We’ve reached the Tipping Point

This month at Gladrags we discussed Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.

Looking at the characteristics of trends and social movements, Gladwell presents several interesting case studies and personality types that play a key role in activating this phenomenon.

The book is a funny mixture of social psychology, “self-help”, and behaviour change theory. It is concerned with understanding why some trends reach critical mass and become mainstream, then predictably die out – and others don’t. It focuses on individual and collective consumer behaviours that cause this invisible “tipping point”.

It prompted varied responses from the group – from cynicism to how much of the book is focused on tools and tricks intended to have people ultimately buying more, to interest at how these principles can be applied to the environmental movement generally, and how we can see them active specifically in the sustainable fashion landscape.

We discussed who in this sector could be easily classified as “connectors”, “mavens” and “salesmen” and where they play a role. We see many of these people as already actively participating in discussion and driving change, but wondered if their influence is limited as long as “sustainable fashion” exists outside of the broader industry context.

The “stickiness factor” Gladwell describes is also a really interesting idea. As the conversation continued after we officially wrapped up, I discussed with Patricia how impossible it is to “unknow” the critical information about the true impacts of the global fashion industry. Why then has this “movement” now grown to become mainstream?

Enter advertising. For me, even when consumers have a clear understanding of how they should spend their dollars (as a responsible consumer), I feel like it needs to be constantly reinforced, lest they “gruen transfer” and become overwhelmed by the retail environment and the constant bombardment of media and advertising demanding them to buy, buy, buy.

Perhaps then, the tipping point in this case would be production patterns, with the change in behaviour coming from retailers – not consumers.

Personally, I feel like there are some limitations to applying this theory to behaviours of conscious consumption.

On the flip side though, is it realistic to apply this to the fast fashion movement? A wonderful manifesto recently penned by Daniel Dykes of Fashionising.com discusses the concept of The Curated Wardrobe. Daniel outlines the way consumption trends rise and inevitably fall – and wonders whether fast fashion will go the same way. Now that the masses can have as much as they want, there is little appeal for the fashionable elite. Is this a reverse tipping point? Does this signal the end of fast fashion?

Next month we’re tacking Lucy Siegle’s To Die For: Is Fast Fashion Wearing Out The World.

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