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By: Ilana Allegro, Maira Arnaudo, Natalie Ivezaj, Kelle Jacob and Ildiko Juhasz
Posted: June 11, 2012
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In his book The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, the urban scholar Joel Kotkin describes the concept of ‘fluid identity.’ He states that the US millennial generation—those born between 1982 and 2004—are not content to identify with a single culture or race. This generation presumes cultural diversity as a normal aspect of daily life. They adopt, exchange and experiment with multiple cultural identities. This phenomenon is not limited to the United States, as technology has made it simple for all global consumers to pick and choose those facets of various cultures they identify with and adopt them as their own. The influence of this cultural fusion is readily apparent in the food, fashion and music industries.
In the food industry, ethnic food trucks are replacing gourmet and specialty stores as consumers are seeking to experiment and discover new culinary delights. These trucks are usually manned by ethnic descendants of cuisines and cultures, and possess the ability to pass on the rituals and heritage of various foods. Tribal and ethnic influenced fashions dominated the runways for Spring/Summer 2012. In this trend, designers take inspiration from mixed prints and patterns from diverse cultures such as Bhutan and Ghana, and create garments that are bold and distinct, yet wearable. Music fans everywhere have also embraced the idea of fusion of diverse musical genres. Rapper Jay-Z’s recent collaboration with Panjabi MC fused together quintessentially New York-style hip hop beats with Bhangra, lively form of music and dance that originated in the Punjab region in Southeast Asia. Finally, the rise in experiential travel is further evidence that consumers are seeking to not just connect with other cultures, but to dive more deeply into them and experience them first hand. With the fusion trend so prevalent in food, music and fashion, how can fusion be incorporated in the beauty industry?
A New Model for Product Innovation
The beauty fusion model seeks to capture the richness of the fusion experience and incorporate it into the product innovation process. The beauty fusion model is based on three distinct elements: the richness of beauty rituals from around the world, unique indigenous ingredient stories and the engagement of the senses. As these three elements intersect, cultural fusion is brought to life in beauty.
Rituals are precious and an integral part of our cultural heritage. The absence of rituals has been shown to have a devastating effect on culture. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, spending time on beauty was considered vain and decadent. Women could actually be arrested for wearing the slightest amount of makeup. This left an entire generation of mothers without beauty knowledge to pass on to their daughters. Today, major fashion magazines such as Chinese Elle and Chinese Marie Claire are now published twice a month to keep up with demand for instruction on all aspects of beauty from skin care to cosmetic application. The diversity of beauty rituals can serve to create more inspiring product concepts. For example, in South America, the popular indigenous fruit known as huito has been used for thousands of years by rain forest natives in body painting rituals. The juice of the fruit reacts with skin, staining it a tattoo like blue for up to two weeks. Imagine being able to incorporate this wonderful ingredient to create more natural hair dyes and mascaras, and at the same time fostering respect for the indigenous cultures of the Amazon.
New ingredient stories in provide a valuable resource to drive product innovation. The use of indigenous ingredients can help bring the diversity and excitement of cultural fusion to beauty as well as spur the development of new categories. As an example, imagine creating lip products infused with the antibacterial properties of boneset. This Native American herbal remedy for colds and flu was adopted by early settlers to America, and was displaced by the introduction of aspirin. Such a product could offer a convenient form of protection from bacteria and dirt, a common problem among all urban dwellers regardless of their economic or social status. In another example, black soap is an indigenous ingredient that has been used for centuries in Africa to improve skin clarity and texture. If black soap were combined with the brightening and soothing effects of pearl powder from Asia, it could fuse together the best skin care practices from these diverse cultures, and would speak to values of the globally sophisticated and culturally sensitive beauty consumer.