Friday, February 21, 2014

Top 10 trends for 2014 - trend # 9 - Experientialism and Environmentalism

 This past Christmas might have been another indicator of how our society has changed.  For decades we have accepted that 70% of our economy is driven by consumerism.  But it now seems as if consumers across all income brackets are stepping back from impulsive buying.  People are not trying to keep up with the Jones's.  Or maybe they are, because the Jones' are changing too.

Here is how the Luxury Marketing Council described an upcoming session.  "All the most current research on the changing definitions of “luxury” agrees that “luxury” is no longer about ‘stuff’ or ‘boast and brag;’ but about the experience, appreciating tradition, the savoring of the special, the bespoke, the artisanal, the unique, the precious. AND also about the memory of that experience and the ability to tell a story about it to one’s friends and families."

This parallels a study finished about a year ago by American Express and the Harrison Group which predicted that huge amounts of cash held by wealthy individuals, the top 10% of US households, would start to spend on luxuries by late 2013 (as did in fact happen) and that the bulk of it will go towards experiential purchases.  Of a list of about 20 categories of products, they said, only two were predicted to decline - watches and jewelry.  Not what we would like to hear.

That is not to say that there are not people who spend a great deal on personal luxuries, including jewelry.  If anything, the top end has boomed in a way not seen for many years.  And diamonds have been there.  The major auction houses have seen prices on large, exceptional diamonds rise to extraordinary levels.  We are about to see the first $100 million sale of a condo in New York City.  As the quote says,  people are reaching for the unique - 100 carat D-flawless diamonds, treks across Antarctica, trips into space, and $4,000 Loro Piana wool coats.

Actually, those purchases of diamonds and fine coats are, in their own way, experiences.  They are experiences that can be fondled every day, and they count just as much for some people as does a safari to Kilimanjaro.  We note that CD sales are dropping steadily, but live concerts are bigger than ever - and far more expensive.  Many young people do not drool over a souped up Chevy like the old days, but buy expensive dirt bikes.  The bike is needed to create the experience.

At the same time, while the diamond and gold business has worked to counter negative publicity - conflict diamonds and dirty gold - the inescapable fact is that public awareness is growing, however slowly.  Even if the record was perfect, mining does harm the environment, sometimes seriously.  We hear of extensive delays in the approval of new mines.  Sometimes approval is not given.

That is becoming the case even when it comes to resources that are essential to our economy.  We are having a battle in the US today about fracking, even though that process has been going on for many years.  There is the XL pipeline, planned to traverse some of America's prime farmland and critically important Ogallala aquifer.  Years ago, there would not have been a battle, and that accounts for all the fracking that already goes on.  But the public is becoming keenly aware of the possible catastrophic damage.

Desecration of the environment for the sake of luxuries face even greater barriers.  For the moment, most mining for gold is done outside the US, and no diamond mining of any consequence goes on here at all. That puts some of the negative perceptions a little further from home, but it still hangs in the air.  Recall for a moment the tragic collapse of an apparel factory in Bangladesh.  The worldwide uproar was well heard everywhere.

Experientialism and Environmentalism.  We know that, for sure, that these two aspects of our world are here to stay, and will continue to mount in importance.

Slowly, everything we do will be measured against tough standards; standards intended to maintain the Earth's complex ecology in the face of rapidly increasing populations.  The Kimberley Process was developed under steady pressure from NGO's.  But even those NGO's walked away when the results were not strong enough, or were undermined by the very committees established by the industry.  Not good enough, they said.

All this being the case, what will the future bring?

We can start by assuming that there will be growing pressure from both governmental regulations and demands from the public, however slowly that may progress.  Might as well get ready for the future. There are countless scenarios that might roll out.  Perhaps some methods for far better controls from mine to consumer will be developed.  Perhaps there will be the international political will to finally put an end to human abuse, terrorism and environmental degradation.  Do not hold your breath waiting for those scenarios to emerge.  And we cannot wait for all mines to be played out, thereby foreclosing the problem.  That will still be some time off in the future.

The public will unquestionably want to include jewelry, in all its potential magic, as a part of the desire for experiential fulfillment.  But it must happen without guilt, or even a tinge of guilt, about far off abuses.  That surely takes the edge off any personal experience.  And the public will increasingly attach knowledge of abuses to the jewelry or watch in front of them.

2014 will be the year in which we start to really feel the weight of these responsibilities.  Responsible sourcing and manufacturing will turn personal experiences into real parties.  Let's go party.

Please note:  If you are interested in seeing the subjects covered in these 10 days of trends, you might be interested in a full-day seminar being tentatively planned for later this year in New York.  We will expand the discussion, cover other issues, and include options for the future.  I would be happy to hear your thoughts.  Comment here or e-mail at  Thanks!

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