The Rise of the Lifestyle Brand

Your brand is an extension of your customer’s identity, you allow them to express their identity through a purchase.

What is a lifestyle brand?

A lifestyle brand embodies some or all of the values, aspirations and attitudes of their customer. They build a trusted, emotional connection and become a product they can’t wait to buy, and that they'll share on social media when they do.

Becoming a lifestyle brand, therefore, is about becoming an inseparable part of the identity of your customer. The goal? To build a devoted community of happy, loyal customers who eagerly buy from and represent your brand on and offline.

Everything about a lifestyle brand from its visual identity to its copy, messaging, storytelling, imagery, beliefs and values should celebrate the lifestyle its being built on.

The why

To build a community of engaged people who will naturally become repeat, loyal customers, who are happy to spread the word.

The how

By building trust, embodying their values and interests through messaging, imagery and storytelling.

What is a lifestyle?

There are as many potential lifestyle niches as there are people, but if you’re looking into this from a business perspective, the chances are you’re comfortable that your product or service appeals to a larger audience than one. Nevertheless, there are always questions about what makes for a lifestyle - is it reserved for sporting goods, sustainable products, or health foods?

The answer, of course, is no. A lifestyle brand doesn’t need to represent such a huge part of the life of their customer (though many do), they simply need to cater for a part of their customer’s life or represent a core belief or passion. For example, the following brands could be considered as lifestyle brands which could conceivably appeal to some of the same people.

  1. Apple
    • Message: "Think different."
    • Lifestyle: Hi-tech, creative, innovative.
  2. Nike
    • Message: "Just do it."
    • Lifestyle: high achieving, athletic, determined.
  3. Neom
    • Message: "Small steps. Big difference."
    • Lifestyle: calm, natural, self-care.
  4. Patagonia
    • Message: "We're in business to save our home planet."
    • Lifestyle: environmentally conscious, adventurous.
  5. Castore
    • Message: "Better never stops."
    • Lifestyle: athletic, disciplined, passionate.

A lifestyle is, broadly, a passion that is shared across a demographic group. Food shopping is not a lifestyle, for example, while vegan food is. Walking is generally not a lifestyle while rambling (or hiking) is. These may seem like small distinctions, but they aim to illustrate things an individual might do and things they love to do (and which may drive purchase decisions).


Meeting the customer where they live

This is the core of ‘lifestyle’ where it applies to commerce - the lifestyle sits at the intersection of what you provide and what your target customers love to do. The rise of Reebok in the 80s, for example, can be attributed to their decision to create the first shoes tailored to the women led craze for aerobics, while the 90s saw Skechers appeal to a growing grunge scene and Vans to skateboarding culture.

However, this meeting of brand and customer is often something which has driven the development of a product and/or business in the first place - whether that’s a desire to offer vegan products, sustainable fashion or organic make-up, there is a drive in the creation of the modern lifestyle brand to align with a specific worldview or outlook, and from that moment on it’s simply back to basics with product/market fit and other marketing fundamentals left to determine success.

There is no one lifestyle

It should probably be apparent by now, but there is no single lifestyle that lifestyle brands are appealing to - but that doesn’t make it easy to reverse engineer a lifestyle brand from a product or business idea. While there may be almost as many lifestyles as there are people, there are elements of customer behaviour which limit the opportunities to force lifestyle relevance which we’ll tackle in the next section - but one of the most important is perceived authenticity. 

In short, whatever lifestyle your product is aiming to target, there must be the perception that it is a lifestyle which is genuinely important to you and your business - there is an increasingly low tolerance for greenwashing, for example, but this also applies to other types of product - you only have to look at the $1Bn drop in company value that Boohoo suffered following the discovery of possible modern slavery breaches in its supply chain, something which is a long way from their stated aim:

To use our social reach and platform to educate, empower and inspire our customers to drive purposeful positive change.

In short, the ‘lifestyle’ in ‘lifestyle brand’ is about walking the walk and talking the talk.


Why has there been a rise in lifestyle brands?

There are a lot of reasons that the term ‘lifestyle brand’ is becoming popular in the positioning of commerce brands, but underpinning it all is a dissatisfaction with the way retail has developed (in one way or another). We can separate this (approximately, as all generalisations are) into three developing trends and/or shifts in thinking.


The growth of online commerce has had several drivers, but among the most important have been increasing adoption by businesses and, powered by greater online security and access, growing acceptance by consumers. 

