There’s no doubt that the global pandemic has fundamentally changed our outlook and is leading us to shop very differently. In many ways, you could describe this as a move towards essentialism as we all find ourselves asking ‘what do we really need?’ The ‘less is more’ philosophy made famous by Mies van der Rohe feels strangely apt for today as so many of us are developing a new found appreciation for quality over quantity.
After years of fast fashion, we now wish to simplify and slow down, taking time to pause and appreciate a product of quality. We’re now drawn to thoughtful design and looking at craftsmanship and detail. We’re also taking the long-view, making choices based on our own personal taste rather than being influenced by a passing trend or fad. It’s now ‘in with the old’, and if it’s new it must be enduring. This is fundamentally altering how we’re choosing to style our homes and the clothing we’re opting for with each new season.
This change in consumer sentiment is sparking a significant move towards slow and considered design that is the very opposite of the ‘throwaway’ culture of old. As we embrace this ‘shift to slow’ a growing number of companies are not only adjusting the type of products they offer, but also reappraising and changing the way they design and produce them too.
Here The Future Collective take a look at 5 inspirational ways that brands and retailers are adapting to this push towards slow, considered design:
01 SLOW SHOPPING
One of the most fundamental and far-reaching impacts of the pandemic lies in the fashion industry. The fast-fashion trends that have dominated the industry for decades are turning to a slow-fashion agenda as we head towards a more sustainable future. A growing number of brands, particularly in the luxury sector, are aligning with a slow fashion approach by upending the traditional fashion calendar and reducing collections.
One early adopter to announce their new directive was Gucci. The Italian brand intends to go seasonless and reduce the number of fashion shows it holds each year from five to two. In addition, the brand has launched Gucci Circular Lines, which aims to use regenerated materials that are recycled and sustainable
“The fashion industry has got bloated and ridiculous – too many clothes being produced and being constantly discounted” Sir Paul Smith, The Daily Telegraph
Although this change was sparked by the global pandemic, consumer sentiment, especially among younger generations, suggests that this shift to slow is here to stay. As a growing number of us adopt spending habits and values that embrace anti-excess principles and conscious consumption there is a shared understanding and belief that slower fashion will lead to less waste, which in turn will lead to less pollution.
The Slow Fashion movement promises to be the opposite of the fast fashion trend by delivering sustainably procured and produced clothing to mindful consumers. Instead of never-ending sale offerings due to rapidly changing trends, slow fashion items are designed to be sustainable, functional, durable and stylish.
The notion of creating pieces that have timeless, seasonless appeal is gathering pace, with clothing brands like ASKET leading the way. Offering what they describe as a ‘permanent collection of wardrobe essentials’ – ‘We’ve disregarded seasonal collections, putting all our focus into perfecting only the essentials – the garments we need, love and use the most.’
We’re seeing a return to the creation of bespoke, made-to-order collections – reviving an approach that up until the 1940s was the norm. Not only as a way of elevating the level of craftsmanship, but as a way of naturally reducing unnecessary waste. We predict a growing number of brands will adopt this approach in the future, with fashion labels such as NASON leading the way.
“At NASON, we design what we like to call ‘forever garments’ future-proofed, authentically British clothing with a conscience, released via a pre-order model. We want to slow fashion down and limit its environmental impact.” Mel Nason, Founder, NASON
As a growing number of fashion brands are repositioning for the long-term, naturally they are also considering how the overall retail experience and levels of customer service must evolve to suit this very different mindset.
Following in the footsteps of the retail concept named Unsubscribed that American Eagle Outfitters recently unveiled in New York’s East Hampton, we’re likely to see many more retail experiences emerge that are purposefully designed to slow the pace down; encouraging people to take their time and helping them to make carefully considered choices.
02 CRAFTSMANSHIP AND DETAIL
Hand-in-hand with the ethos of slow shopping and the creation of thoughtful and enduring design is the renewed appreciation of craftsmanship and detail.
2021 marks the dawn of a new era where artisan skills are valued and cherished. Crafts have long been part of the British landscape and craftsmanship, detail and the story behind the creation of the design are growing in importance as people of all ages share a growing appreciation of quality and materiality. This perspective is particularly true of Gen Z – a generation who are reprioritising what they value.
“More than 25 million handcrafted objects were sold in the UK in 2019, with seven out of ten adults buying something solid, beautiful, unique and timeless” Crafts Council, May 2020
A stunning example of this return to craftsmanship can be found in a recent product launch borne out of a long-standing partnership between Bentley x Naim Audio. The British high-end manufacturer that is responsible for the systems that go into Bentley’s beautifully appointed automobiles recently created ‘The Focal Radiance’ headphones and a Bentley special edition Mu-so, emulating the rarefied privacy and comfort enjoyed in a Bentley cabin. Taking the Bentley experience out of the cars was a welcome exploration for Naim Audio and many parallels can be drawn from the design and styling of the Bentley car. The laser-cut diamond pattern on both Mu-so and the headphones is also a direct nod to Bentley interior design.
