Can conspicuous conshumanism create a better future?

04 : 12 : 2018 Retail : Fashion : Sustainability

Why it’s time for brands to step up and help consumers show off their humane worth, rather than monetary worth, through the products and services they buy.

Guilt-Free? by FranklinTill Studio Guilt-Free? by FranklinTill Studio

Conspicuous conshumanism could lead to societal betterment – with those businesses that step up set to thrive in the future.

Rebecca Coleman, strategic foresight editor, The Future Laboratory

People are becoming increasingly uncomfortable about consumption. Gone are the days when flashing a fancy car or diamond ring were acceptable displays of worth. Today, the car must be hybrid or electric and the ring sustainably sourced, set with a lab-grown diamond. We are moving from an age of conspicuous consumption to an age of conspicuous conshumanism – the display of humane worth, rather than monetary worth, through consumerism.

The social and environmental impact of goods, and the companies that produce them, is heavily influencing purchasing decisions, as well as decisions to share such actions online. Nine out of 10 (91%) US Millennial shoppers say they would switch brands to one associated with a positive cause, while one-third of consumers would share a positive post from a brand on their personal social media account, according to Sprout Social.

This is creating a growing tribe of ethical social media influencers, with businesses and organisations tapping into this opportunity with activations and hashtags that reflect this desire for conscientious consumption.

This was recently illustrated by two events in London. The first, Love Not Landfill, brought together four charities and four influencers to create fashion collections from second-hand clothes, encouraging people to share the results using #LoveNotLandfill.

A week later, just in time for Black Friday, a Choose Love pop-up opened on London’s bustling Carnaby Street. Its beneficiary, the charity Help Refugees, encouraged visitors to ‘shop your heart out, leave with nothing, and feel the love’, by purchasing items for refugees, such as blankets, lamps and sleeping bags. On its first day, customers queued to enter and cheered when the store opened.

Guilt-Free? by FranklinTill Studio Guilt-Free? by FranklinTill Studio
Choose Love recently encouraged consumers to ‘shop your heart out, leave with nothing, and feel the love’, by purchasing blankets and lamps for refugees.

While some might feel uneasy about overt displays of charitable giving and support, in the age of the influencer they have the power to make goodness go viral. With purposeful hauls and circular economy outfit pictures, perhaps Instagram could be humanity’s path to redemption, rather than its selfie-driven downfall?

Similarly charted on social media was Everyday Plastic, a project led by Dan Webb, who saved every piece of plastic packaging he used in a year to provoke positive change. The 4,490 pieces he collected were made into a billboard artwork and informed a larger study on plastic waste. ‘I’m just one of millions of everyday people who have woken up to what they’re consuming,’ Webb told The Guardian. ‘The aim is to speak to the awareness-laggers, making people realise that changing your whole lifestyle is difficult, but just changing one thing is still really important.’

This idea of making and sharing purchasing decisions in order to create a better world has the potential to make a powerful impact on the future of consumer spending. As we stride towards conspicuous conshumanism, in which we do good through our purchasing and share it to inspire others, this could lead to a future of societal betterment – with those businesses that step up to help consumers achieve their ethical goals set to be the ones that thrive in the future.

UK supermarket chain Iceland, traditionally associated with low-cost frozen foods, is proving that this strategy can work no matter the target audience or price point. Earlier this year, it pledged to rid its aisles of plastic by 2023, and for its Christmas advert, Iceland opted to support Greenpeace in its mission to fight palm oil production over tinsel-tinged merriment. While the tv ad was banned for being too political, it has since gone viral, shared – perhaps unsurprisingly – by the most energetic and ethically minded of social media users, in turn winning Iceland a new generation of conshumanist customers.

To read more on the ethical trajectory of consumption and its impact on personal and societal wellbeing, explore our Uneasy Affluence and Post-growth Society macrotrends.