Back in Business, the Southern Way

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Posted At: January 27, 2012 3:30 AM
by Dorothy Griffth

Can an entire geographical region become a brand, marketed to the rest of the world as something good and desirable? That’s what it appears the Southeastern United States has done in the past few years. The idea of a product being uniquely “Southern” has begun to be used in the same way as “home grown” or “local,” appearing on food labels or in descriptions of music, regardless of the fact that the items may not be any of these things.

The South has become quite popular in the past few years. Paula Deen is one of the most popular Food Network hosts, broadcasting her culinary creations—and her distinct accent—to viewers all over the world. Even Grapico grape soda has recently changed its logo to include the slogan “A Southern Tradition.”

In a region with a less than perfect history, it has been a constant work in progress to overcome negative stereotypes or preconceived notions of the South. Magazines such as Garden & Gun and Southern Living, however, strive to combat these notions and showcase the many things that the modern South has to offer.

The tagline of Garden & Gun Magazine is “Soul of the South.” Southern Living’s is “The Best of the South.” These magazines focus on things that are distinctly southern — from food to music to fashion and literature — and have experienced a great deal of popularity in recent months. Garden & Gun especially has become a sort of guidebook for the Southern (or wannabe Southerner) with expensive taste and time to spare.

The Oxford American, “The Southern Magazine of Good Writing,” strives to present a side of Southern culture that is not usually portrayed by the mainstream media or trendy magazines.

“The Oxford American aims to paint a picture of the South that is not available anywhere else,” said Warwick Sabin, publisher of the magazine.

He acknowledged that there are certain things that people associate with the South, and not all of them are good. The Oxford American, however, works to showcase what the South is truly like, the good and the bad.

“The South is often stereotyped, clichéd and one dimensional,” he said. “The magazine aims to puncture those stereotypes and present a true version of what is going on in the South.”

The Oxford American produces a magazine, blogs, online exclusives and a multimedia partnership with NPR, covering topics from literature and music to politics and culture in order to showcase an authentic representation of the South to readers from around the world.

Sabin said all things Southern are popular with the rest of the country and the world because they are relatable.

“Southern culture defines what is known to the rest of the country as American culture,“ he said.

He listed things that people from other parts of the country or around the world cite as “American” — such as fried food, rock and roll, or certain literary works — and pointed out that they all have their roots in the South.

The South has made an impact in the world of fashion as well.

Billy Reid, a fashion designer from Florence, Ala., creates pieces that look like they belong on a gentleman’s farm from another era. But this style resonates with consumers and has become hugely popular with critics, propelling Reid to become one of the top new designers.

But even the GQ editorial about Reid was titled “High Style from—yes—Alabama,” expressing surprise that a high quality designer could come from below the Mason-Dixon line.

This astonishment that high style could originate from the South doesn’t seem to have an effect on the brand’s sales, or critical acclaim, though. GQ and the Council of Fashion Designers of America named Reid the 2010 GQ New Designer of the Year, and the designer has had design partnerships with brands such as Levi’s and has appeared in Vogue, Elle The New York Times and many others.

The South is no longer just a geographic region of the country. It has become something that people want to buy. It is a marketable attribute that people identify and associate with. And that means business for the South.

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