Substance and Style

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Shifting Consumer Values in a Hype Economy
By Chris Wu
In today’s global village, borderless connectivity has enabled the spread of information faster than ever. In the fashion world, this results in a near-instant dissemination of trends. A particular jacket that emerges on a runway in Milan is immediately broadcast around the world, with replicas soon popping up at retailers everywhere from Barneys to Shein to Forever 21. This has led to what many critics are calling the homogenization of fashion. As retailers scramble to keep up with rapidly evolving trends, quality often becomes sacrificed in favor for speed and novelty.
In a market dominated by hype beasts and insta-fame, it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between thousands of brands that, at the end of the day, all start to look the same. As a friend recently pointed out after a disappointing shopping excursion in New York, if you took the labels off of all the garments, many brands could be interchangeable for one another.
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On the other hand, market studies show that America’s largest living generation, millennials, are spending significantly less on goods. Instead, they are focusing more on experiences and inter-personal connections. In this retail counter-movement, emphasis is placed on sustainability, on curated wardrobes that are more versatile and long-lasting. As these consumers become increasingly selective, there is a growing desire for original, customized, and well-crafted products.
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Brands who stand out will be the ones who emphasize purposeful design, who focus on using quality materials and better construction techniques. In our era of mass digitization, tangible values like durability, fit, functionality, craftsmanship – things that cannot be felt through a screen – become increasingly important. In addition, people are also seeking intangible values such as brand provenance and a sense of community. This trend will only continue to grow as the market for goods becomes oversaturated. In a sea of mediocrity, a brand with an authentic voice and strong integrity is sure to stand out.

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Author Chris Wu is a social anthropologist living in NYC. She is a senior trend analyst at The Doneger Group and teaches a course on contemporary fashion culture at Parsons. When she’s not pondering the fate of humanity, she likes to unwind with single-malt whisky and heavy metal. Say “hello” on IG @chris_herself


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