Cropping up across major cities all over the world is a new breed of consumer, whose appearance is greatly influenced by the past, from the 1920s to the 1950s. In cities like London, New York, Tokyo and St. Petersburg, men and women in old fashioned clothing meet with their old fashioned bikes and enjoy the so-called Tweed Runs. At first glance, it may look like a bit of a carnival or a fun costume party on bikes where nostalgia meets vintage. But in reality there is much more to it than that.
In many cities we see a trend for simple products but of the highest quality. For example, a bicycle doesn’t need to be made out of special high-tech materials and vibrant colours to be desirable. Indeed, an elegant bicycle frame in a fifties style can be pure and simple but when combined with the knowledge of today’s technicians, becomes an up to the minute masterpiece.
Similarly, people that loved their high-tech fibre-down jackets have now changed to wearing good old Harris Tweed with a wool coat and a fitting tweed cap combined with the traditional long lasting leather boot. They buy jeans that come from vintage looms made out of pure organic cotton unaltered by chemical processes but that will last for a decade.
It’s not just traditional clothes that are enjoying a renaissance. In recent times, the beard has become a fashion-symbol for men, and part of this facial hair-trend is the trend for appointments at the barber’s to get either a perfect shave or a professional beard trim. And men are prepared to pay for that, it has even become a movement as the Movember campaign demonstrates.
All of these traditionally made products usually have one thing in common, they age beautifully and age adds to their ‘character’. They become authentic and individual and are made to last and to be repaired.
In many cities across Germany, shops that address this trend are opening up such as 14.oz which opened in Berlin in October this year. Even a shop like Riders Room in Hamburg that started twenty years ago as a motorbike shop has over the years extended its offer of authentic and excitingly pure clothes like Red Wing boots, the perfect jeans from brands like Pike brothers and an authentic wool cabin jacket.
So what are today’s consumers looking for and is this new? People feel that the way we live our lives has changed greatly in the last decade or so. Many values that seemed to be set in stone have proven to be wrong. For example, when even the job of a banker in the city is not safe anymore, then what is?
More and more people see their way through life like that of a labyrinth. Today we have to make more fundamental decisions in an average month than our grandparents had to do in their whole lifetime. It has become quite a turbulent time for first grade school children and it is difficult to establish a framework of values to live our lives.
So we all as individuals cope differently with this phenomenon of uncertainty, of living in a “labyrinth of possibilities” as French philosopher Jacques Attali described it in 1996 in his book, “Chemins de sagesse. Traité du labyrinth”. Some feel absolutely overwhelmed often in shock, which leads to a helpless and desperate search for petty bourgeois values. These people often see themselves as victims of the modern world.
We recently undertook a study in 2011 to better understand the needs and values of teenagers. It was carried out for a large producer of beauty products targeting teenagers. For a better understanding of their aims and needs we executed a number of ethnographic observations, as well as open talks with teenagers and their peer groups. These observations were the starting point of our thesis’, which we continue to review and check the insights gathered in our regular research projects aimed at teenage consumers with ice-breaker questions like: “What are your biggest dreams and hopes today? Where do you want to be in 10 or 20 years’ time?”. These insights, combined with my lectures in philosophy at the University of Hamburg helped to develop the labyrinth-model of the life path.
On the other side of the spectrum we see those who I would like to name “labyrinth surfers”, those people who understand the labyrinth as a never-ending number of possibilities. They travel the world, are connected and need just their Mac and a camera to get the best out of life. In the same research of teenagers, these targets spoke totally differently about their aspirations: “I want to go to Australia for a year, learn to surf and get to know people. I think I might make a blog about this experience!”
Most people will be in-between these two extremes where one day is enjoyable and the next could be full of uncertainties that leave us puzzled and scared. We have to realise that in this new way of labyrinthine living, the ability to navigate our lives becomes a value itself, such as the ability to make big decisions in a short period of time. And it seems now that it is less important which way we decide (we can always turn if we realise it is a ‘dead end street’), but the crucial thing is that we make decisions.
All of us are in search of values that will bring us through this ever changing and dynamic labyrinth called “life” with all these many decision-making possibilities. As there are no stable values that work as systems anymore, we have all established a ‘mix-and-match’ model of ethical behaviour and values in that we pick what fits us and what feels right.
In this situation, a growing number of people are not willing to accept the economic rules of the last few decades anymore. Most hair dryers or freezers will work for two or three years and then we buy a new one. But suddenly it has become more practical to pay for lasting quality, for example £300 for a perfect pair of shoes than to buy a pair of crazy-coloured high-tech trainers that will be out of date next season. This is also a relatively green idea – to buy a product that lasts and that can be repaired instead of adding to the waste heaps.
It is the idea to find value in quality and long lasting products that age with me and age beautifully. We can see a whole movement of people on the search for lasting values and these values give them certainty in this ever-changing world.
Brands can utilise this insight. Indeed, it is no surprise that Wilkinson Sword has been the proud supporter of the Movember-movement that focuses on beards and male health. But the brand has understood how to do this in style such as its mobile barbershop, which can be seen on the streets of Germany.
Atelier LaDurance is a jeans brand that offers exclusive jeans from a small studio in Provence in France. They produce in small numbers and have chosen old authentic styles and fabrics to appeal to their premium customers.
Old German brands like Merz B. Schwanen or Schiesser were known for decades for their production of vests and oversized unsexy underwear. But they have renewed their brand with a whole category of male underwear. Now they are buying unaltered pure cotton, work on old looms and bring out sexy designs our grandfathers loved as well.
American work-wear brands like Carhartt or Red Wing shoes have become hugely popular, so that even mass brands like Lee are now back in up market stores with their work-wear products that are meant to last for decades and are resisting any trends.
So we see a trend for lasting products, often in vintage style. A growing number of consumers don’t want to understand their life as a hectic run for the latest in fashion or the most glitzy-glam product. They are looking for long lasting, well-made products that have character. And we can understand this as an expression of a general search for lasting values and reliabilities. It is more than just buying something different; it is a moral movement and a green idea.
Here are five aspects to think about when positioning your products:
- Do good and talk about it. People are open to hearing about long-lasting quality that can be repaired, recycled and reused, and they are often willing to pay a bit more for this!
- Be honest. No-one believes that a brand’s aim to become more authentic, pure and reliable is an overnight achievement, it takes longer, but this is the chance to take the consumer with you on a journey to authenticity!
- Products with longevity are prevailing. When the bike air pump I just recently bought broke the second time I used it, I started to look out for the good old air pump my Grandpa used to have which was metal and with exchangeable parts, it took ages to find one, but it was worth it. We recently worked for a convenience food brand that is slowly taking this approach and the consumers love this new direction.
- Consumers want to act responsible. Often I hear that price is the only consideration for consumers. This might be true in some areas and for some target groups, but the group of consumers that want to be rewarded for an ethical approach to shopping is growing and they want products that are authentic and reliable.
- People look for values everywhere so give them what they want! Like German brand Lemon-Aid and their campaign “the liquid revolution”, shows that even a simple soft drink can become a social and political value and the success shows that the people love it!
Daniel Plettenberg, Managing Director at VALOR Research