Nicholas Hollows4 Comments

Let's talk about lifestyle marketing.

Improvements in e-commerce accessibility have resulted in a massive boom in small brands.  It's easy to build a site, publish media, receive payments, and ship products anywhere in the world.  For the most part, this is a great thing.  It allows individuals and small companies to break free from traditional business practices, bypass layers of corporate greed and control, pursue dreams, and receive the full merit of their work instead of sharing it with superfluous bosses.  Perhaps most importantly, the direct-selling of handcrafts is allowing some makers to escape the debt cycle that's so much a part of the economic box we've built around ourselves; you don't need a massive loan/degree/ad agency to build a forge in your back yard and start selling knives on the internet.  Profits can take a back seat to more important qualities when you don't have loan payments or investors driving your decisions.

Lifestyle marketing, however, is an old school corporate tactic that's very much alive with small makers.  I can understand the temptation to use this strategy, after all it's a very effective way to drive sales.  Creating an emotional connection between your product and some manner of aspirational goal is an extremely compelling way to turn your product into a perceived "need".  This is typically accomplished by using imagery and storytelling to pose a product, service, or even the maker as an integral part of a more peaceful, simple, beautiful, or adventurous life.  That's something we all want, and if you become convinced that a product can provide that, any cost in dollars will seem cheap.  

Some aspects of this "curated" image are a natural part of how we experience life.  I'd much rather share a photo of that delicious ramen I had on Friday than photos of the corndogs I eat the other 6 nights a week.  We naturally document pleasant or beautiful moments, which leaves all of the drudgery instinctively edited out.  There is a crucial difference between this earnest celebration of life's finer moments and the calculated emotional manipulation that goes on when brands using vibes-based-marketing to tell you that their product or vision is the key to getting that beautiful life.  Unfortunately, the life they're advertising doesn't exist.  At best it's a highlight reel, and comparing it to your own life will only bring you pain, especially once the pursuit leaves you broke.

Now is the moment where I should step aside and address my hypocrisy.  I'm certainly guilty of injecting ideas into my work and online presence.  I also paint a romantic picture of what it's like to be me, mostly just by excluding the shitty parts of my life.  For a true single-person brand it becomes pretty difficult to draw the line between work and personal life.  I don't have a separate personal Instagram, and the temptation to foist my thoughts upon my audience can be nearly impossible to resist sometimes. This article itself is even suspect;  if we ascend the ladder of cynicism high enough, you could accuse me of Gibsonesque "anti-marketing" right here.  Even more so now that I've pointed it out.  So meta.

In all of the adorable dog pictures, hiking trails, and emotional wheezing that I've done about how and why I do what I do, I have never tried to suggest that buying my work leads to greater happiness (for you).  I've tried to honestly express what doing this work means to me, but I can't really dictate what owning it will mean for you.  Here's the way I understand it...

Buying my leather goods will not:

  • Increase your amount or quality of leisure time.
  • Deepen your connection with nature.
  • Slow the frightening pace of your modern life with its old timey handcrafted mystique.
  • Cast a spiritual fog over your morning cup of coffee.
  • Alleviate material desire.

The good news is that no purchase will do these things, and you can have all of them right now simply by deciding that they are a priority for you.  That last one is especially important, because while I believe that I make nice things, acquisition has very little effect on desire unless you can maintain diligent gratitude for what you already have.

Buying my leather goods will:

  • Provide you with a durable, useful, and probably-beautiful object.
  • Allow me to continue doing what I do.

To be clear, I do believe that humans can connect with objects, and I try very hard to create things that have that potential, but that process doesn't occur at the moment you purchase it.  It's entirely dependent on you, your values, and your experiences.  I've had people tell me that a piece of my work became an integral part of their life, and that feels incredible to hear, but I have no doubt that another person could own the same object and find it utterly forgettable.  The objects that I personally connect with either have a history or directly support someone whose goals I respect.

In the end, the only lifestyle that will be improved by every Hollows Leather product is my own.  I am deeply grateful to every person who chooses to support me with a purchase.  If respect for my goals is a part of what you value, then I can't thank you enough...but if you think that buying my belt is going to answer any questions greater than how to keep your pants up, you need to look elsewhere. 

Keep your bullshit meter finely tuned, because there's a lot of it out there.