The emotions and feelings that the words “exclusive” or “limited edition” evoke in us are deeply human. Being the first to know the latest scoop or have access to the coolest piece of clothing feels good.
Exclusivity elicits psychological rewards, it provokes a sense of belonging and importance within us. Getting that limited edition hoodie emblazoned with the freshest version of a company’s logo makes your ego shoot sky-high -- you’re part of the in-group.
Clothing brands have been utilizing drop culture for decades, but more recently it has moved into the mainstream. Beginning in the skate and streetwear scene with brands like Supreme, drop culture has been a way to create hype around the latest product or collection based on limited availability. The marketing tactic has now permeated the mainstream including fast-fashion and Amazon.
(What's the hype? Drop culture runs on exclusivity and drives urgency through the mythical "hype"— image from Drop Culture.)
This powerful marketing tactic creates a false sense of urgency. It operates on a scarcity mindset and pulls on sense of fear that we the consumer will miss out. We see it when Apple releases their limited-edition red iPhone, we see it with Kanye West and his ever-exclusive Yeezy sneaker line, and now we’re seeing it in Target with their limited-time collabs with top designs (I distinctly remember the 2011 “Missoni for Target” collab that left everything in their store, from dresses to mugs to paper napkins drenched in chevron).
At its very core this scarcity tactic is also an anti-feminist approach to business. Feminist economies operate from a different space of consciousness - sitting on the opposite ends of most patriarchial and masculine models.
(Images above from Sister Proposals for a feminist economy)
Drop culture feels hard to resist given the aforementioned positive feelings that exclusive consumption can elicit, but the long-term effects are not worth the hype. At best, you’re happy with your exclusive purchase and you wear those special edition Nikes for the season. At its very worst, you’ve become a cog in the fast fashion machine; your purchase contributes to the cycle of over-buying, overhauling when something newer comes out, and over-buying again the next season to fill the latest "void" in your closet. The reality is that we probably don't really have that void and all too often we forget that those cyclical hauls and donations end up in off-shore landfills, further contributing to the climate crisis.
Identifying these marketing tactics is the first step in becoming an empowered consumer. When you accept the feminist mindset that there, in fact, is enough to go around, you realize that scarcity is a facade in the fashion world. If you’ve fallen victim to drop culture, you are not alone -- there’s a reason it works so well. As summer fades to fall and you’re craving a new wardrobe, remember in the world of fast fashion and multi-billion dollar corporations nothing is truly limited. Let's drop drop culture.
For resources on conscious consumerism check out our resource guide.