A Shift of Mindset From Consumer to Customer
By Asi Efros
“We’re not rich enough to buy cheap clothes” – a quote I remember from my childhood. Growing up in Soviet Russia in the 70’s and 80’s taught me to appreciate every dress I had. As I remember, all of my clothes were unique and hand-crafted by my grandmother from natural textiles. Trips to the fabric store were rare and precious as high-end fabrics were expensive. As a result, all girls back then wore one dress until they grew out of it. Then it was passed down to a sibling or a girl in another family. I remember that wearing beautifully sewn and fitted clothes made me feel loved, cared for, and confident.
Looking back, the 50’s and 60’s in the U.S. and Europe were, in fact, times when we embraced the concept of sustainability. We cherished what we owned and wore, thus creating an aura of abundance out of very little.
Clothes weren’t cheap but they were made to last and signified our individual shape and style. Plastics didn’t dominate our existence back then. We enjoyed the tactile experience and graceful forms of reusable glass bottles, metal cutlery, and white-cloth dining. Fresh farm produce fed our bodies and minds with sun-ripened nutrients as processed and genetically modified foods were science fiction at the time.
Since we already have an image in our collective memories of how we once were, the transformation of mindset towards a sustainable future is an easier process.
The very nature of sustainability is rooted not in the world outside, but in the world within us. It is hidden in the psychology that determines our behavior. Fundamental behavioral values, like our relationship to property, and respect for our own efforts and the efforts of others, govern our interactions with nature and each other.
A philosophical concept of appreciating what we have versus obsessing about what we don not have is an old Hindu teaching. It bears direct ties to notions of overproduction and overconsumption. Changing the mindset is, by far, the most difficult shift attempted in society. However, the need for that change is apparent and the urgency is high.
“By 2030, fashion brands will see a decline in EBIT margins of more than 3% points if they continue ‘business as usual.’ That adds up to approximately €45 billion per year of profit reduction for the industry because of scarce resources, higher labor costs, and overproduction,” according to The Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report.
For more than 30 years in the U.S.A., price was the driving force behind consumer spending behavior. Educating consumers about the true cost of garments will eliminate the main obstacle on the way toward a respectful relationship with clothes and appreciation of the craft. Nowadays, from the customer’s point of view, buying sustainable apparel does not mean spending more money. It is about shopping smarter. Let’s illustrate that scenario while following two consumer behavior models. Here are the stories of Customer A and Customer B.
"Luxury brands can embrace new ways to increase their loyal following. Inclusivity of all ages, origins, and body types will further expand brands’ customer bases and build a strong emotional bond between the customer and the brand."
Customer A spent $400 on 4 garments
Before making a purchase, Customer A researched their choices and selected four garments that complimented their wardrobe. These garments were exquisite and made of high-quality sustainable fibers which were not only good for their skin but also easy on the environment. The unique aesthetic of these garments allowed them to wear them for multiple occasions and to enjoy their lasting properties for a period of three years. Customer A spent those three years in love with their clothes and themselves. They treated these garments as an extension of their body and took care of them as if they were their own skin.
AFTER 3 YEARS, CUSTOMER A STILL ENJOYED ALL 4 GARMENTS.
Many brands have cultivated their relationship with Customer A by inviting them into their exquisitely crafted environments year after year. Among them are Natori, Carine Gilson, La Perla, Myla, Eres, Coco de Mer, Olivia von Halle, Natalie Begg, Hanro, and Skin. The newest uncompromising additions are Studio Pia, Ginia, Violet & Wren, Evelyn & Bobbie, and The Underargument.
These brands emphasize quality over quantity by stimulating a healthy shopping appetite and teasing the customer with the lure of the fresh rangeonly now and then. Customer A is more than willing to await their next luxurious purchase as they would an exquisite dining experience.
Luxury brands can embrace new ways to increase their loyal following.Inclusivity of all ages, origins, and body types will further expand brands’customer bases and build a strong emotional bond between the customer and the brand. Conceptually, new imagery that lovingly reflects her imperfections will bolster women’s appreciation of themselves.
Customer B spent $400 on 10 garments
Customer B purchased them from one of the established fast fashion retailers on their way home from work. The impromptu buy was inspired by an Instagram post from their favorite fashion influencer. The amount of the purchase was driven by the low price of the garments. Customer B immediately began to wear eight garments.* They were thrilled with them for a few weeks. However, the first wash cycle left them frustrated as four out of eight garments showed signs of shrinkage and peeling.** Customer B discarded them and was left with four. During year two, the garments started to fall apart as they were made in a hurry by means of inexpensive materials. They were left with just two. In year three, Customer B realized that these garments were fashionable no more. They also looked worn and old. As a result, Customer B tossed them into the dumpster.
AFTER 3 YEARS, CUSTOMER B HAD NOTHING LEFT.
*Over 20% of purchased fast fashion apparel garments are never worn.
**Over 50% of purchased fast fashion apparel garments are disposed of in under a year.
What can we do to assist Customer B in reevaluating their decision?
As an industry, we can support Customer B in the process of internal transformation. We can educate them by highlighting the garments’ validity. We can motivate them to mindfully plan for her next purchase. We can offer them consciously crafted apparel that dresses not only their body but also their mind. These are some of the tools that retailers and brands may use to support that transformation:
Websites display brands’ achievements in bio-economy; Brands entice buyers with sustainable skin-loving textiles; Labels and hangtags report on transparency; Stores centered on community, not consumerism; Sales associates are educators in well-being; In-store signage tells stories of garments, not discounts; Retailers seduce customers with refined displays of quality; The purposeful design of clothes projects value; Influencers are mindful cultural icons; Social media carries the message of eco-conscience; Storytelling is employed by means of all mediums to spotlight her inner beauty.
“We’re not rich enough to buy cheap clothes.” I heard this quote again in New York City from a talented young designer who is a Swiss native a few days ago. That phrase traveled through space and time, bridging the past and the future in an instance. For me, it was a sign of a massive tectonic shift of mindset from being that of a consumer to that of a customer. I’m happy to see that we are well on the way towards the most imperative behavioral revolution. Until then...