Ask The Brand: Westward \\ Leaning

What do you get when you combine two entrepreneurial spirits, a desire to shake up the way retail and social issues come together and modern approach to digital marketing? In this case, you get upstart sunglass brand Westward \\ Leaning. Since launching in March of 2012, Westward Leaning's sunglasses, the sales of which (currently) partially benefit 10 different education programs (each one linked with a different style of shades), we've seen them on digital powerhouse sites like, Song of Style and even on the face of one Justin Bieber.

Westward Leaning has relied heavily on the digital aspect of their marketing strategies, which includes social media initiatives and blogger projects – not to mention their whole lookbook is made up of customer-submitted images and Instagrams. We caught up with the WL recently to find out more about their brand and digital engagement.

Tell us a little about how Westward \\ Leaning got started.

The original inspiration came from a brainstorm session in 2011 when our co-founders Robert Denning and Karlygash Burkitbayeva where classmates at Stanford Business School. They were trying to figure out ways that retail could better engage with contemporary social issues. Rather than use social issues merely for marketing, they wanted to make them core to a brand's identity, and central to the actual design and manufacturing. The result – Westward Leaning launched its first sunglasses line in March, 2012.

As a small, relatively new company, what kinds of marketing strategies are key for you? Is digital your primary focus?

I think for any small company that's going up against titans of industry, the key is having a product that is really different and brings something new to the table. This is because as a new brand we rely heavily on our early adopters and fans to amplify our message through social media and word of mouth. Without great product – this piece falls flat.

What marketing strategies have been the most successful for you?

It used to be that brands would market a lifestyle to consumers, but increasingly consumers are creating their own unique lifestyle and curating brands around them that authentically fit into it. Therefore for us, being clear about what our brand is, and then creating a digital presence so like-minded people could discover us was key. Once we did this, people that are passionate about expressing both their style and their outlook on the world around them started to discover us and become our early adopters and fans. From this core group we were able to spread – with most of the major bloggers that featured us early on doing so because a friend told them about us or they saw someone post about us on social media.

How does WL work with bloggers? How do you select them?

We love to work with bloggers that are excited about both our style, and the unique material and charitable component embedded in each model. Like consumers, the majority of fashion bloggers are creating their own unique lifestyle, and curating brands around them. Because we are clear about what our brand stands for, I'd say it's as much us reaching out to bloggers as it is bloggers learning about our brand and featuring it because it represents something important in their lifestyle.

What kind of social media strategies does WL employ?

We maintain an active social presence across “the big five” (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram). The key for us has been using each channel differently to give our fans a choice on how they want to interact with us. If you just want to learn about new product launches and important announcements – connect with us on Facebook. Plus, we try to limit posting to once a week here because we know how annoying it is when brands “newsfeed-bomb” you. Then, if you can't live for more than 30 seconds without hearing something about Westward Leaning, follow us on Twitter. If you want more of a behind-the-scenes feel, follow us on Instagram, where we post about the personalities that work here, what we're looking at for inspiration and what new things we're working on.

We also make sure that we are not only using social media to broadcast about our brand, but also to receive. Some of the best feedback about our product has come via social media, and we even find out when things are going wrong (like when no one in Brazil is receiving their sunglasses) because people will tweet about it before doing anything (like calling our customer support) and then we are able to react and fix.

How do you measure ROI with social media and blogger projects?

If someone actually has the correct answer to this question please share it with us! I mean, because most of our sales are online we can track the number of sales directly referred from social media and articles on blogs – so we do measure that. What this doesn't tell us is when someone reads about us on Refinery 29, then goes to a dinner party and mentions the article, and later four of the guests google our brand name and buy a pair.


[Image credits: Aimee Song in ELLE; shut up, i love that shirt on you]

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