The inception of Luxury
Jean-Baptiste Colbert ‘invented’ the industry of Luxury goods. Before that, most products were priced according to their functional value: ‘you get what you pay for’. Baptiste understood that value, sometimes, “transcends the value equation and enters a new realm, one of scarcity and social proof.” (quote by Seth Godin). From that point on, a new industry was born: the luxury industry.
Social status was an important factor in these times and people were eager ‘climbing up the Maslow pyramid’. Remember that the 17th century as a surging time for Paris, yet it was in full development of coming a reigning nation, especially in terms of cultural and architectural achievements. Status, public image and intellectual show-off were important drivers to express wealth and happiness.
‘Esteem needs’ and ‘self-actualization’ as Maslow described them, had everything to do with answering to psychological, socio-cultural and emotional needs. Once you figure out how you can answer to those needs, people evolve, grow and reach higher grounds – for the good of that person, and ultimately the nation. Also read my previous article on the relationship between loyalty and Maslow’s needs pyramid, if you’re interested in finding out more about this.)
However, not many people know there is a sixth level that Maslow described: self-transcendence. It’s located above the top of thy pyramid, and refers to an accomplishment of:
“Oneness, wholeness, and beyond the self (Maslow’s self-transcendence needs)”
In this 6th state, It’s not just about you, but about the people around you and becoming a ‘more whole person’. It’s about being in true balance with everything and everyone around you. You’re transcending your actual self and finding new, more spiritual grounds, to land on.
Sustainability and social status
Great, interesting stuff. Now let’s have a look at sustainability. Sustainable behavior is typified by making decisions that lead to a better world, very simply put. Or, as the dictionary puts it:
“…is behavior that encompasses peoples’ values, norms, beliefs, senses of responsibility in deliberate actions focused to providing well-being of all living beings, including present and future generations.”
See what’s happening here? By definition, you make decisions that not necessarily in favor of you, but for all living beings, including future generations. This brings along two complications:
- You need to change your behavior to do what’s best for others, not just for you
- You need to take responsibility for future generations, which is hard for us
So let’s go back to Jean-Baptiste for a minute. He introduced the luxury industry as a new phenomenon, to show you have more than someone else, thereby climbing the social ladder. Those were times of material possession – a time that arguably is long gone (as we know live an experience economy, or even collaborative or sharing economy, as Li Edelkoort argues – among others). That brings us to the question:
“In our modern times, what is the ‘currency’ to climb the social ladder by means of luxury? What is luxury? What makes us transcend ourselves and reach higher grounds?”
See there the juxtaposition with sustainability: acting sustainably is by definition altruistic. Can we transcend ourselves by being altruistic? Will sustainable behavior be seen as something that makes use climb the social ladder? Sure, we do see a change happening: in punk, we were against everything, in today’s collaborative society, we’re for something: we want to be part of a movement, claim our freedom back. It’s about beliefs, the bigger picture, improving the world and fighting for it.
Change for the good
We are on the right way, as we improve to collaborate and aim to transcend our mental self by reaching an almost spiritual, ‘wholeness’ level. However, we need to understand how sustainable behavior is stimulated and in fact leads to higher social status, during a time in which experiences and collaboration, are key drivers.
What’s (luxury) fashion’s role in this? How can it become more altruistic? If you have any thoughts about, let us know. I’d love to hear your thoughts.