Mining Treasure in the Age of Kondo
A Future Trend based on the Past
I was sorting through my clothes today, both as an attempt to ‘Kondo my closet’ as well as pull items for a clothing drive in my neighborhood. I like this sort of thing (and I think most of us do), it’s a task that provides both the self-gratification of a pared down closet as well as generating a nice sense of altruism. It’s good work for a Sunday. As I started to create piles, I found myself circling back again and again and pulling certain tossed items back out. I started to notice that these weren’t particularly valuable or wildly special items, but things that either held remnants of memories steeped in the occasions I had worn them, or were unworn items that still whispered promises of who I could be once I finally put them on. Rationally, I knew the clock of viability had run out for both of these piles, but the two pillars of unique human existence: memory and imagination – wouldn’t let them go. It was a small inflection point of the larger question we are all wrestling with right now: how do we ‘consumer ‘ today’? In this age of Marie Kondo, and Gen Z minimalism, the very value of ‘things’ is being newly measured and meted out. We are asking, as a general collective, what do we collect and keep, and what do we discard as we labor on our journey of figuring out ourselves? This question has reached a particular flash point as ‘Fast Fashion’ and the concept of closed loop creation and sustainability gain hold. With the proliferation of fashion sharing apps (The RealReal, Poshmark, and Grailed to name a few) how do we cope with this new rejection of ownership, and how do we determine those things that DO spark joy? It’s an important question – certainly, we must learn to re-use; we must stop the relentless cycle of overproduction and mass manufacturism given our current climate crisis.
But what does this mean for creators? How do designers and retailers find their footing, and tell a compelling story? So far, the evolution seems both awkward and painful. The current curating lens for Gen Z, (and thus, the rest of us based on the natural trickle up theory of cultural shifts and movements) is to look for goods and products that provide a multi-dimensional array of benefits, ranging from the emotional and spiritual as well as the functional. Our soaps and creams have to make us feel beautiful, contain elements of crystals and adaptogenic herbs and elixirs, and nurture our gut. Clothing should either come from days of thrifting, where their purchase is a triumph of taste and a testimony to our sense of style or is one carefully chosen from a designer or fashion house whose values and practices mirror our own (or at least what we aspire to believe at some point.) I say this with no irony. Consumerism has become a thorny path for today’s youth, and for the rest of us. The joyful impulsiveness witnessed a decade ago by Millennials has been replaced by a stern consideration journey through values, long tail analysis, and ultimately, the weighing of the kind of personal statement it makes on social. It makes me wonder if this is one of the reason that experiences are having such a joyful day in the sun. Perhaps our ability to select and subsequently purchase items, simply because they are beautiful or sparkly or appealing, become so personally challenging that it is no longer worth the pursuit. Clothes have to stand up to such an incredibly detailed and determined checklist today, and not the least of it being the final outward expression of whom we are. Selecting and embracing certain items of clothing in today’s Instagram age is a deep and critical expose of what we believe in and who we seek to be. For the serious and considered Gen Z, this is not to be taken lightly. Self-identification is a messy and tricky game, and the new embrace of gender fluidity and careful culture identification makes this all the more difficult. Finding pieces that already have personal story baked in help us to create our future selves, and tell our future stories.
To go deeper, I spoke with Molly Flaherty, a former Conde Nast beauty editor and current owner of the LA based high-end consignment shop, Get Dressed (@getdressed). Molly talks about the lure of the prior owned goods, and the resurgence in second hand thrift. Molly opened up her store as a response to the desire for women today to create a unique look and to tell a unique story. “As all of the old fashion rules have crumbled, women are starting to explore who they are and how they want to feel each day. They are choosing clothes based on how they want to show up for themselves, regardless of the time of year, the occasion, or the hot designer of the moment. Shopping consignment lets each women respond to their mood and their need, and reach across the years, the seasons, and the clothing type to make their statement. It’s really personal.”
Flaherty also remarked on the increasing number of young women who are seeking out second hand items in lieu of fast fashion. One unexpected element driving this has been these shoppers’ imaginary relationship with the consignee. “Once they find that a few pieces that resonate with them are sold by same person, they want everything from that person. It’s like the seller is now their unofficial style icon. That relationship helps them figure out who they want to be.” A person’s things really can craft their story and leave big footpints. As young people search to tell theirs, they are looking to past risk takers to model.
The new items and designers that seem to be winning right now offer up either unique and deeply special pieces that resonate like art or reflect the ability to shape shift into all areas of our complicated lives. Rosie Assouline, a much beloved designer known for her bold statements of color has recently launched one such a line: By Any Other Name. Her stated goal is to help her shopper dress for whatever she needs to accomplish for that day. “My identity is spread out among lots of different things, and I don’t know I can reach into my magic suitcase and change every time I am one of those things”. Perhaps the future lies in this sort of quiet anonymity, supporting a gently neutral platform that the thrift store or design boutique find can punctuate.
Glenn Adamson wrote a wonderful piece on the deep connection with memory-based objects for the NY Times last year. His reflections on the resident shelves outside of a retirement home’s rooms was a touching testimony to the things we carry through our lives. The use of the deeply steeped items as emotional North Stars for an aging citizenry speaks to the incredible resonance personal totems provide. Knowing what has true meaning, and what things are merely red herrings on our life’s journey is deeply personal work.
How to move forward? Fashion retailers and those that play in home design and beauty will need to think about all the facets their products and services need to offer – from feeding the soul to connecting consumers with a story that resonates with who they are and where they are going. Human beings will still seek out the new, and shopping will not disappear, but role of each item will need to work so much harder. And that is a good thing.