This is an ongoing (though slowing) trend among businesses:

It is also nearing its peak among consumers, with an EU average (across demographics) of 75% of the population having made online purchases in the past year.

While all generational cohorts have adopted online shopping, what has changed is generational attitudes - this is illustrated by a US study from marketing intelligence agency Mintel, who found that:

“While Amazon maintains its position as the most shopped brand for US online shoppers (84%), some demographics, like Gen Z, have multifaceted and evolving opinions of the e-commerce giant. Mintel data shows nearly half (47%) of Gen Z shoppers say they are actively trying to shop less at Amazon compared to 20% of Baby Boomers and 40% of Millennials. Furthermore, six in 10 (60%) Gen Z shoppers agree that Amazon is too powerful, and 39% are tired of hearing about the e-commerce giant.”

What we have seen over the last decade and a half is an almost exact replication of the hollowing out of the highstreet in favour of retail parks and out-of-town big-box supermarkets. Netizens were coaxed away from the thousands of stores that lined the (how old am I) information superhighway by discounts and the perception of convenience. 

However, as online platforms moved from booksellers to global megacorporations, prices crept up, the platforms share of the sale crept up, deals for creators got gradually worse, stories broke about unfair business practices and poor treatment of labour, and the relationship between the platform and the consumer has soured as a result.

With the savings reduced and perceptions of convenience reduced, this has left the door open for younger generations to begin factoring in broader considerations when deciding to make a purchase - factors such as value alignment.

Values, for reference, are defined by Milton Rokeach in a 1972 research report titled Beliefs, attitudes and values: a theory of organization and change as:  

“[An] enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end-state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end-state of existence”.

While I’m the first to acknowledge that ‘generations’ can be meaningless marketing babble and that no generation is a monolith, generational cohorts have been a reasonably reliable segmentation method in the social sciences for many years. So when I refer to generations, I’m talking about them in a manner that would be recognisable before millennials started killing the diamond and chewing gum and whatever other industry, before everything was ruined by my devastatingly cruel (and impoverished) generation (I’m a geriatric millennial, but a millennial nevertheless).

As such, this increased importance of ‘values’ when considering purchases is summed up in several papers which tackle the attitudes of Gen-Z, such as the following: 

Customer insights and online shopping attitude of Gen-Z 

Published as part of Prague’s 14th International Days of Statistics and Economics, Jílková and Králová found the following of their Gen Z participants:

  • 76% actively look up independent references for products they are interested in. 
  • 30% appreciate the transparency and traceability in their purchase process.
  • 84% are willing to pay extra for quality or higher standard products.

A Qualitative Approach to the Sustainable Orientation of Generation Z in Retail: The Case of Romania

Published in a 2020 edition of the Journal of Risk and Financial Management, Dabija et al found that:

“Zers have a much stronger inclination towards environmental protection than previous generations, exhibiting a strong “green” orientation.


Generation Z respondents believed that environmental protection and conservation is the duty of each one of us.


Respondents considered aspects such as useless packaging, products packaged in plastic materials, the possibility of free home delivery, the repeated use of biodegradable bags, etc. “I avoid as far as possible buying plastic, single-use products, such as straws, because these are more difficult to recycle and might end up being thrown into oceans where they jeopardize the life of aquatic animals”, “I mostly choose bio-based/green or easily recyclable products”, “I choose biodegradable products”, “I choose slightly processed and bio/plant-based products”, “I do my best to replace plastic bags with cardboard or reusable bags”.”

Inclusive identities: re-imaging the future of the retail brand?

Published in a 2020 edition of the International Journal of Retail and Distribution Management, this study by Boyd et al found the following:

“Although the Generation-X females displayed more tolerance towards sexuo-gendered imagery than the Generation-X males, they sometimes delivered homophobic comments. They also expressed preferences to conform to patriarchal representations of femininity. For some, this was to avoid being mistaken as belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community. Their tolerance illustrates both a desire to avoid being discriminatory as well as seeking to avoid being discriminated against. Although they illustrate only partial acceptance of gender/sexual diversity, there was clear empathy for multiple sexuogender-constructs. In contrast, the Generation-Y focus groups conveyed positive attitudes towards sexuo-gendered imagery, stating they would avoid retailers who did not support LGBTQIA+ rights. Whilst Generation-Y applauded the inclusion of sexuo-gendered diversity in marketing, there was criticism of the gender-neutral fashion collections for the lack of imagination for gender-fluidity.


