Wabi Sabi: The new consumer trend that celebrates imperfection

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Forget Hygge – there’s a new social trend that’s increasingly making its presence felt in 2019 and this time we’ve imported it from Japan.

According to consumer and behavioural futurist Will Higham, wabi sabi is one of this year’s top emerging socio-cultural developments to watch, which could present a commercial opportunity for businesses.

The wabi-sabi approach has been integrated into Japanese culture for centuries. While in its current rendition, it has a distinctive ‘style’, like Hygge, it is more than just an interiors trend. It’s a recipe for a more mindful way of life that, in many ways, represents a backlash against some of the other social trends that we’re witnessing right now.

“We are living in a time of brain-hacking algorithms, pop-up propaganda and information everywhere,” says Beth Kempton in her book Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life. “From the moment we wake up, to the time we stumble into bed, we are fed messages about what we should look like, wear, eat and buy, how much we should be earning, who we should love and how we should parent.”

So as our daily lives pick up the pace, as technology careers ahead at breakneck speed, and as influencers constantly bombard us with images of envy-inspiring lifestyle perfection, can wabi sabi offer some kind of antidote?

“Wabi is about finding beauty in simplicity, and a spiritual richness and serenity in detaching from the material world,” explains Kempton. “Sabi is more concerned with the passage of time, with the way that all things grow and decay and how ageing alters the visual nature of those things. It’s less about what we see, and more about how we see.”

So why does this matter? Wabi sabi is being credited with helping to drive the latest trend for upcycling products – creatively decorating and reusing old or unwanted items – and it appears to be in tune with a more sustainable, and less throwaway, way of life. As single-use items become anathema to the current mood, and sustainability rises up the consumer list of priorities, there’s plenty for businesses to consider.

This has implications for everything from the way in which consumers and retailers tackle food waste, to a wider acceptance of the way the human body looks as it ages. It points to a shift in what consumers consider to be aspirational. But, when it comes down to it, is a mindset that enables us to embrace transience, imperfection, and everything that makes us different, being driven by the global megatrend of individualism?

According to consumer and behavioural futurist Will Higham @NextBigThingCo, wabi sabi is one of this year’s top emerging socio-cultural developments to watch, which could present a commercial opportunity for businesses. Click To Tweet

This being the case, how will consumers’ reactions to images presented to them as desirable by the mass media, and – crucially – the way in which businesses present information about their brands to their audiences evolve?

When it comes to marketing materials, the appetite for a less brash, more personalised approach is growing. It will be interesting to see how this trend develops.

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