The end of overconsumption, the rise of biometrics and using holograms for business and social purposes are among the changes in store for consumers, according to futurist, designer and educator Geraldine Wharry.
During a phone interview, Wharry mapped out some of her expectations.
WWD: How will this change consumer behavior?
Geraldine Wharry: It is just speeding up some of the things that were already beginning to happen in terms of consumption. Secondhand people are being more thoughtful with their purchases and digital fashion is becoming more of a thing. Innovators are creating virtual parties where you can attend through a VR set or a party where you can create your own avatar. This will influence how retailers can sell clothes online in the way that LVMH did with League of Legends for Louis Vuitton. We will see more of that.
WWD: How will this change consumption?
G.W.: Everyone knows this is going to drastically change people’s ability just to purchase and spend as much. This idea of slowing down is not just going to be an imperative for the planet – it’s going to be a survival imperative because we are not going to have the same financial resources for a while. We will bounce back but this virus will mutate. There will be periods where it comes back or becomes a new virus. This is the 19th one.
WWD: How may this permanently change people?
G.W.: It’s going to change a lot of conferences and concerts. For those who have the technology, you could deliver your conference through a hologram. This is something Facebook has already been developing as one of the ideas for the future of Skype. I could have dinner with my relatives as a hologram. We’re going to see more home movies at home, more games, a bigger sense of play, more sharing online. I just bought a projector because I don’t have a TV.
WWD: Will people look at screen time differently?
G.W.: Right now people feel compelled to just be on the phone and be on social media a lot. That is going to have some negative effects as well. We will see people reconnect with nature more because it will be safe to be in the woods or in parks. Those activities will be really welcome as people feel the need to get out of the house. On a broader societal level, we will need to be more resilient. Yes, meditation will help but it won’t be enough. We will need to read more philosophical books.
WWD: How else will we change our thinking?
G.W.: We’re going to need to rethink work and society in a way that we haven’t done because we have worked as a capitalist system where you earn, you spend. Now in the U.K., for example, landlords have been instructed that they can’t force people to pay rent, tax payments have been delayed. We’re starting to see the first synthesis in a society that is not necessarily based on purchasing. This is, in a way, what we needed because of the sustainability agenda. A society that is more based on the well-being economy is a system that New Zealand, Iceland and Scotland have already adopted. This is an economic model. I’m not sure how this is going to pan out in America?
WWD: What do you think this means for traditional brick-and-mortar stores?
G.W.: It’s the end of overconsumption as we know it, which America is a huge culprit of. We can’t just take outdated ways of functioning and bring them into new technologies. We need to rethink this idea, “It’s OK, I can still buy a lot because I can still do it online.” What for? This is a life crash course. This is a reality check. Many people are going to go after their dreams now…Of course, there will be a segment of the population that wants to consume and to shop. After not being able to shop in stores for months, some will miss it and others will realize they don’t really need it. This is going to make us realize what is essential.
WWD: How will social distancing and people’s fear of crowds influence how they consume?
G.W.: That is really tricky because there’s always going to be that fear. I’m not sure if people will need to be tested regularly to have some proof that they’re OK. Maybe certain stores in certain places will be heavily equipped with heat maps like they had in China in the airports during SARS. Potentially, there will be more of that. I talk a lot about big tech and privacy. Now the ethical implications of all this is if we want to be safe, we need to give away a lot of our personal information, our biometrics to ensure we are free of virus. In the future, people may want instant feedback on their temperatures. We’ve seen the [smart] watches. Haptic feedback and data is being woven into garments so that your heart rate and other biometric data is fed back. These things were used for yoga and sports. They could have amazing benefits for avoiding pandemics, if all of a sudden you realize you have a fever.
WWD: What advice would you offer designers and businesses?
G.W.: It’s not necessarily a good time to try to see things. Businesses shouldn’t give things away for free either. It’s a time for community. Whatever that means for businesses. Growing your community, whether it’s online, or through e-mails with your staff. Just growing a sense of kinship and seeing where the chips fall. It’s a time for planning and preparing for when business comes back. They need to record all the measures they’ve taken, the good things and the mistakes to prepare for the next time this will happen, because there will be a next time.
WWD: What do you suggest when things start to go back to normal?
G.W.: Don’t go back blindly as though nothing happened. We are in this mess because of the way we’ve been running the fashion industry. Scientists have linked the virus to climate change. Climate change has affected our immune systems’ [ability] to fight viruses. Nature always does culling, when things are not working out.
WWD: What should brands be thinking about?
G.W.: How do they work more locally, reduce their footprint, have a game plan to deal with their staff and clients when this happens again. In the U.S., there is a much greater work force that is threatened to get quite ill without the help of public health care. Ultimately, that’s going to hurt companies.
WWD: What are the upsides of questioning the way we consume and run our daily lives?
G.W.: We needed a time of reckoning with the amount of product that we consume and the amount of product we extract from the planet. The planet is cracking under the pressure and the virus is a symptom of that. Potentially this will lead to a whole new way of engaging with fashion, repairing more, maybe businesses will focus on teaching how to repair clothing and how to make their own design from home, a different way of sharing intellectual property.
WWD: What are signs of creativity?
G.W.: In the last couple of days, I’ve never seen so many interesting things happening on social media. One of the biggest music stars in France, Jane Birkin’s daughter Lou Doillon, plays her music on Instagram every day at 5. Normally, people would pay all this money to go to her concerts and she is doing it from her living room. I attended a virtual music festival today.
WWD: How will such a micro-rooted approach filter into fashion?
G.W.: There’s a lot to be said for repair, reuse. This idea that we have to manufacture a garment at the factory, have this whole work force, and have it delivered to a store — this whole system was already being tested. Now it’s just being obliterated. We’re going to need a completely new way of sharing our designs and our brands, and how people experience the brand. A sneaker designer, Helen Kirkum, who has done collaborations with Adidas and Melissa, led an Instagram workshop for sneaker design made of reusable materials. That’s very bold because she’s really sharing her IP there, but she doesn’t care. This whole notion of exclusivity is potentially going to change.