In Series 4, Episode 7 of Raw Talent we are exploring how psychology can make fashion better with Professor Carolyn Mair, Author of 'The Psychology of Fashion'.
Professor Carolyn Mair has a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience, MSc in Research Methods and BSc in Applied Psychology and Computing and is a Chartered Psychologist and Fellow of the British Psychological Society. This unique skill set unites a rare combination of expertise that harnesses an aptitude to direct and influence positive change.
Carolyn's professional experience spans consultancy, academia and early careers in visual merchandising, graphic design, dressmaking and portraiture. During her 20 years in academia, she was promoted to full Professorship at two universities and established a Psychology Department at University of the Arts London (UAL) pioneering the world’s first Psychology for Fashion Masters degrees (MA and MSc).
Carolyn left academia in 2017, established her consultancy and wrote a book, The Psychology of Fashion, published in 2018.
In the first of a 3 part series, we are going to explore why the psychology of fashion matters and its impact on society and the industry.
Early in her career, Carolyn recognised the need to apply the scientific study of human behaviour to the fashion industry paving the way for ‘fashion psychology’ which has been adopted by stylists, businesses, individuals and psychologists. Jumping into the here and now of our increasingly analytical world where the algorithm rules, I ask if there is a vital balance to be achieved in protecting the integrity of creativity and Carolyn explains that Creativity is something that happens in the brain and not in the fingers.
I love the reflections Carolyn shares with Refinery29 on the rise of comfortable clothing which has been amplified by the pandemic and how 'look' and 'feel' have become equally important. Our lifestyles are driving fashion and brands are responding to meet our needs like never before, and I am keen to understand Carolyn's thoughts on this? https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/comfortable-clothing-covid-fashion-trend.
She explains that technology has forced acceleration and the pandemic has forced changes in our priorities. Comfort is physical and psychological and conveys a feeling safety. We feel good when we feel comfortable. A hug in a piece of clothing. Babies reach out to touch for a sense of security. When we feel good, we look good and feel confident which is one of the most important characteristics.
Carolyn's expertise extends beyond the psychological influence of what we wear. She advises on human behaviour across the fashion industry, from research methods and ethics to customer insights, sustainability, inclusion and diversity and human resources and shares an example from her consultancy work that demonstrates how this works in practice.
Working with one of the worlds largest fast fashion companies, she discovered that they were using data in a way that didn't allow for customer personalization. She brought forward a way of working on the psychology of trust in data collection to enable customers to trust the company enough to allow them to collect the data they needed and says that we are more willing to give data when in return we get something that is of value to us. Allowing people to consent to the level of data is important. We have to understand each individual customer.
Carolyn advises on inclusion and diversity and how to retain staff internally by having awareness and respecting individual differences and highlights that we often see the world as shaped by our own background. She also explains that when people understand the purpose of their work they become more engaged and better workers. Businesses are by people for people.
So how does psychology bring value when supporting decision-making and problem-solving? Carolyn points out that we understand others through our own worldview formed by our experiences. Psychology doesn’t protect a single view, it talks in general terms based on a sample of behaviour. When experiments and analysis are carried out properly with a representative group, consumers are typically segmented by age and when you look at these categories there are as many differences as there are similarities. Analysis has shown a lot of similarity across age groups and gender. Psychology brings an understanding of the nuances and psychographics looking at what excites, motives and interests people and what they enjoy. What engages people for their time and money? Traditional research hasn’t always looked at this.
As a cognitive psychologist, Carolyn has worked extensively with global companies across groups and services from human resources to diversity and inclusion, social and environmental sustainability and customer insights, Carolyn tells us how the impact of her work has helped them in their evolution through a collaborative effort that requires buy-ins and desire for change.
So how can brands stay ahead in complex, dynamic environments where consumers are increasingly more knowledgeable and more demanding? Carolyn explains that they have to speak to and listen to their customers via surveys, CRM data collection, social listening tools and to analyse data from social sites. They can look at reviews to know what people are loving and not loving. There is so much data, they can even have a group on hand to answer questions. Climate change is a hot topic more now than ever and so it is vital brands listen and respond to the expectation for transparency. Companies need to find time to present succinct information for customers.
Fashion represents freedom of imagination and is often driven by instinct and gut feel where look, fit and function come together and I want to know how fashion psychology fits into this picture. Carolyn says that stylists have adopted the term "fashion psychology". When we approach something with a positive mindset we approach it with a high expectation and the reverse is also true. Psychology of fashion would look at sizing within a brand for example going a size up may create a negative customer experience. Bulk cutting methods in fast fashion create variation in fit which customers find challenging therefore, how can we make it better and make sizing unilateral?
With all her knowledge and insights, I am curious to know what Carolyn most loves about fashion and she says that is an expression of who we are. It is a costume and can be a real boost for how we feel. It evokes confidence and she loves the transformative power of fashion for positivity and wellbeing. It can be a vehicle for good and touches everyone.