There are clearly opportunities for retailers to utilise the edginess of sexuo-gendered identifications, both in imagery and in product development, to indicate progressive retail brand values (Rosenbaum et al., 2017; Rosenbaum et al., 2015; Quach et al., 2017) that appeal to transnormative and mainstream consumers. Contrasting with consumers negative perceptions of retail brands portraying religious values (Lui and Minton, 2018), the current model of using gender-heteronormative models seems outdated. This lack of representation of diverse sexuo-gendered identities does little to detach from the ‘gay window dressing’ (Kates, 1999) of contemporary campaigns and perpetuates the portrayal of an inferior woman alongside a dominant man (regardless of their sexuality or gender). Rather, social identity theory in this instance posits that ideology rather than physical attributes are sought by younger consumers.”

What this means

There are similar findings across a broad range of what could be considered ‘value’ positions (woke academics and their research) that indicate a growing awareness of and increased focus on values as a determinant of purchase decisions in younger generations. There is something academics refer to as the “attitude-behaviour gap” which is a difference between the stated attitude and desires of a cohort and their actual behaviour, but this too has been changing over time:

“While the millennials reported feelings of cognitive dissonance when purchasing fast-fashion such as ‘irritation’ and ‘guilt’, unlike previous research, here they did not attempt to justify their behaviour in order to resolve their feelings of dissonance. Rather, the participants perceived this as an opportunity to reaffirm their preferences for sustainability for future consumption practice.”

I could go on listing studies, but the conclusion we can draw is that generational differences have directly influenced the rise of ‘lifestyle brands’ as such brands begin to find increasingly large audiences due to generational shifts in attitudes - to retail, to business and to various socio-cultural issues.

Social and cultural trends

Many of the above shifts in attitude also represent social trends, but I’m going to move away from age based cohorts and move to a broader view for this section. For example, environmental concerns, though more apparent in younger generations, have become a social norm for a relative majority of the global population, with 79% of the total population surveyed expressing some concern in a three week window (I do think the Ipsos question was super badly phrased, however).


There was also a number of large cultural shifts that followed the pandemic - the increase in work from home and a consequent reassessment of the work-life balance, for example, led to significant growth in outdoor recreation activities, and while this has dropped off since the pandemic ended, there has been a new appreciation of the importance of outdoor spaces that has persisted. This is evidenced by the ONS (UK’s Office for National Statistics) which has found that “people visiting nature” increased significantly post pandemic (even though people making multiple visits has fallen).

It’s not just the pandemic that has caused social and cultural shifts, however, the internet itself and the perception of frenetic pace that it engenders has also given rise to trends in ‘slow consumption’ - as has been pointed out by Cuesta-Valiño et al in the journal Technological Forecasting and Social Change:

“There is a consumer tendency to “back to basics,” which has been strengthened by the Covid 19 crisis: the search for the authentic, the true, confidence in the origins of all the products. And greater importance is being attached to the value of experience, slow life, and slow food, concepts that prioritize experience over speed. So, despite the trend towards greater globalization in consumption, counter-trends are emphasizing the original characteristics of products and stores…”

Again - though I’ll use fewer references in this section, for your sanity and mine - there are dozens of papers that have dealt with such changes and their impacts:

Word of mouth and digitalization in small retailers: Tradition, authenticity, and change

Published by the aforementioned Cuesta-Valiño et al in the journal Technological Forecasting and Social Change, this paper dives into a growing need for authenticity and the real (which may go some way to explaining the collapse of the metaverse) that has been felt increasingly across generations:

“Specialized commerce can be associated with historical and cultural identity, which links to the search for authentic experiences and brand image by today's consumers and the idea that local commerce is more authentic, human, and real. Thus, many of today's consumers are not numbers representing cash for the proprietor but have become subjects who demand authenticity, novelty, convenience, and creativity in their shopping experience. They also share this experience through social networks, increasing the value and growth of word of mouth (WOM). The study of experiential marketing is new and just recently moved into academic full swing. Experiential marketing consists of an immersion of the consumers directly into the product through the senses. The aim is to trigger feelings, emotions, and thoughts that generate positive experiences related to the authenticity of products, services, and stores and thus to influence new consumers’ buying attitudes.”

