The cultural shifts redefining retail

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Louise Healy-Adonis from Flamingo’s Futures team was invited to Top Drawer’s RetailFest to discuss her thoughts on the cultural shifts that are redefining retail. We’re sharing detail on the specific trends she spoke about on our Instagram feed – these include the growing influence of imperfection, the rise of self-expression through craft, and mainstream spirituality. In this exclusive Q&A with Louise, she expands on these with thoughts on inclusivity in design, communicating authenticity, and offers her advice to brands in the lifestyle and interiors space.

We saw the body positivity movement really take off in 2018, so how do you see it evolving in 2019?

Throughout 2018, the body positivity movement continued to be largely driven by able-bodied, young and archetypally attractive females. In 2019 I think we’ll see it continue to expand to include more variety in weight, ability, gender and age. Also, I hope that in 2019 there will also be less of a focus on size as a dictator of how impactful and successful you are. At the moment, the idea exists that thinness equals success or popularity or happiness, but you can be a successful, positive role model regardless of your size. Similarly, there are a lot of preconceived ideas about what your age means, what you should have achieved by certain ages and ‘landmark’ birthdays. Can’t we just be happy without having to achieve culturally constructed deadlines? There is no ‘normal’.

You’ve talked about the use of recycled materials becoming more mainstream, do you think that sustainability will continue to infiltrate trends more widely?  

Sustainability is a huge factor; it’s challenging everything from purchasing to education. For example, we’ve seen the introduction of courses like ‘Material Futures’ at Central Saint Martins; I think that interest in sustainability is really going to explode, especially given that it’s reaching the point of necessity. The IPCC really drove this home when it highlighted that temperature increases are happening too fast and we can’t just ignore the issue any more. I think that brands really need to take responsibility, too; for example, if there’s only a single plastic-free aisle in the supermarket, there’s only so much consumers can do. Some unsustainable options just need to be made completely unavailable.

How should businesses best communicate the provenance and authenticity of their products?

I think that the best approaches start with complete transparency. Everlane has led the way by providing detailed costing breakdowns for all its products – from materials to shipping. There’s also Almond, an app showing consumers where all of the ingredients in a food product originate from. It’s a clever but fun way of encouraging people to consider their consumption habits. Also, If businesses can enable you to track your delivery from the warehouse to your house, they could definitely extend this all the way back to the factory. It might take investment, but this type of technology should be used to enable better decision making. Provenance is a selling point; it should be embraced instead of being hidden.

With regards to authenticity, it’s really important that brands cite their inspiration. I think call-out culture, driven by Instagram accounts like @DietPrada, has helped to bring appropriation and idea ‘stealing’ to public attention. They highlighted the issue of lifting designs from marginalised communities particularly effectively when they posted about Loewe’s SS18 accessories line; the textiles of which replicated traditional Ecuadorian weaves. There needs to be compensation agreed in cases like this, before the product is launched. There’s no reason not to collaborate with craftspeople. Also, brands need to recognise that consumers now want to demonstrate their individuality. Retailers can actually gain cultural capital by finding new independent designers or craftspeople. 

Whose work in particular has been inspiring you? And who should we keep an eye out for in 2019?

There are a few new designers that I think are just incredible. Firstly @suzannesullivanceramics. Her pieces are handcrafted, but she really pushes against the stereotype that ceramics are boring and traditional. She combines graphic prints combined with hand-drawn elements, which gives each piece its own unique personality.

In terms of material usage, I think some of the independent designers in the shoe category are doing some amazing work. I love @helenkirkumstudio’s approach. She deconstructs trainers then reconstructs them in a unique way. It’s a fresh look at sustainability and an innovative perspective on recycling and repurposing. She’s reimagining the future of footwear.

Another emerging designer is @agnese_grundmane_design. Agnese creates objet d’art from really effective combinations of materials such as concrete and resin. Her work features some intriguing contrasts: the use of sharp, graphic lines with soft colours or natural forms frozen in resin. She’s helping to change perceptions of craft by moving away from the historical associations and in to a more innovative space.

Finally, from an inclusivity perspective, @izzywheels is really inspiring. Izzy designs and manufactures these incredible, colourful wheel covers for wheelchairs which just exude happiness. She completely rejects any sense of pity and fully embraces her wheelchair, she’s unapologetic. Plus, her designs tie in to the trend of beautiful bright colours that we’ve seen coming to the surface recently. Additionally, she’s highlighting how body positivity is expanding to include portrayal of people of different abilities.  

If you could give one piece of advice to brands and businesses operating in the lifestyle and interiors space, what would it be?

I think that brands need to focus on telling the story of the trends that they are buying in to. As a retailer, you need to buy in to trends that are aligned with your values and make this clear; people need something to emotionally invest in. Lots of emerging trends are emotionally driven: the real value lies in getting across the story behind your buying choices. People naturally want to engage and a sense of community is becoming increasingly important as people lead ever more digital lives.

 Siobhan Collman, Flamingo