In my own closet, all of the clothes that I’ve kept and cherished the longest have stories attached to them. I noticed that in class on Wednesday, many people also had narratives that accompanied their oldest possessions. In order for empathic design to succeed, the importance of clothing with a story can’t be overstated.
One simple way for companies to implement the idea of story telling into their products is to have some sort of unique background or way of producing the garment. For example, Tom’s shoes started the trend early on of donating one pair of shoes for each pair that was purchased. I remember being enamored with this concept when the brand first started, and I bought–and loved–a pair of their shoes almost immediately.
Small, independent brands can also capitalize on the idea of a unique story by simply highlighting what makes them special–for example, in the neighborhood of Brooklyn that I lived in this summer, there were many independent boutiques proudly merchandising local products. All the pieces that I bought while in Brooklyn are garments I will keep for a long time, because they have a very special connection to the place where I lived.
However, narratives that are pre-created by a brand aren’t the only way to infuse a product with meaning. In class, few talked about products they’d purchased because of a unique brand; rather, people held on to their items because of the narrative that they themselves had created around the possession. This is the second way that stories become attached to objects, and I believe it’s the more important and personal of the two.
However, marketers can’t control a consumer’s reaction and attachment to their product. They can only control how well the product holds up, allowing it to lead a long, satisfying lifespan for the consumer. It’s frustrating to fall in love with a garment only to realize it will only last for a few wears. Garments are meant to be used, and using them is what helps create consumer attachment. So one of the key elements of empathic design is creating products that will age gracefully, allowing consumers to form relationships and narratives with the garment, and hopefully keep it for a long time.
Stories are only one piece of empathic design, but they seem to be a very important one. Clearly, this factor is not just in the hands of producers–consumers have to be willing to hold on to their garments and take care of them. But if garment quality rises to meet consumer’s longterm needs, this strategy stands a chance of succeeding.