From me to we: Making the wellness industry less virtuous

Earlier this year we invited guest speaker Alain Sylvain, CEO & founder, Sylvain Labs to our WGSN Futures event to talk about the future of wellness. Here is a condensed version of his keynote talk.


Wellbeing, wellness, mindfulness – rarely have we ever concerned ourselves more with the notion of self-care.

Evident since around 2014, the original wellbeing movement focused on taking care of yourself, looking inward and addressing deeply personal needs. We saw the mindful revolution happen, with thousands of apps and gadgets encouraging us to find peace, mindful fitness programs like Kenzai connecting the physical with the mental and even adult colouring books to help us destress and unbind from the daily grind. Suddenly we were focusing time on relaxation and finding oneself intrinsically. It was also about unapologetic self-indulgence – me time.

In recent years to really care about yourself you had to invest in such a way that bordered on selfishness. Just take a look at #selfcare. Self-care became an exercise in vanity perpetuated by technology. Mindfulness morphed dangerously close into selfishness.

Wellbeing also came with a price tag. It was a luxury defined by the idea that you need to invest to access this state of nirvana – just look at Goop, the rise of premium services like SoulCycle and Barry’s Bootcamp, “essential” spa breaks and cold pressed juice detoxes. The ethos of wellbeing was corrupted with over-the-top methodologies and never-ending lists of must-have services and products. The movement spiralled out of control and lost its true definition, yet we carried on indulging and spending.

Then, the world changed. We were propelled into a state of shock, with our place in the world questioned and socio-political upheaval triggering divisions around the globe. We saw hate in its most visceral form really rise for the first time in decades, and nationwide events elicited significant cultural shock.

Yet amid the disruption a new-found sense of optimism has emerged. Responsible young people are taking initiative to improve their surroundings, new icons representing change are entering the picture, and innovative tools and movements that channel this sense of empathy are stimulating revolution. It has become part of our language to look to others and change the world, and in doing so our definition of wellbeing has become less about self and more about others.

Characterised by selfless movements that see groups collectively activate to challenge the ills of today, we have moved on from addressing personal stresses and introspective grievances to globally resonant issues that affect more than just our immediate circle. Race, politics, gender equality, LGBTQ rights, environmental threats, healthcare crises – today we are finding more stability and peace by tackling issues that matter to the world.

Wellbeing has evolved from the me to the we, the inward to outward, the passive to active, peace to rebellion, elitist to democratic, the short term to long term.

Today, consumers are craving wellbeing through a more virtuous mode of “me-time”. When once we might retreat to the confines of a luxury spa, hitting reset via decadent treatments and personal pampering, we are now actively seeking activities that reset the world. We’ve abandoned the socially selfish ways of the 80s and 90s where we expected personal rewards for hard work, instead finding ways to use our energies to benefit others. Yes, there is a self-serving element to the movement – who doesn’t feel good about themselves after embarking on a philanthropic endeavour – but that is no longer the primary goal.

Increasingly we are pursuing a sense of wellbeing through more socially minded ways. We’re seeing a boom in “prosumerism” with consumers actively prioritising impact over convenience, as evidenced by 91% millennials saying they’d switch brands to benefit a cause they believe in. “Locavorism” is gaining traction in cities, with shoppers prioritising provenance both for its environmental impact and its benefit for local, community-centric businesses. Even at work, the concept of good company culture has moved away from short hours and traditional perks, to business purpose and social impact. Deloitte found that mission-driven companies have 30% more innovation and 40% higher employee retention.

So how do brands fit in? Without a doubt, they must be dynamic tools for social movement, to help people feel that active change. It’s about brands taking unapologetic stances in the light of unrest and revolt, to those making clear statements on ‘otherness’, to embracing ruthless utility with social or environmental impact.

The new model of wellbeing sees consumers seek inner balance through purpose, value and impact for good with an acute awareness of how our actions impact others. Brands can channel this and become more than just a commodity. Products and services that address today’s social, environmental, even political issues offer more value than those that simply represent something shiny and new. Brands that speak up, drive change and show empathy for others today – just as their consumer is doing so – will be those that stay relevant tomorrow.


Like this author? Follow Alain Sylvain, CEO & founder, Sylvain Labs here





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