“Every element is designed to delight and built to last. We aim to be the polar opposite of the ‘throwaway society’.” Simon Matthews, Group Director of Design, Naim Audio
03 ARTFUL INTERIORS
For everyone, everywhere in the world, life at home has transformed since the pandemic began. Documenting what they describe as “the big home reboot” IKEA’s latest report suggests that 2020 was a year like no other, having a huge impact on many areas of life, including on our relationship with home. Against the turbulence of the outside world, their report notes that 78% of us globally agree that home was our sanctuary during the pandemic restrictions. Confined within our four walls all across the world, many of us have come to a realisation: we want something different from our lives at home. With new priorities emerging everywhere, and at the same time, the way we will live in the future looks dramatically different. There is an overwhelming sense that this is only the beginning. In the future, we can expect heavy scrutiny and investment in the ways our homes are created. In a world that seems increasingly chaotic, one place we can retain some level of control is within our homes.
“Home has become a place to raise your spirits and to take time to appreciate art and design pieces.” Elle Decoration, November 2020
With home truly at the heart of our lives, research suggests that our approach to decorating and furnishing our homes is changing. In a study they commissioned to analyse the impact of the lockdown on peoples decorating habits, Graham & Brown found that 94% of those who redecorated their homes during this unique period think it was good for their mental health and wellbeing. Welcoming the positive effects of change, it seems that we’re beginning to make bolder and braver choices, and truly embracing colour, pattern and print.
“It’s a fantastic time, we can finally be artists rather than slaves to tiny details. There is an almost insatiable hunger for the new and more unique” Maryanne Cartwright, Design Manager, Graham & Brown
Graham & Brown have also witnessed a rise in sales of their wallpapers along with noting 49% more searches for wallpaper rather than paint online. The artisan skills they use to create their artworks clearly set the brand apart. Artworks are lovingly hand-drawn or hand-painted in their studio by a team of multi-talented surface pattern artists. These artworks can take several days to create, and every creation is carefully archived so it can be drawn upon as inspiration in the future. Completed artworks are then digitised and separated into layers that allow for recolours based on extensive trend forecasting by their stylists, before moving to the proofing stage.
04 ENLIGHTENED EXPERIENCES
Even before the pandemic took hold, we had begun to note an evolution towards a new breed of slow and considered brand experiences. Rather than focusing on the creation of ‘instagram-ready’ spaces, perfectly designed to fit neatly within a little square on our social media feed, we had begun to note the emergence of more enlightened and introspective brand experiences designed to purposefully slow the pace down. Encouraging people to switch off from digital distractions and enjoy the experience in the here-and-now.
From a designers’ perspective, this approach opens up a whole host of new ideas as they focus on evoking an emotional connection and telling brand stories by engaging all of the senses. At The Future Collective, it’s our belief that the dramatic changes we have seen recently will further support the transition towards slower and more fulfilling types of brand experiences. Exploring how physical and digital experiences can enhance rather than compete with each other.
05 GOOD DESIGN FOR BETTER
In many ways this move towards slow and considered design feels reminiscent of Dieter Rams’ infamous manifesto about the 10 principles of ‘Good design’. It’s strange to see how we’re able to draw such clear parallels today to a theory that was developed over 50 years ago. Perhaps what we’re witnessing today isn’t so much a new way of thinking as a realisation of what we’ve known to be true all along?
DESIGN AS A FORCE FOR CHANGE
The tremendous challenges of the climate emergency, coupled with severe economic strain triggered by the global pandemic, are marking the launch of a new era in design.
On a global scale, our perception of the value and potential of design has completely altered. When the lockdown began in March 2020 we saw how design innovation could help and protect us in the most fundamental ways, and the speed of this innovation was incredible. Looking back in history, it’s perhaps no coincidence that many of the previous design movements were sparked by events of significant adversity. For example, the Bauhaus movement was borne out of war and driven to build a better world emerging from the debris of WW2. Today the ‘New Abnormal’ world we find ourselves in is sparking fundamental and significant change.
A NEW WAY OF THINKING & DESIGNING
When we design with the long-view in mind, a whole host of new and more complex considerations come into play. Slow design calls for a different approach to research, ideation and creation that is altogether more thoughtful; combining Design Thinking and Futures Thinking, with an understanding of the real needs of people at the very core.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges we face is how to build the levels of care and consideration into products, services and experiences that people can afford. The investment shouldn’t be beyond reach and must be accessible to all.