Top 10 Global Consumer Trends for 2017
1. Ageing: A changing narrative
2. Consumers in training
4. Faster shopping
5. Get real: The allure of authenticity
6. Identity in flux
7. Personalise it
9. Privacy and security
10. Wellness as status symbol
We have reached a point when mass-produced items have lost some of their shine.
The internet is enabling consumers to purchase and discuss the “long tail” — unique,
customised and exotic pvroducts and services; these “extraordinary consumers”
are grabbing some of the limelight and spelling out their needs. Extraordinary
consumers fall into “atypical” consumer categories in terms of height, security, weight,
physical ability, dominant hand, music taste and sound experience or food tolerance.
These subsets are now finding a voice and calling for more buying choices and
solutions-based design. Extraordinary consumers are now more outspoken when their
needs are underserved, in areas like travel, hotel accommodation, furniture design
and medical care as well as fashion. It transpires that these needs are also less niche
and more mainstream.
Fashion sizing for “real people”
In 2017, Euromonitor International forecasts that the obese population (BMI 30 kg / m2
or more) will represent 42.7% of the population aged 15+ in North America and 19%
in Western Europe. “Special sizes” for “real bodies”, both young and old, are emerging
as a sales opportunity in the fashion world, which is starting to mirror the demographic
picture, although largely restricted to online stores. The global plus-size market has an
annual turnover of around US$18 billion, according to market-research firm Plunkett Research.
In things outsized, however, one size doesn’t fit all, with budget, region, internet retailing security
concerns and religion among the factors impacting purchasing choices.
Despite growing waistlines, many consumers have encountered challenges when
looking for apparel and footwear in larger-than-average sizes. Writing in the UK’s
Daily Telegraph in mid-2016, Bethany Rutter highlights the shame that prevails among
bigger consumers, which she believes isn’t helped by the squeamishness among
brands around bigger clothing sizes. In her opinion, brands fear that a plus size label
marginalises consumers. “As plus size women, we simply cannot assume that clothes
are being made for us”, said Rutter. “Acknowledging this is more useful to us in
practical terms than pushing the lie that we’re all the same”, she explains.
It is this nervousness and unwanted judgement surrounding the term plus size that
convinced singer Beth Ditto to launch her own clothing line, critical of a market that
tells the plus size consumer they are bigger, but not supposed to be. “When I tell
people I’m a model, they look at me like I’ve said I murdered someone”, Tess Holliday,
a plus-size model with over 1.2 million Instagram followers, revealed to The Telegraph.
While aimed at the plus size market, new brand Coverstory doesn’t state this on its
website. “Straight size, plus size, I don’t think it’s an issue … If you like beautiful clothes,
you like beautiful clothes”, founder Heidi Kan told fashion news site Fashionista.
Bloggers have been publically “outing” brands charging more for larger sizes, which
appears to be a global problem. “If I have a [bigger] client who works in a corporate
environment and who needs decent work clothes we would need a A$3,000 (US$2,180)
budget if she wanted a basic wardrobe”, stylist Sarah Donges told Australian consumer
advocate group CHOICE. “If the same woman was a size 12 I could do it for half the
price easily”. There are exceptions, however. Lidl, European budget supermarket
giant, introduced its plus-size clothing range in summer 2016, helping “curvy men and
women to look and feel great” for less. Other consumers gripe about the lack of choice
and trend-sensitivity in outsized clothing, as well as brand assumptions about height
and body type. As one US male posted about his frustrating search, “My doctor tells
me to stay fit … Macy’s tells me to gain 30 pounds”.
However, positive body confidence has recently become higher-profile. In late-2016,
Yahoo Style ran a piece, “10 Plus-Size Women on the Power Pieces That Make Them
Feel Unstoppable”. In a recent Barbie-themed fashion shoot in plus size fashion
magazine SLiNK, model Hayley Hasselhoff celebrated the doll’s curvy makeover in
bold clothing and make-up. German blogger Anke Gröner doesn’t feel clothes need
to camouflage her fuller figure, “ I want to wear things that make me joyous, things
that make me look like ME … Are we really still stuck in the days of dressing to hide …
I refuse to participate in that”.
“Healthwear” is an apparel niche that adapts the techniques and trends of fashion and
applies them to the challenges created by illness and disability. This term was coined
by Maura Horton, CEO of MagnaReady, whose shirts with magnetic closures were
inspired by the challenges of her husband’s Parkinson’s disease. PVH, the largest US
shirt maker, has worked with Ms. Horton to incorporate her technology into its Van
Heusen dress shirts. Maura Horton is part of what Vanessa Friedman, New York Times
Fashion Director, calls “Fashion’s newest frontier”, or clothing for the disabled and
displaced. So too is Angela Luna, named designer of the year at Parsons School of
Design for a collection of convertible outerwear addressing the refugee crisis. It
included a utility coat that could become a tent. “Systems and society” is a new subject
area at this college, enabling designers to operate in “outlier” fashion orbits.
Meeting the needs of the displaced often involves a different type of planning. In Milan,
InGalera (Italian slang for in prison) is a new restaurant located in Bollate Prison, fully
staffed by inmates. It has enjoyed rave reviews and is seen as a model of rehabilitation.
The enterprise is the work of Sylvia Polleri, a teacher-turned-caterer, who secured
support from a local architect for the transformative venue design.
Getting from A to B made easier
The travel challenges of larger consumers, particularly for obese and taller consumers,
are never out of the news for long. These frustrations take in complaints from those
who feel discriminated against by airlines, especially those being asked to pay for
two seats. Consumers fumed when Hawaiian Airlines won a legal battle to weigh
consumers on one route in 2016, an idea since dropped. “Have you ever noticed that
humans are getting taller but the seats we get into are getting smaller?” asks the
Talltraveller.com blog, adding, “The TallTraveller loves seeing the world, but hates
banging his head and paying for extra legroom”.
The CS100 from Bombardier Aerospace is a new aircraft with wider seats and aisles
and larger luggage bins. The aircraft was developed after several commercial airlines
requested a more comfortable journey for their passengers, according to Ross Mitchell,
Bombardier’s vice-president of commercial operations, with the first plane delivered
to SWISS in mid-2016. A “re-configurable passenger bench seat” could resolve disputes
around aircraft passengers’ varying sizes. In 2016, Airbus publicised its
patent adjustable bench seating in planes, aimed at families with small children and
customers with restricted mobility, as well as larger passengers. Airbus’s new product
is just one of a range of new personalised items which have been created to attract the
growing proportion of non-standard consumers who are becoming more assertive
with their needs, creating and responding to demand.