Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

29 January 2014

Market watchers are likely to have welcomed this week’s words of warning from Procter & Gamble with a scratch of – well, if not the head, maybe the chin. Because the consumer-goods giant has reported a serious decline in the market for shaving products, with its Gillette razor brand in particular suffering slipping sales.

Apparently the Movember movement – the prostate cancer awareness campaign built around sponsored facial furniture of the upper-lip variety – is hampering Gillette’s sales. But it’s not just ’taches doing the damage in Movember. It looks like a case of Decembeard, too, as bumper Bushwick beards and other hairy hipster variants drive a year-round resistance to the razor.

Among other instantly recognisable traits, hipsters are all about the hirsute so perhaps it should be no surprise that the razor market is on something of a knife-edge. But other than hair, are there other growth areas driven by this “Brooklyn man”? Is there actually a whole new, blossoming economy driven by the hipster demographic – a creative class ready to infuse the counter-cultural youth movements of the past with an unlikely sprinkling of new entrepreneurialism? Or are these characters simply artisanal cheese-mongering contrarians, pedaling their fixies in blissful and bespectacled isolation?

Economists appear divided. There is some evidence that the character of our surroundings is changing as a result of the hipster economy. The continuing rise of the push bike’s popularity has seen dwindling numbers of car sales to exactly the sort of young and affluent individuals that used to be – for want of a better word – the drivers of that market.

And the fabric of the city is not immune either. The mustachioed move in to rough-around-the-edges neighbourhoods previously colonised by edgier, defiantly non-mainstream punks and posers, bypassing the traditional upwardly mobile ’burbs. It was widely anticipated that the effect of this on run-down quarters would be revolutionary. With the hipsters moving in, new businesses, wealth and regeneration would surely follow.

But this trickle-down hasn’t happened. What many cities are seeing is a kind of variant colonisation by the Movember men and their acolytes. The upshot can be exactly the sort of gentrification that is anathema to the hipster movement. An interesting quandary: with pressure increasing from dissatisfied residents in these neighbourhoods, as well as on some big brands out of step with these hard-to-read counter-cultural values, where does this leave the notion of a new hipster economics?

Is an emphasis on local-making and hyperlocal businesses outside the mainstream sustainable? Should the head honchos at big beasts like Procter & Gamble be losing sleep over loss of market share if the hipster ethos continues to flourish like a perfectly manicured mustache?

Not just yet. A strong self-starting ethos coupled with a pleasing informality and emphasis on handmade quality is undeniably appealing. But until this is reconciled with a way to ensure these traits can be built into the neighbourhoods where the arch exponents reside, it’s too soon to talk about a revolution. So maybe it’s time to do P&G a favour and pick up that razor after all.

Tom Edwards is Monocle 24’s executive producer.

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