Are we what we buy or we buy what we are?

Studying consumption and identity was the first assignment in Contemporary Consumers in Fashion, one of my subjects in this first semester of the MSc International Fashion Marketing at Heriot Watt University, here in Scotland. The way to develop it has been through an essay and an artifact (in my case a collage) with the 5 objects that represent me as a consumer and use them as examples to explain the different theories about this relation.

Collage with the 5 chosen object that represents me as a consumer: H&M’s biker, Michael Kors’ Selma, my pink iPhone SE and the wonderful scarf made by my mum.

Despite the difficulty of the topic, given my limited knowledge in psychology and human behavior in general, it has turned out to be an interesting topic and, above all, useful when it comes to approaching it from a fashion marketing perspective.

How consumers express ourselves can only be conceived taking into account our possessions, it is something you can expect before doing the research. However, that these personal belongings are essentials to know who we are, it is a completely different discovery (or at least for me). As I was working I was surprised at how this relationship between identity and consumption has been changing decade after decade, but with the tremendous growth of social media and the need (some people more than others) to express ourselves, to show who we are or what we buy at all times, they have turned 360 degrees.

In the same way, I have been conscious how myself and my consumer-self are changing depending on the environment in which I am and according to the different moments of my life. It is curious how within myself as a consumer I can distinguish the Elisabet client of H&M, the representation of my current status as a fast-fashion consumer and the Elisabet aspirational consumer of brands like Michael Kors, in which I hope to become soon into a customer of a medium-high status customer.

Another important point to highlight in the essay is the analysis of the dimensions that a product or service can have. It is clear that we do not buy clothes only for its usability, but for its emotional qualities. Come on, we all know that all bags satisfy the same need but if I have to choose, I will go to the Selma o my Känken backpack. The greater feelings, emotions and memories that these products generate, the more they are part of ourselves. Brands are, of course, aware of this so through advertisement in a million and one way, they try to sell us the symbolic parts of their products with the clear objective: be the chosen one in the market and gain competitive advantage.

However, all these marketing actions can be a double-edged sword for these brands. On one hand we are inmersed in a super-saturated environment of messages, so we can simply ignore it; we listen to them too much so we end up hating the brand and its products, or we interpret the message as we want so in the end, we get a completely different conception of the brand or products that the companies are waiting for.

In the same way that consumers use products and services to express themselves and validate who we are in our environment, we also use brands os tools to reaffirm ourselves as consumers. Therefore, we not only buy products with we feel identified with but we consumer brands that shares our same values and are aligned in a certain way with our lifestyle.

My conclusions from this assignment have been the following:

  • Analysing our purchases and our belongings is essential to know our own identity.
  • Due to our consumption, we express ourselves as individuals and as members of a certain social group.
  • This need to consume with the aim of building us as persons is taken advantage by brands to “sell identities” through their products and services.

To finish I leave open one last question open to debate: for you, what was before, consumption or personality?



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