The flex commerce era 💪

What new ways of showing off mean for the consumer market

Flex commerce \ˈfleks \ ˈkä-(ˌ)mərs is demonstration of one’s taste, wokeness and cultural savvy through their spending.

Flex commerce is like having a giant dog in NYC. It’s a flex that one has an apartment big enough for a mastiff.

The purpose of flex commerce is to establish one’s status as distinct and superior to others. Unlike other forms of commerce, it’s unrelated to the cost of goods and services, but to their intangible, symbolic value. In flex commerce, price is secondary. Primary are the cultural, social and environmental capital that a good or service carries.

Flex commerce isn’t new, but has recently become more intriguing thanks to our inability to show off through the latest season clothing or travel. Few want to risk taking a selfie in the full luxury designer garb without looking like someone who didn’t get the “sweatpants attire mandatory” memo. There’s nothing to see and no party to be at (well, almost). Travel pictures are mostly reserved for the throwback genre.

Instead of fancy clothing and fancy destinations, there are Spotify #2020wrapped to show off one’s taste, along with bookcases, vinyl collections, nature walks, plant colonies, cooking adventures, workouts, home improvement projects, podcasts, newsletters, Instagram gift guides. Influencers are flexing their H&M, Zara and COS treasure-hunting skills.

The new flex commerce is simultaneously a power move and a process of self-actualization. It shows off our taste and it further develops it. A plant colony needs to be nurtured and loved as much as it needs to be Instagrammed. The new flex commerce is for those who seek (and can afford) to invest their time in accumulating knowledge, refining their skills and eye, curating their lifestyle, doing the research and developing consumption rituals and taste regimes.

The primary activity of flex commerce is not buying, but collecting.

Brands that transform their current commerce approach into flex commerce are better positioned to win in the modern economy. Investment in flex commerce requires internal business reorganization, from suppliers and distributors a company works with (they’d have to be sustainable, socially responsible and transparent) to merchandising, marketing and sales (products need to be developed and sold as collectibles). Externally, flex commerce forces brands to define their role in the world and to surround their products with intangible flex.

Flex commerce is a business and brand strategy that creates, delivers and captures social and cultural value of products and services and turns it into business value.

In the modern aspirational economy, flex commerce is the primary mode of cultural, social and economic exchange.

To demonstrate what flex commerce is and how it works, I put together a gift guide that adheres to the flex commerce model. This gift guide is my own obvious flex.

The New Localism: Small businesses that thrive on personal relationships built around their community. 1) Bachan’s Japanese Barbecue, 2) East Fork Pottery, 3) Haus, 4) McNulty’s, 5) Dust & Form, 6) Cathrine Rudolph, 7) Mimmo’s Mozzarella, 8) Crowd Cow and 9) Fly by Jing and 10) Casa Magazines

Mood. Things that enrich their buyers’ lives and signal distinction. 1) Uterque, 2) Bimba Y Lola, 3) A Brief History of Curating, 4) Liu Jo, 5) Anara, 6) Yugo Punk, 7) The Secret Life of Groceries and 8) Ruby for Fun

Collaborations. Things that transform non-culture into culture and let us see ourselves not as just consumers but as collectors. 1) Adidas Jugoplastika, 2) J.W. Anderson for Uniqlo, 3) Adidas Lotta Volkova, 4) Propaganda Acne Studios, 5) Isabel Marant Pour H&M (vintage), 6) The Vampire’s Wife for H&M, 7) Nike x Sacai and 8) Carharrt WIP La Haine

Curation. Dot connecting, where various fields and ideas come together. 1) Monocle Minute on Design, 2) Hans Ulrich Obrist, 3) Best Soundtracks on Film, 4) Steffan, 5) Samutaro, 6) Bonnie Langedijk, 7) Caroline Grosso, 8) HTSI Gift Guide, 9) Archived Dreams, 10) DORÉ Edit, 11) Christopher Morency and 12) The Audo

Taste: Tastemakers and a cultural voices; those hard to imitate, because they own a curated aesthetic world and have a strong cultural association. 1) Konfekt, 2) Matthew Higgs, 3) How Long Gone, 4) Ribbonfarm, 5) Public Announcement, 6) Travis Scott, 7) 032c, 8) MSCHF, 9) Rosa Wolf, 10) Mushroom Revival and 11) Byronesque

Aesthetic innovation: Infusion of taste and meaning into the ordinary. 1) Caskata, 2) Dandelion Chocolate, 3) Fyrn, 4) Ca’lyah Design, 5) Heron Preston x Moon, 6) Kurasu, 7) Kintsugi Kit, 8) And Premium Magazine, 9) Nice Things Magazine and 10) Scent for Good, 11) Girlfriend Collective and 12) Kallmeyer

Micro. Catering to our ever more niche tastes. 1) Racquet, 2) Caña, 3) Plant, 4) A Dance, 5) Atoms, 6) Buffalo Zine, 7) Mundial, 8) Ghostly, 9) Maison Bodega, 10) Kinship, 11) Courier and 12) The Helm

If you enjoyed this analysis, order my book, The Business of Aspiration, and sign up for the free Sociology of Business newsletter here.

Strategy Executive. Author of “The Business of Aspiration.” Doctor of Sociology. Forbes’ one of The World’s Most Influential CMOs.

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