The success of Lidl’s fashion collections as seen by a sociologist

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Jul 6, 2021

Lidl sneakers made their comeback on Monday in stores to the delight of collectors. But why is everyone going for the brand’s low-cost fashion collections? Sociologist Frédéric Godart, research professor at the European Institute of Business Administration (Insead) and author of “Sociologie de la mode”, explains more about the reasons for this success.

How do you explain the success of Lidl’s fashion collections?

Frédéric Godart: There are many reasons for this success. I would say that there is above all the power of the Lidl network, which has experienced very good performance in recent months, during the various lockdowns. From this point of view, Lidl has an important notoriety. But there is also an exemplary mastery of marketing and communication tools – the scarcity of fashion collections -, price control and a playful dimension of the ‘good deal’ which makes it possible to make profits on resale – due to the fact of scarcity.

A few years ago, going to Lidl was associated with a certain embarrassment, while today it is class. What happened ?

FG: Lidl has established itself in the French retail landscape with a strategy that differs from traditional ‘hard discount’. Lidl is more creative, offers cheaper quality products, and a certain diversity… From this point of view, there is no or no longer at Lidl the prejudices linked to ‘hard discount’.

Are the buyers of these fashion collections really the brand’s customers?

FG: Yes, those who we could call ‘first-time buyers’ know Lidl and its codes, such as the number of fashion items per person, schedules, etc. But secondary buyers, which can be found on eBay for example, are not the brand’s usual customers.

In recent years we have seen coats made from Ikea bags, or sweatshirts stamped with the McDonalds logo. All sold at a high price. Why do the upper classes seek to appropriate the dress codes of the popular classes?

FG: Cultural and social appropriation is a well-known problem in the fashion industry, which is regularly criticized for it. There is, especially since the 1920s, a growing trend of designers to reclaim popular dress codes – the ascending imitation. It is, for the richest, one way among others to distinguish themselves.

At the same time last year, Lidl sneakers were selling for more than a thousand euros when their initial price did not even reach 15 euros. Have we lost the notion of what a ‘fair’ price is?

FG: There is no such thing as a ‘fair price’ in fashion or luxury. Prices are defined there by the laws of supply and demand, structured by sociological processes such as tastes and fashions.

Consumers, including the Gen Z, are now expecting commitments from fashion brands in terms of sustainable development … But flock to Lidl sneakers at 12.99 euros made in China. How to explain this paradox ?

FG: There is a fundamental tension between sustainable consumption in a market economy framework – often expensive given the strict standards and lower supply – and a very strong socio-economic crisis which particularly affects the younger generations. To put it more clearly: it is difficult, if not impossible, for the youngest to afford sustainable consumption all the time given their relative impoverishment.

Originally, Lidl is aimed at people with low incomes, but you ultimately have to pay a minimum wage to afford these sneakers. Are we, consumers, crazy, even masochistic?

FG: ‘Expensive’ Lidl sneakers are only expensive in the secondary market (eBay, etc.) and therefore those who pay these prices can afford them. During the first purchase, the prices are much lower. The added value of these sneakers is their rarity, and therefore we are in a completely standard situation in a capitalist economy where fashion phenomena are central.

* “Sociology of fashion”, Frédéric Godart, Éditions La Découverte.

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