The word "lifestyle" itself seems to have burst into the national consciousness sometime after the 1950s, and mentions of it have peaked in the past five years, according to Google data. A bit of linguistic revisionism, it seems to have risen in step ...
And a sushi burrito.
You may think these are all just things. They are not. Suddenly, they are "lifestyle brands."
Take the sushi burrito. This summer, Maki Shop, a Washington, D.C., carryout specializing in the trend food, announced that it was closing. Not because it was failing. No, the brand was simply breaking free of the physical - and spiritual - confines of bricks and mortar. Because, as the upbeat news release announcing the closure noted, Maki Shop is no mere handroll purveyor. At its core, "it is a lifestyle brand."
Of course it is.
But what exactly is a lifestyle brand? This remains one of the great existential mysteries of the first world in 2017.
The word "lifestyle" itself seems to have burst into the national consciousness sometime after the 1950s, and mentions of it have peaked in the past five years, according to Google data. A bit of linguistic revisionism, it seems to have risen in step with "plant-based" as the new term for vegetarian food. To have evolved the way organizing our stuff became Kondoing, which has given way to death cleaning. We don't understand it the way we still don't understand what constitutes "mindfulness," though we are mindful that it's also having a moment.
The phrase "means a lot of different things to a lot of different people," acknowledges Alex Frias, president of the New York-based firm Track Marketing Group. "I see it as a brand that has a deep understanding of its consumer's way of life."
So Vineyard Vines thinks its salmon-colored pants are a lifestyle; Marley Natural bills itself as "the official Bob Marley cannabis lifestyle brand."
Ellen DeGeneres' collection of pet carriers and stuffed bone-shaped dog toys is a "pet lifestyle brand." Rihanna has given us the Rihanna lifestyle, lending her imprimatur to chunky suede creepers for Puma and a Fenty Beauty highlighter that looks eerily like gold lamé. Ivanka Trump is a lifestyle.
Maybe it's all because of Goop. Unless you've been off disconnecting at an ashram in India, you probably know about Gwyneth Paltrow's lifestyle empire. Goop tells us that the way we live is broken, then sells us the regenerating facial oils, reishi mushroom dust and $8,500 Rolex to cobble it all back together.
Of course, selling a product remains the endgame for a lifestyle brand, Frias says, but it's accomplished by not actually attempting to sell you a product.
"Lifestyle goes further than just product," explains Shizu Okusa, co-founder of Jrink, a slickly packaged D.C. brand of pressed juices, acai bowls spiked with dates and now, "collagen waters." Okusa trained as an analyst with Goldman Sachs and worked for the World Bank; she understands business. So we ask her what she's peddling, if not juice.
"It's a good question," she says with a laugh. "You're selling an aspirational lifestyle."
Translation: You're showing people the lives they wish they lived.
Take a look at Instagram or Snapchat. The lifestyle brand probably wouldn't exist without them, says Okusa.
When you see workout clothes on real bodies (filtered slightly), green juice and gourmet doughnuts in real hands (tastefully manicured), or a leather jacket in the wild (at a Kusama exhibition, probably), don't you find yourself wishing that was your life? Er, lifestyle?
Okusa points to Jrink's Instagram feed, where one day, she says, "we did a photo of one of our staff with a flat lay of, like, a green juice with his laptop." Is he too busy to get up to eat a sandwich? This is the lifestyle: "It's pretty obvious that's he's drinking green juice for energy. It's fuel for a productive day."
Like Jrink, the rest of the food world has certainly picked up on the power of the phrase. Now, the longtime business model of selling sustenance in exchange for cash money suddenly seems so ... quaint.
In Los Angeles, there's Botanica, a restaurant painted in pale shades, dotted with chic plants and mirrors and serving tartines and various things toasted in ghee and seasoned with Aleppo pepper. It is a restaurant, but also a market, hawking the sundries its diners desire. And, wrote one Los Angeles food critic, presciently homing in on its subtle messaging, "it is also a lifestyle."
In New York, the restaurant Dimes began selling rolling papers and rosewater facial spray and spices in dime bags (get it?), and now it, too, is a lifestyle brand. Or perhaps, just a restaurant with a shop. One of the two.
Todd Ciuba, co-owner of Maki Shop, can explain why his company is a lifestyle brand. His outsize sushi is prepared in advance, with "healthyish" (another bit of linguistic revisionism) ingredients. That's "the lifestyle piece," he says. "When you need healthy food, on the go, that's a lifestyle."
But when you need sugar, immediately, that may also be a lifestyle. Sour Patch Kids, the mouth-puckering gummy candy that sells for about three bucks a bag, is one of Frias' top examples of a lifestyle brand.
The candy has sponsored the Teen Choice Awards and hosts music acts like Halsey at houses in Brooklyn and Austin that it has dubbed "The Patch." (Naturally, there's a hashtag.) Apparently, it's gaming this whole sour-sweet lifestyle to its advantage: Hawking that candy life reportedly drove sales up $30 million between 2014 and 2015.
Didn't Coca-Cola do this exact thing with its "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" ad, with the subtle message that the truly enlightened drank Coke?
"Yeah, absolutely," laughs Nir Eyal, a consumer behavior expert and author of "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products."
Declaring oneself a lifestyle brand, he says, is a "way to say, 'We have a monopoly on the customer's mind.' "
It relays the message, adds Okusa, that "this is the ideal."
You, me, brunch, rosé - it's all a lifestyle. And so much better than boring old "life."
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