Language And Cultural Barriers: A Guide To Effective Business Communication In The Fashion Industry

Language And Cultural Barriers: A Guide To Effective Business Communication In The Fashion Industry

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The fashion industry is one of the most global industries out there. Different enterprises have different sourcing methods, designers, manufacturers, retailers, and end-users scattered across all corners of the globe. This diverse nature of the fashion world results in the commonplace problems of business communication gaps (e.g. language barriers) and misunderstandings due to cultural differences.

Fortunately, these barriers are principally language and culture related. Socio-political and economic parameters also influence the aforementioned barriers. This means that these issues can be resolved with diligent effort.

Dealing with the daunting task of managing a multinational and multicultural employee base can be a complicated and challenging affair. Before learning how to address language and cultural barriers, let us look at a few prominent cultural differences in business communication with different countries. 

Certain countries like Britain appreciate punctuality and dislike tardiness. On the other hand, in Brazil and Argentina, it is an accepted norm to arrive late for meetings.

Another example: Americans find it easier to openly disagree with their colleagues and superiors. On the other hand, dissent in the Indian workplace is seen as inappropriate and sometimes even disrespectful.

Some cultures, like that of the Indonesians, find it difficult or impolite to say no directly to someone’s face. They may send correspondence later on with a negative response. On the other hand, the French believe that saying no to someone’s face is a part of the negotiation process.

Cognitive and Affective Trust

The key to any successful relationship is trust. It is the foundation upon which not only partnerships rest but also the most effective ways to build flourishing multinational organisations and their subsidiaries. 

Trust may be of two types: cognitive and affective. The former relies upon trusting someone’s abilities and skills. The latter is a more personal and emotional connection that relies upon the relationship between the individuals. 

For example, Americans are adept at keeping these two types of trusts separate, with the belief that the cognitive or affective trust is unprofessional and harmful to partnerships and new endeavors. Conversely, work culture in China and the Gulf countries rely more upon personal connections as compared to cognitive trust. 

A thorough understanding of such differences (cognitive and affective) must be achieved utilising proper research and the willingness to adapt based on a particular situation. To maintain an effective flow of communication, an understanding and definition of crucial cultural or linguistic gaps must be identified and addressed.

Tips on Overcoming Language Barriers

With a few changes in communication, one can minimize and overcome barriers, allowing smoother communication and maintenance of the flow of business, particularly the supply chain and inventory.

Using simple language

When working across linguistic and cultural barriers, the use of sophisticated words should be avoided. For example, it’s best practice to avoid idioms. The use of simple terms and repetition wherever necessary also helps.

Switching to written communication

Written communication always wins over verbal communication. Opt to switch over to written communication to minimise misconceptions.

To-the-point communication

One must be brief and to the point with business communication. Time in any industry equates to money. Thus, for example, keeping project briefs concise helps in faster and more efficient communication across team members.


Fragmented and sporadic communication invariably leads to misinterpretation and misunderstanding. This should be avoided by detailing the correspondences between organisations and team members.

Using PLM software

Using product lifecycle management (PLM) software to enhance communication between multicultural individuals is of crucial importance. It ensures that the communications are housed in one single place. This results in the consolidation of all communications. No messages can thus be lost in translation. Also, production is always up to date with the latest information translation.

Visual cues

This is one of the basic tenets of the fashion industry. Using sketches, schematics and flow charts instead of long paragraphs helps clear messages being put forward across cross-cultural and language barriers. Relying on visual and intuitive cues and using POMs can overcome this problem.

Keeping up to date with news and information

Geographical diversity also plays a key role in enhancing cultural and language barriers. As suppliers, manufacturers and retailers are based in different parts of the globe, the significance of keeping up to date and latest information cannot be overstated. Staying up to date with the local news of a particular area may help organisations and team members know about potential delays or disruptions in meeting certain deadlines.

Asking for insight

Often asking again about a task is way beyond the normal communication of a supply chain. There may be time constraints or one does not make an effort to ask for fear of hierarchy. If such a situation arises, key brand personnel should rise to the occasion and make themselves available.


Keeping an open mind is key to growth for any individual, company or organisation. With changes in global trends all the time, work cultures may undergo small to revolutionary changes at any given instant. Being rigid under such circumstances only hinders interpersonal and interorganizational communications. This should be avoided to maintain a sense of partnership and teamwork among the parties involved.

Training programs

These activities and team-building exercises are beneficial for both managers and team members alike. This helps people from different cultures to know how to act if they unintentionally make insensitive mistakes. This also helps managers ease their team members across cultures to maintain communications within the organization.


In conclusion, bridging the communication gap between parties across cultural and linguistic barriers depends upon establishing effective communication.

We at Fashinza believe that seamless business communication can be achieved through cross-cultural training and language programs. On the individual level, we have found that the individual will to adapt and keeping an open mind are also essential when dealing with such scenarios.

Join our partner network to learn more about and practice business communication in cross-cultural scenarios.


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