Get ready to get emotile. That is the name futurist Edith Weiner gave for the new economy.
This story first appeared in the November 17, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
In a far-reaching keynote presentation, Weiner, president of the Weiner, Edrich, Brown Inc. consultancy, said the economic world we see is really four economies layered onto one another: the agricultural, industrial, post-industrial and the still-forming emotile.
The name emotile is a combination of emotional and motile, reflecting the highly personalized and intensely frenetic nature of the new economy.
Though the emotile economy is on the horizon, it doesn’t require destruction of what has gone before. The economies have not replaced one another, but are built on the base of their predecessors.
“The U.S. is still an agricultural economy,” said Weiner. “We depend a great deal on our agricultural output. But we only have about 3 percent of our workforce, our active working population now employed, in agriculture. Which is why we are no longer an agricultural society.”
The shift from an agricultural to industrial economy came about when technological advancements made agriculture more efficient. While this displaced a large portion of the workforce, it also drove people into jobs that were part of the growing industrial economy. It was the same when production efficiencies helped push the workforce into the more service-oriented post-industrial economy from the industrial.
So it is the same now.
“Ten years ago you could easily see what was happening,” said Weiner. “Technology was yet again creating efficiencies in the post-industrial economy and putting people out of work.”
The U.S. is not losing jobs to China or other regions with low-cost labor, she noted, but to the next economy.
“China can take them, India can take them because they are made more efficient,” said Weiner. “We are losing those jobs, not because another country is more competitive, but because we’ve created the technology that allows other countries to take them.”
The nature of the new economy will be defined by the shifts in the workforce and what sectors are creating new jobs.
Weiner identified five major growth industries. Each of these sectors is situated to benefit from the consumer’s disposable income and each pays special attention to the individual’s personal well-being.
That is the emotional side of the emotile economy.
The motile side describes the economy’s modus operandi, which is characterized by movement that is very fast, very short-lived and highly potent — basically the emotile economy will open the door to many different options, very quickly, to see what works.
Weiner’s first example of a new- growth industry was an area she described as “the augmentation of the intellect.” This industry acknowledges that information has become a commodity and will be combined with education and entertainment to pack a more powerful punch.
“The combination of education, entertainment and information underpins everything,” she noted. “You can’t create athletic shoes without the combination of the three.”
Sneakers used to be a modest product and were priced accordingly. Now, the consumer is purchasing not only a pair of athletic shoes, but the price also buys the consumer the technology that goes into them, which is information; the education about which shoes work well under which circumstances, and entertainment in the marketing.
Health — physical, as well as mental and emotional — is the second of the growth businesses.
“Science is proving to us that you cannot segregate mind and body,” she said. “The study of genetics, the study of the brain — hormonal studies show that mind and body are one and the same.”
To meet this new understanding, a vastly different medical system, one that takes things like stress more seriously, is arising.
“The stress of shopping is just another stress in people’s lives,” said Weiner. “So we have to take a look at this seriously and understand how fashion and retailing fit in with the combination now of physical and mental well-being, because that is the health model.”
The third growth business is customization, which comes in a couple of flavors. Increasingly, people are relying on what Weiner described as the professional “servant class,” which would include people employed as personal trainers or personal chefs.
In providing their services, this emerging class takes on an important gatekeeper role. “Fashion underpins a great deal of the professional servant class that is emerging, whether it is fashion in the kitchen, fashion in the gym or fashion in the home,” said Weiner.
Customization also could grow in importance on the mass scale. “We will discover enormous inefficiencies in mass production and now that we have driven the costs out of everything else in the value chain and the distribution model we have to get back to our very beginning assumption,” she said. New technologies are on their way to making products customized for a specific customer much more affordable.
After all, there’s never any reason to mark down a pair of customized jeans.
The last two major growth industries are security and areas that include an element of personal fulfillment.
Security will grow as a business as the dynamics of financial and personal safety change. The financial safety nets, such as lifelong employment, reliable pensions and a lifelong marriage have been degraded, leaving people to, in some cases, choose between investing in their 401K plan or their wardrobe.
Personal security can impact fashion, as well. Weiner pointed to schools, for instance, that require students, in an effort to prevent bullying, to wear uniforms.
The final major growth industry is the area of personal fulfillment. Groups with ethnic and religious affiliations “are now driving a lot of the GDPs around the world,” she said.
“If you know what is going on in the book world, for example, you know that spiritual and religious book sales are very, very big,” she said. “Ethnic design, manufacture, ethnic interior design — very, very big.” Not-for-profit businesses also fit into this category, offering work with an eye toward more than the bottom line.
While the nature of the U.S. workforce is changing along with the economic shift, fashion also will have to adjust itself to new realities.
This is something, though, that fashion has already learned how to do.
Stepping back in time, Weiner noted the leading cause of premature death among women in the 19th and early 20th centuries was fire.
“Women were in the kitchen cooking and the clothes they wore, the fashion of the time, killed them,” she noted. The same held true when women began working in factories.
“It was the fashion that had to change because women were now in the workforce and things were changing in the world,” she noted.
Likewise, when women started entering into the white-collar world once dominated by men, fashions needed to change to accommodate them.
“Fashion has played a very vital role in the health and well-being of each of the economies, and it will play a vital role in this next economy,” said Weiner.