K-shaped aspiration

Ana Andjelic
4 min readNov 18, 2020

Aspiration increasingly means different things to different people

The other weekend, in his Faster Lane weekly Monocle address, Tyler Brûlé generously offered a few “pointers” for “soldering through” the new lockdown. Brûlé’s pointers all sounded very privileged, but the one that stood out was to “start a grand project.” It involved suggestions to buy a house, build a little hut or commission a new-build boat. “These are good days for side projects,” was the author’s conclusion.

No doubt, some Monocle readers took these ideas to heart. Brûlé has, after all, been a taste-maker and an über-connoisseur for decades and he earned his stripes. Similarly, a business management consultant recently proclaimed in British Vogue that, once the pandemic is over, everybody will be buying more sustainably and responsibly. He is certainly, if only partially, right.

There are those who will buy more responsibly. As for everybody else, they will buy what they can afford. They also probably won’t commission a boat as a side project.

If shopping bags and lines in front of stores seen on the streets of downtown New York are any indication, fashion is very conspicuously happening in Zara and H&M. Uniqlo was so packed on a recent Sunday evening that if people weren’t wearing masks, it would be hard to tell what year we’re in. Scroll down your Insta feed, and most influencers are wearing ASOS, COS, Arket and & Other Stories.

Viewed from the perspective of environmental capital, wearing fast fashion is not aspirational. From the perspective of affordability, it is.

This chasm makes the future of aspiration K-shaped.

K-shaped aspiration reflects the inverse relationship between consumption and wealth. A friend who works as a senior executive at a global beauty company spends her money on facials and other forms of wellness. She occasionally buys a Uniqlo collaboration, if it is Jil Sander or JW Anderson. In contrast, the less affluent buy products to make them more socially visible, and devote a bigger fraction of their total spending on things they perceive as status-augmenting. They buy their status in Zara.

Two parts of K-shaped aspiration are:

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Ana Andjelic

Brand Executive. Author of “The Business of Aspiration.” Doctor of Sociology. Writer of “Sociology of Business.” Forbes most influential CMO.