The Psychology of Consumerism

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An Interview with CARL TILLESEN, Trend Analyst, Consultant and Bestseller Author

“A future scenario might be that we will satisfy our desire to present ourselves in ever changing looks, express our personality, show status, or play with different identities through digital fashion.“

What does „breakthrough“ mean to you? And would you name one (or also more) breakthroughs in your life?

In retrospect, any single moment that I would consider a breakthrough in my career was not a deal closed or a contract signed. The real turning points were special encounters with special people. I’m talking about the very rare encounters, where you meet someone, and you just believe in each other like parents believe in their children. So you take a leap of faith together and make something extraordinary happen that none of you could have achieved alone.

What have been some of the most significant changes you‘ve observed in the fashion industry throughout your career in different positions?

My biggest heartbreak was and still is the advancing verticalization of fashion retail. If you agree that fashion has a cultural value, you just can’t disagree that multi-brand retailers like Colette in Paris or Quartier 206 in Berlin going out of business are great losses for fashion as a culture.
My biggest joy was and still is digitization. I can’t even imagine doing my research as a trend analyst and author entirely offline. Every time I look up figures or pictures or quotes or clips online and they just pop up within seconds, something inside of me still goes “woohoo!”.

Based on the insights from your book, Konsum, what are your thoughts on the future of hyperconsumption as a consumer trend and what other trends do you see dominating in the years to come?

If you look at it from a global perspective, fashion consumption is still increasing at a very fast pace due to the combination of increasing world population and increasing per capita consumption. But if you look at the figures in detail, like we do at DMI, you’ll find that in the developed markets we are facing a polarization of society, with one pole being the majority of people following the industry on its way from fast fashion like Zara to ultra-fast fashion like Shein. But the other pole is a growing community of conscious consumers embracing the idea of deconsumption and making slow fashion choices. It might take a while, but eventually the
values of this community will trickle down and infuse the mainstream.

What psychological mechanisms drive consumers to prioritize luxury and excess over practicality and sustainability in their purchasing decisions? Can society shift its values and perceptions to prioritize sustainability and ethical practices over hyperconsumption and excess?

If our buying decisions were made in a white room, with just two products that are identical, except one is produced in a sustainable and fair way and has a higher price, we might put our money where our mouth is and buy the ethical product. But that is not the case. In real life, we browse through a store or an online shop, and we come across a product that is exactly what we were looking for: amazing design, perfect color, right size, even good quality and yet easily affordable. In that case we don’t ask
questions, we just buy the product.

How can consumers become more aware of the environmental and social impact of their consumption habits, and what role can this awareness play in promoting sustainable practices in the fashion industry? How can governments and policy-makers address the issue of hyperconsumption and promote sustainable consumption practices in the fashion industry?

In 2022 Germany consumed 21% (one fifth!) less gas compared to 2021. Was it tough? No. Could the measures easily have been taken a long time ago? Yes. Did we take these measures when Greta Thunberg told us to act like our house was on fire, because it is? No. Did we take them when gas prices went up? Yes. What I’m trying to say is: I would like to believe in the awareness of the consumer bringing about change, but I can’t. So, I’m counting on a political solution. I’m counting on supply chain acts. I’m counting on European lawmakers creating social and ecological standards leading to higher prices leading to more sustainable consumption.

How do you see the role of innovation and technology in shaping the future of the fashion industry and consumer trends?

Unlike a lot of people, I see a huge potential in digital fashion. Our figures at DMI prove that a great part of our fashion consumption is solely aimed at creating digital pictures of ourselves for social media without being seen in the same outfit twice. In the near future we will no longer need physical clothes for that. A future scenario might be that we will satisfy our desire to present ourselves in ever changing looks, express our personality, show status, or play with different identities through digital fashion. With this desire satisfied, it will be easier for us to cut down on our physical fast fashion consumption and go back to wearing durable, timeless and versatile basics in real life.


Carl Tillessen is a trend analyst, consultant, author, designer, and fashion lecturer. He lives and works in Berlin and Hamburg.
In 25 years, he has experienced the luxury industry from all angles: fashion and business, employed and self-employed, craftsmanship and industrial production, purchasing and sales, wholesale and retail, online and offline, front row and backstage, theory and a whole lot of practice. He holds a degree in Art History
and Business Administration, and has held positions as CEO and Creative Director. It‘s always about keeping both the creative and commercial aspects in mind.
Carl Tillesen is also the author of the bestselling book „Konsum - Warum wir kaufen, was wir nicht brauchen“.

Learn more about the work of Carl Tillesen on his website at

Silke Weinsheimer

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