“Enough-with-all-the-stuff” could very well be “Stuffocation” author James Wallman’s mantra. But the trend forecaster doesn’t expect the societal shift from materialism to the experiential to mean lights out for the fashion world.
Reached in London last Monday, Wallman spoke of “the clutter crisis” that has largely been created by the Western world. Noting how the self-storage business is booming [last year in the U.S. it was estimated to top $24 billion], Wallman said, “Think about it. We pay people to keep all the stuff we can’t fit in our houses.”
The way he sees it, stuffocation will only gain momentum in the years ahead. “The great cultural shift of the 20th century was from scarcity to abundance. Now there is a shift from materialism to the experiential. People are getting happiness from experiences, not possessions,” he said. “This is a not a trend that will be here this season now, gone the next. This is a cultural change that will take decades to pan out.”
WWD: Why are you convinced this is happening?
James Wallman: In the Seventies, Ron Inglehart, a professor at the University of Michigan, had a hunch that people were becoming less materialistic. He started the World Values Survey (conducted by social scientists in 80-plus countries). In his first report, 80 percent of the people surveyed said they were materialistic and today 50 percent say they are. That is from more than 30 years of research. Attitudes are changing. And in a report called “Peak Stuff,” Chris Goodall, an ex-MacKenzie researcher, analyzed mutual flows of consumption for cement, paper, water and other things [in the U.K.]. He determined that consumption has been declining for the past 10 years.
WWD: How does social media play into this?
J.W.: In the 20th century, people got status from the stuff they owned: handbags, shoes, cars — not what they did. Back then, who knew you’d been to Hudson [N.Y.] for the weekend, or to the opera last night, or to latest place for dinner? But today, with hundreds of millions on Instagram and Twitter, and 1.2 billion people on Facebook, they do. And that means that what you do is far more likely to give you status than what you have. If you post a picture of the sunrise over Angkor Wat [Cambodia] or the sunset over the Atlas mountains from the rooftop of your riad in Marrakech, or tweet a quote from a talk at the Royal Society of Arts in London, you’re far more likely to get status than if [you] buy a new pair of shoes.
WWD: How will the fashion industry be affected?
J.W.: First of all, this is not the end. I don’t think the solution to stuffocation is minimalism. The idea of having too much to having nothing is not going to happen. It’s almost like a maturing. It’s similar to how when you reach a certain age you know that if you keep eating what you used to eat, you will get fat. We still need to express who we are, where we exist in the social hierarchy and where we live.
WWD: How will designers or major brands adjust?
J.W.: Patagonia’s Worn Wear ads were so smart. By encouraging people to share stories about their [Patagonia] shirts, it made something materialistic experiential. The company’s “Don’t Buy This Shirt Unless You Need It” campaign was absolutely radical. The idea of buy it and hand it off to someone else to buy is a good one. Burberry offers incredible personalization with Burberry Bespoke. Isabel Marant’s limited-edition collection for H&M is another way to offer an occasional experience for individual expression. Fashion companies should also think more about accessibility as opposed to just owning things. Just as Zipcar offers access, so does Girl Meets Dress.
WWD: The book is out in the U.S. Jan. 20. Is that right?
J.W.: Yes, the date was my publisher’s idea. Some psychologist worked out that around this time in January, it’s the most depressing time of the year — because it’s January and it’s that far from Christmas and anything else good. And by that time [in the year] everyone has realized they hate the job they’re in.