adding that more programs are in the works with other underrepresented groups.
Most importantly, when it comes to Clarks’ corporate social responsibility goals, McRae said the initiatives are not silo’d within certain groups or allocated just to individual leaders, such as a diversity and inclusion expert or sustainability director.
“It actually has to be in everybody’s job description,” she said. “We truly ensure that it’s not just somebody’s task, but that it is truly baked into everything throughout the company.”