When Martha Stewart burst onto the scene in the eighties, it was a different world. After the economic turbulence of the seventies, things were trending up, and the high street was reaping the benefits. According to an LA Times article in 1989, “With twin recessions dispatched early on, this was the shopped-till-we-dropped decade. T-shirts proclaimed: ‘I can’t be overdrawn. I still have checks left!’” In a time when amassing things was a marker of status, Stewart became an aspirational figure for many, offering blueprints for the perfectly manicured garden or dining table.
In the last few years, fueled in part by an economic recession in addition to more emphasis on sustainability and an increasing interest in a nomadic lifestyle, amassing “things” has been going out of style. Millennials, in particular, responded to decluttering trends in housing, decor and beauty, among other industries. Marie Kondo’s book about tidying became a movement, and a culture that had already been trending toward downsizing is doubling down on the home edit.
Yet, consumerism isn’t dead. In fact, according to Accenture, “Reimagined consumers will abandon brands that don’t support their new values—and pay more to those that do.” So where are consumers spending, and how can retailers tap into new consumer values for maximum reward?
“Today we value authenticity,” says Bianca de la Garza, the Emmy-nominated journalist and lifestyle expert. “Authenticity manifests in unique items and experiences that add to our lives more than to our closets and dining room tables.” De la Garza touts lifestyle trends that support wellbeing in a modern environment. The single mother, broadcaster and entrepreneur has sought balance in her own life and it was reflected in her minimalist beauty line and a running theme with the brands she consults.
“Your lifestyle should be something that supports you,” she continues. “It should not be something you have to maintain.” Her ideas are reflected in Fumio Sasaki’s book, Goodbye, Things. The author argues that every material item we hold onto requires time and mental energy for maintenance, and we ought to be thoughtful about the space that we make in our homes and minds to hold our things.
Rather than adding more moving parts to the machine when it’s already strained, de la Garza suggests stripping everything nonessential away and focusing on what made it work in the first place.
“Brands that will reach the next generation of consumers are connecting more personally with their shoppers and making their lives easier,” continues de la Garza. “Consumers understand that trying to have it all is a fruitless effort, because there’s always a new shiny object. Companies that understand this are focusing more on niching down and offering products and services that reflect and support the lifestyle that consumers want.”
Brands that will thrive in a post-COVID environment will connect with the values that consumers have uncovered about themselves during lockdown. The idea of aspiration has shifted, with less emphasis on ownership of every new consumer good, and more emphasis on corporate social responsibility and personal values.