Minimalism: Is there a place for retail in a world where ‘less is more’?
Minimalism is on the rise.
Across the globe, an emerging percentage of the population is being increasingly inspired to go through their wardrobe with cut-throat meticulousness, donating, binning or recycling items that no longer spark joy in their hearts. Largely between the ages of 18-34, the Minimalists are working towards a new ethos. Instead of choosing to spend money on possessions and a short-term ‘purchase high’, they’re spending money on experiences that provide lasting fulfilment and on products that will fulfil a higher purpose. Rather than seeking happiness from objects or the latest fashion trends (tie-dye, cycling shorts, and ruched dresses, according to Harpers Bazaar, try all three at the same time for a strong look), they’re seeking real happiness, the happiness from within. But what does this mean for those selling possessions and objects? Is there a place for retail in a world where ‘less is more’?
First, we need to understand what Minimalism is and why it is experiencing this rapid surge in popularity. Minimalism is not solely focused on having less ‘stuff’, but it is also about having joy in the objects you do own and finding beauty in functionality and craftsmanship. In a world where we are constantly bombarded with marketing messages (sorry about that, Minimalists) and pressure to keep up with the Joneses, Minimalism values simplicity, effectiveness and a more focused relationship with our consumerism. Buying items that you genuinely want, need and will cherish – items that resonate with your lifestyle and values. In Marie Kondo’s words, “the question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life”.
But where has this movement come from? Backed up by various Netflix documentaries, podcasts, talks, blogs, and books in the last few years, Minimalism has been adopted by an age group that is growing up with less money, a competitive job market, and outstanding levels of student debt. This is alongside intense commentary regarding the impact of hyper-consumerism on global warming, human wastage, and pollution, within our popular culture and media. It’s no wonder that there’s a move away from the status quo, and a move towards a sustainable, self-aware lifestyle, where people yearn to spend less, save more and have a smaller negative impact on the Earth’s natural resources.
Despite this sounding like a potential death knell for retail, it’s far from it. Many businesses have already picked up on the emergence of Minimalism and are figuring out the best way to capitalize on the trend. Sneaker manufacturer, VEJA, created their business with a focus on design and social responsibility. Their goal is to “create sneakers that will stand the test of time” whilst using solely fair trade and organic raw materials. A pair of VEJA costs 5 to 7 times more to produce than the competing big brands spend making their own, as VEJA invest more into ensuring the production is from factories with high social standards. Despite this, they sell them for the same price as the other brands by eliminating advertising costs after they realized 70% of the cost of a normal big sneaker brand is related to advertising. Despite having no advertising and relying on word of mouth, they have sold 3 million pairs since 2004, across 40+ countries and 1,800 stores. VEJA have recognized that sustainability and sustainable innovation has rapidly become fundamental to any company that wants to remain successful, with 66% of consumers being more likely to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand.
Denim brand, Nudie Jeans, approach this in a different way. As well as promising 100% organic denim, they offer free repairs for life, encouraging consumers to let their jeans become a second skin over time and to cherish the product instead of it being worn a few times and thrown away. This is in sharp contrast to the disposable and low-cost ‘fast fashion’ industries, who are experiencing an environmental and social backlash. The Nudie Jeans model makes sense to a self-aware consumer who is looking to buy quality over quantity and recognizes that it’s more economical, and sustainable, to spend more on a piece that will last longer over spending less on something you would need to replace often. This has proven to be a profitable business model, with Nudie Jeans working their way to annual revenues of 55 million euros and nearly 30 branded stores.
There are also the likes of American clothing retailer Everlane, boasting “exceptional quality, ethical factories” and “radical transparency”, telling the consumer that they want them to “wear our pieces for years” as opposed to following trends. Their mission is to sell clothing with transparent pricing, and this approach has led to them making 40 million USD in 2017. At Birdsong, they create clothing they claim is a “protest in itself – against the fast nature of the fashion industry, against the obsessive pursuit of trends and against the systematic abuse of women in the production line”. Featured in the Guardian, BBC London and Teen Vogue amongst others, Birdsong targeted £100k of revenue in 2017.
It’s clear that rather than the rise of Minimalism leading to fewer opportunities for retail, there are more chances than ever for a business to succeed in this area. The success stories above teach us how new businesses can reach Minimalist thinkers by providing a quality, long-lasting product with a story or a mission which reflects the way they want to live their life. For existing companies to succeed, they need to recognize that whilst Minimalism prompts consumers to re-evaluate their lives and what they contain, businesses will need to re-evaluate what they sell and the reasons why they are selling it.
 ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’. Marie Kondo (2014)
 Netflix: ‘Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things’. Podcast: ‘The Slow Home Podcast’. Books: ‘The Art of Being Minimalist’: Everett.
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