In my attendance at numerous debates and roundtable discussions about the future of fashion, I came across this idea of propelling sustainable fashion to the forefront of the mainstream audience: “we need influencers and a 360° marketing campaign that could guarantee HYPE”. It was genuinely discussed as the most viable solution that will break the topic of sustainability free of its niche-laden chains.
Hype — a bit like the resurgence of mystical astrology or the precious magic of crystals and stones — is believed to be a trend that consumers demand right now. The mystique in its working is certainly present as little is known about how, and why, hype makes a calling for our desires. Yet, for many brands the magic formula seems simple — attach names like Supreme or Virgil Abloh to our products and we can be sure to reap hype’s magical (and financial) rewards.
This energy of hype is different to a general fashion trend. If ALYX’s California dreaming Rollercoaster belt is the next hyped item, the trend is the replica of hardware-inspired accessories or even the belt itself. Better yet, the trend is to cross-pollinate this hyped energy with other brands and disciplines; sharing it to generate further hyped creations that entice consumers, the media and others alike.
With the power that comes with hype, it seems as though it is this aura and energy that takes a higher importance than the hyped product itself.
But how do consumers behave with hype? What is the appeal and attraction of hype?
The magic of hype appears to introduce a dimension that adds light, colour, and depth to what could be termed our ‘self-curated reality’ — or as the renowned Gestalt psychologist Kurt Lewin claims: the space we create in which we interpret ourselves within the world. It is here where the power of hype dances with our own values and beliefs, negotiating with our thoughts and experiences to be reborn with a personal meaning.
The allure of hype, therefore, becomes a personal affair. Just when its aura touches our skin and our mind, we use it to serve our own purposes. One way of doing so is to transform the energy of hype into a self-monitoring tool; a way for us to observe, compare and evaluate ourselves and construct our self-image. From a study exploring the factors that make up people’s engagement with luxury fashion that had prestigious and exclusive appeals — arguably qualities that are shared with most hyped items — scientist Alexandra Leung and her team discovered a positive link between fashion consciousness, self-concept, and self-monitoring. In a consumer context, this means that those who are more fashion conscious (e.g. being aware of trends, style, and the inevitable hype) are also more conscious of their overall self-perception and participate more in self-monitoring behaviours, including fashion engagement and purchases, to confirm their self-identity.
In a way, the aura of hype can be transformed into a self-observing mirror, being held up by the beholder to reflect their ideal curated self.
This interpretation of reality is potent; potent but to a limit. The main challenge posed to the power of hype is the sea of its replicas that fights for our attention in today’s digital society. Almost every day, there are items, brands, and looks that are given the hype treatment; even as crude as a #. This floods the world over with a constant thirst for our interpretation and in hope for our consumption. Returning to the topic at the beginning of this article, an important question for sustainable fashion is how its use of hype can outcompete the other hype that goes on in the consumer’s world?
To answer this question would require us to define what sustainability is as a product, including the self-serving values and needs that resonate with consumers beyond environmental concerns. Ironically, this takes our focus back to the product beneath the blinding glare of hype; to reveal the personal meaning of sustainability that many scientists and environmental experts have long argued for. Without having these ‘selfish’ needs and purposes identified, sustainability would be a contentless entity that gets propelled by hype, only to come and go in front of the consumer’s eyes, drowned by the next wave of energy.
Hype may not, therefore, be the most reliable method to create long-term meaning for sustainable fashion. Whilst the sudden allure of hype can resonate with our self-values and interpretations — for example as a way to regulate our self-identity — if we can make a direct engagement with these needs so to avoid the competing hype crowd, or to identify the original needs and desires of the products before attaching them with the appeal of hype, then we will arrive with a more meaningful solution to promote the topic; sustainability or otherwise. It is this psychological insight and understanding that will finally drive the purpose home.
Resources For Further Reading:
- Field Theory in Social Science by Kurt Lewin
- Psychological and Social Factors of Fashion Consciousness by Alexandra C. Y. Leung et al
- How We Make Sense of and Respond to a Rapidly Changing Environment by Eva Lovbrand et al