The cultural shift in Western society towards individualism has generated an increase in importance of conspicuous consumption. In today’s society we use materialistic products like apparel, phones, cars or watches to express our personality and belonging to a certain group. Suggested by Thorstein Veblen (1989) and recently confirmed by Pownall, Da Silva & Gertsberg (2016) an important reason for conspicuous consumption is to gain status. Pownall et al. (2016) find that status-seeking individuals spend more on conspicuous consumption than others do. They also find that the more visible an item is, the more status-seekers care about how others view these items. Clothing is one of the most visible consumption items, you wear it every day and every person with whom you have an encounter is able to see it. Although some might wear clothes for purely practical reasons, many use them as an extension of their personality.
The municipality of Maastricht currently implementing policies which will stimulate development of the local fashion industry. They are looking to help young, emerging designers to set up their business in Maastricht. Local and sustainable productions and craftsmanship are focus points of the policies. Supply for such products comes from fashion school graduates like MAFAD, but does a demand base for the locally produced goods also exist in Maastricht? In order to investigate this, we are conducting field research among students in Maastricht. The aim is to study both local status motives for conspicuous consumption, as well as finding out which product characteristics individuals prefer when they are buying fashion items. For example, if is it produced in a fair-trade or sustainable way, is it unique and original, is it made of high quality material, or that it has a visible designer logo. Moreover, the research will be looking at whether students are satisfied with the available products in the city. Can they find what they want when shopping in Maastricht, or do they rather go to other cities?
Results of this study will not only be helpful to support policy decisions by the municipality of Maastricht, but are also ready to use for fashion entrepreneurs and shop-owners in Maastricht. Additionally, the interaction between status-signalling preference towards product characteristics is a new and innovative way to look at the phenomenon of conspicuous consumption.
This project is being executed in collaboration with the UCM PEERS programme.