Founder’s Message: Why We Banned the C Word (Consumer) at Liforme
Dear Liforme Community,
It’s quite a standard thing in ‘business speak’ to refer to the people who might potentially be your customers as ‘consumers’. Consumer trends, consumer markets, consumer reports, consumer brands selling their consumer products. You get the gist. As a business that primarily sells our products directly to our customers (via our Liforme.com website), we would normally be referred to by outsiders as a ‘Direct to Consumer’ business (commonly abbreviated to DTC or D2C).
From time to time, we get introduced to investor-type people and they tell us they ‘specialise in helping consumer brands’, or that they ‘focus on the consumer sector’. When we brought in a consultant to advise on our strategy and help us write a business plan, we ended up with a whole load of charts and documents that were generously littered with this particular C word. After a while, it just started to sound, well, wrong.
Consumerism, consumer, consume. These words have by now a clearly pejorative meaning, implying conspicuous consumption, over-consumption, mindless consumption. All these phrases describe a very destructive way of interacting with the things we buy. Unfortunately, they are an accurate way of talking about the relationship between many people and their stuff. But that needs to change. We all need to rethink what kinds of things we buy, how much we buy, and especially the environmental and social impacts of what we buy. Changing the language we use is a starting point for changing our thinking.
We believe that words matter. We simply do not think of our customers as ‘consumers’. We see them as our community, our friends, people we respect and want to serve with good intention. We just don’t see them as rabid rubber-munching devourers of our Yoga mats, which is the image that comes to mind if we call them ‘consumers’. The idea that they buy one of our mats, into which a whole load of good people have put their work, creativity, skill, care, and love, and then just ‘consume’ it makes little sense to us. Neither literally nor metaphorically. It just sounds plain wrong.
If a business does the right things, making its products or services well, with due consideration to the environment, to social justice within the supply chain, if it sells its wares honestly and respectfully, takes care of its customers and earns their trust, do those customers really ‘consume’? We’d like to challenge the conventional thinking around this.We believe a business CAN be a force for good in the World. In fact, in our view, ethical businesses are the best chance we have. Whilst we’ve witnessed an exciting growth in recent years in the power and influence of larger-scale movements of real people, through grassroots movements as well as long-standing organisations who exist to promote environmental conservation or social change, for most of us our day to day way of living and being is still largely dictated and controlled through an economic paradigm which is driven by purely profit-driven capitalist corporations.
There is a different way to do business. We want to engage with and serve real people. The yogis, the environmentalists, the activists, the planners, the thinkers, the innovators, the yoga studio owners, the visionaries, the believers, the care-givers, the care-takers, the workers, the students, the mums and dads. All the people, except the consumers. So we’re no longer using the word consumer at Liforme. Not in our internal discussions, not in our paperwork, we’re not even thinking it, not at all. And while it’s taken some time to get used to the idea and there are some practical challenges (and some quite funny conversations in certain meetings), it’s an important change in the culture of our company and one we think more businesses should take.
We hope our change in language will encourage you to change the way you shop for the stuff you need and that together we can evolve the conversation away from consumption and toward responsible and sustainable collaboration between businesses and customers, or, as we like to think of it, people and people.
Hmmm, Direct 2 People™ business, that has kind of a ring to it. Maybe we should trademark it? Actually, we already did. ;)