The Employee’s New (Sustainable) Clothes

It’s a question I get all the time, “So what exactly does a Futurist do?”

Well, a ‘level one’ answer is that a Futurist looks at specific factoids (we call them triggers), determines how they will evolve, and helps companies forecast and recommend how to take advantage of those evolutions.

The truth is, though, that while this answer begins to paint the picture, it is really only doing so with a single color. So let’s make the picture a little more interesting.

Any Futurist worth their crystal ball takes a look at MULTIPLE triggers and intuitively & creatively illustrates how companies might stand at their nexus to create next-level opportunities for growth and differentiation or (confirm what is missing).

Perhaps an example to clarify:

Trigger #1: Adults Needs New Work Clothes

As we contemplate a new post-COVID ‘normal,’ companies are spending a great deal of time thinking through and discussing the myriad hurdles that will need to be cleared to make employees comfortable as they return to the work office. One that is not getting much focus, however, is the need for new clothing.

According to the American Psychological Association’s latest “Stress in America” report, more than 2 in 5 of surveyed adults (42%) said they gained more weight than they intended over the past 12 months. On average, this group says they have put on 29 pounds. Even if this is on the high end, there are many other reasons why someone that has been sitting home for 18 months might need to re-evaluate their wardrobe needs upon returning to a full-time, in-office situation.

While it is difficult to estimate the cost for a total wardrobe due to varying needs in line with job titles, office culture (a la Wall Street), regionality, style preferences, etc., using a typical insurance reimbursement for a total loss of personal goods, let’s say a complete new work wardrobe is around $4,000.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average family generally spends $1,800 per year ($160 per month) on clothing (source:, so the need for a new wardrobe could easily be a significant hurdle.

Trigger #2: Millennials Have a Conscience

Millennials (those between the ages of 25 and 40 years old) make up a huge portion of the work force that have been adopting their lives to the work-from-home paradigm but will soon be expected to return to the collective office.

This group is also nobley committed to the idea of supporting brands and companies committed to sustainability. In fact, a Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study finds that these young adults are prepared to make fairly significant personal sacrifices to live out their commitment. They are more willing than society as a whole to pay a higher price for products if it means they are buying from a sustainability-focused company. They are more willing to share products or buy used rather than buying new. They are even more willing to take a pay cut to work for a ‘responsible’ company.

This kind of commitment to cause, then, is clearly a way to win them over as employees, and certainly is a way to motivate them to act in ways they might otherwise be resistant to.


So, if we look at the two triggers — the need to overcome the ‘need for new clothes’ hurdle to bringing employees back to the office AND the high level of affinity that Millennials have for companies that practice support for sustainability — what synergistic solution can we devise?

Here is one that comes to my Futurist mind…

I would advise nervous companies, CEOs and managers, that, instead of struggling through an HR nightmare and/or investing money for training new employees and begin or continuing to demonstrate their corporate culture for sustainability, they should consider identifying an online consignment store (even better if the store, itself, supports a cause of its own), negotiating discount prices in return for relationship exclusivity, and offer their returning employees a generous stipend as a credit at the selected store.

This may not seem like a revelation, but it identifies a specific problem (How do we motivate hesitant employees to return to the office?) and fuses two seemingly disparate ‘triggers’ to create a synergistic solution that will mark a company as a forward-thinking and considerate employer.

Parting Challenge

Want to think like a Futurist? Identify a challenge using seemingly unrelated societal trends/triggers that can be combined to create a solution. I would love to hear what you come up with.

Want a Futurist in your camp? Message me and let’s brainstorm together on how to turn your future challenges into opportunities.