Hype is Everywhere: Can Sustainability Leverage it, Too?

Hype, much like Himalayan crystals and mercurial retrograde, is subscribed to by many yet understood by few. The mystique of the word only lends to its aura, though– attach a luxury streetwear brand or a cult favourite tag and we’re all for it.

For want of a definition, hype can be categorised as buzz, excitement or anticipation for a new product, or intensive publicising and promoting of a product after it hits the shelves. Hype surrounds many brands today, whether unintentionally or intentionally– and it’s come to be viewed as a class of its own in the hierarchy of fashion.

Before we get on, it needs saying that ‘hype’ and ‘trend’ are not the same although, arguably, they’re two sides of the same coin. Hype is energy and trend is the spawn; hype is anticipation and trends are spin-offs.

Often times we find that the energy surrounding a new or upcoming product is palpable in the frenzied texts we send and the thousands of reshares on social media. Yet so many times we find that the product falls short of the hype– the energy bypassed the ‘drop’.

The frenzy of scarcity and being ‘in the know’

The fuel that hype runs on, at least in the world of luxury fashion and streetwear, is scarcity. Most in-demand labels drop very few products in a year, and it seems that availability is inversely proportional to hype. Marketers use this to play the masses like a fiddle; high demand and low supply leads to sell-outs in literally 5 seconds. Streetwear traders ride on the hype wave to resell cult products and make 6-digit figures per year.

Being ‘in the know’ is just as intrinsic to hype. Aficionados earmark the products they want well before the drop, even contact insiders for exclusive access, albeit at a premium price. Fashion has long been about the label– sparking envy and jealousy by owning a creme de la creme product is everyday business for some.

Hypebeasts become hypebeasts when they’ve tapped into the subculture and secured access to the most slippery of items. The term ‘shopping’ doesn’t seem to cut it– instead, hypebeasts invest in their personal image and form a social class of their own.

There is a strict paradigm of exclusivity and authenticity that cult brands and hypebeasts strive to cultivate and maintain. This is why Supreme is worth more than a billion dollars today though their repertoire of products is sparse compared to other clothing giants.

The psychology of hype

Hype is tied to our self-image. It feeds comparisons and introspection on what we want to be seen as– indeed, what we see ourselves as. Fashion confirms self-identity; hype acts as a pass to monitoring ourselves. The motivation is many and multi-fold– status, exclusivity, hierarchy, pleasure, superiority and plain old happiness.

Therein lies the appeal of hype– it adds to the reality that we have constructed, allows us to achieve exclusivity and savviness, negotiates with our own beliefs and desire to take on an entirely new personal meaning. Therein also lies its caveat– hype might be universal, but it is a highly personal experience that validates beliefs and self-concepts.

Can we collab with hype over sustainability?

It’s hard to say. Sustainability, firstly, is an umbrella goal with different paths and equally distinct targets. To create hype around sustainability is an arduous task as it would involve creating meaning.

This is not the environmental, social or economic meaning of sustainability– it is personal. Without identifying every individual’s inherent motivation to be associated with a hyped product, we risk making sustainability a trend rather than someone to pool resources and energy towards.

The goal might be to create a new world of sustainable hypebeasts, but without identifying the motivation for choosing sustainable products that sit in the heart of an individual rather than on a global environmental website, harnessing hype for sustainability may well falter. Close to the heart is close to the purse.

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