Lidl sneakers were back in stores in France this Monday, much to the delight of collectors, some of whom are almost certainly getting ready to sell them for big bucks on the internet. But why is everyone going wild for the brand's low-cost fashion collections? We asked the sociologist Frédéric Godart, a research professor at the European Institute of Business Administration (INSEAD) and author of "Sociologie de la mode" [The Sociology of Fashion] to tell us more about the reasons behind this runway success.
How do you explain the success of Lidl's fashion collections?
There are many reasons for this success. I would say that first and foremost there is the power of the Lidl network, which has seen particularly good performance in recent months, during the various lockdowns. From this point of view, Lidl has a high level of brand awareness. But there is also an exemplary command of marketing and communication tools -- the scarcity of fashion collections -- a command of prices and a playful or fun dimension of the 'bargain,' allowing people to make profits on resales -- because of this scarcity.
Just a few years ago, shopping at Lidl had certain connotations, but suddenly it's all the rage. What happened?
Lidl has established itself in the French retail landscape with a strategy that differs from traditional budget or discount supermarkets. Lidl is more creative, offers quality products at lower prices and a certain diversity... From this point of view, Lidl isn't subject to, or is no longer subject to, the prejudices associated with budget supermarkets.
But are the people who buy these fashion collections really Lidl shoppers?
Yes, the people we could call 'first-hand buyers' are familiar with Lidl and its codes, such as the number of fashion items per person, the opening hours, etc. But the secondary buyers, who can be found on eBay, for example, are not the store's usual customers.
In recent years, we've seen coats made from IKEA bags and sweatshirts with the McDonald's logo, all selling for a fortune. Why are wealthier shoppers seeking to appropriate the codes of the popular classes?
Cultural and social appropriation is a well-known problem in the fashion industry, which is regularly criticized for it. There has been, especially since the 1920s, a growing tendency among designers to recuperate the dress codes of the popular classes -- in upward imitation. It is, for the rich, a way among others to stand out.
This time last year, Lidl sneakers were being resold for over €1,000, when the original retail price was under €15. Have we lost sight of the notion of what makes a fair or right price?
There isn't really a 'right price' in the fashion or luxury sectors. Prices are defined by the laws of supply and demand, structured by sociological processes such as tastes and trends.
Today's consumers, especially Gen Z shoppers, expect commitments from fashion brands on sustainable development. Then they rush out to buy €12.99 Lidl sneakers made in China. How do you explain this paradox?
There is a fundamental tension between sustainable consumption in a market economy -- often costly due to strict standards and reduced supply -- and the major socio-economic crisis that's affecting younger generations in particular. To put it more clearly: it is difficult, if not impossible, for younger people to afford to shop sustainably all the time, given their relative impoverishment.
Originally, Lidl was aimed at people on low incomes, but ultimately, a minimum wage worker would need to spend a month's salary to buy these sneakers. As consumers, are we crazy, or even masochistic?
Lidl sneakers are only 'expensive' on the second-hand market (eBay, etc.) and therefore those who pay these prices can afford them. When you buy them for the first time, the prices are much lower. The added value of these sneakers lies in their scarcity, so we are in a very standard situation in a capitalist economy, where fads or crazes are paramount.
This interview has been translated from French.
* "Sociologie de la mode" [The Sociology of Fashion] by Frédéric Godart is published by Éditions La Découverte.