While this paper dealt primarily with the offline shopping experience (among more than 4000 Spanish consumers), the parallels for online commerce are clear.

Celebrity vs. Influencer endorsements in advertising: the role of identification, credibility, and Product-Endorser fit

Published by Tilburg University in the Netherlands, this 2018 paper examined changing attitudes towards endorsement - which again demonstrates a demand for authenticity and connection:

“The present research is one of the first to directly compare celebrity and influencer endorsements in terms of their advertising effectiveness. We have shown that influencers are deemed more trustworthy than celebrities, and that people feel more similar to influencers and identify more with them than celebrities. These processes, in turn, affect advertising effectiveness. Therefore, a first implication of our study is that influencers may be more effective product endorsers than traditional celebrities and a practical recommendation is therefore to continue to use influencer endorsers in marketing campaigns.”

This trend has, of course, continued evolving since 2019 as some of those self-same influencers began to hawk dangerous goods and ignore advertising standards, leading to growth in the use of ‘micro-influencers’ and, consequently, to advertising on smaller YouTube channels and podcasts.

“Wishful identification, similarity, and trust are important explanations for why product endorsements work and also explain why influencer endorsements are more effective than celebrity endorsements. However, our results also show that the underlying processes explaining advertising effectiveness may depend on specific product-endorser combinations. Specifically, for an influencer endorsement to be more effective than a celebrity endorsement, an endorsed product must be able to enhance feelings of similarity and wishful identification.”

Why do retail consumers buy green apparel? A knowledge-attitude-behaviour-context perspective

Published by Dhir et al in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, this paper studied the impact of knowledge on behaviour - finding that the more extensive a consumer’s awareness of environmental issues was, the more likely it was to impact decision making - which, when viewed in conjunction with the IPSOS survey on attitudes towards climate change, suggests we could be on the cusp of further changes in cultural and socially driven changes to buying habits.

“[The] study reveals that environmental knowledge stimulates consumers’ attitude and trust, which translate into green apparel buying behaviour. This indicates that pro-environmental behaviour aimed at conserving natural resources can be enhanced through an increase in environmental knowledge. “

What this means

I’m trying to be illustrative rather than exhaustive here, so I’ll add a caveat: we are still yet to see the full shaking out of the replication crisis in the social sciences (I would generally use more literature reviews than individual studies for this reason), but what we can see - both academically and anecdotally - is a rapidly changing cultural landscape and the impact that is having on the number of and kinds of retailers that people shop with.

While the impact of these trends does not have a 1:1 impact (ie, not every person who has shifted attitudes will shift behaviour), the result is non-zero and growing all the time - which can be seen, for example, in the growth and performance of B-Corps globally:

“The B Corp community has continued to grow rapidly over the past year. Today, there are nearly 8,000 Certified B Corps employing over 700,000 workers in 93 countries around the world. B Corps are:

  • Paying workers fair wages so they can afford a decent standard of living (B Corps are twice as likely to pay all employees a family living wage);
  • Enabling workers to generate wealth (119,000 B Corp workers own shares in their company); 
  • Actively working to reduce the negative environmental impact of their business (8.4 million tons of waste have been saved from landfills or incineration by B Corps); and
  • Outperforming “ordinary” businesses in terms of revenue and workforce growth, as our latest Insights report demonstrates.”

    There is also a counter-cultural movement among the right and far-right in various western nations - the culture war, anti-woke and moral panic driven boycotts of Budweiser, Nike, Keurig and (so many) others in the US are indicative of this - and the resultant rise in proudly reactionary brands shows that the same drive toward purchases that represent a cultural or social position with which people feel an affinity are apparent at both ends of the political spectrum, even if they manifest in profoundly different ways.

    Cost of living

    You’ll be devastated, I’m sure, to find out that we’re still a little too close to this for the papers to have been written, but what we can note in terms of its impact on the rise of lifestyle brands is that, historically, discretionary spending reduces during moments (long, such long moments) of economic turbulence and recession - but while spending decreases, spending on ‘treat’ items tends to shift cost brackets rather than disappear completely.

    This means that, while luxury goods tend to be somewhat recession proof - which you can see in the huge growth of corporations like LVMH (above) - lifestyle brands, which tend to occupy a tier or more below luxury goods (fiscally speaking), tend to be slightly more susceptible to fluctuations caused by brands looking for low cost alternatives or, as an article for the BBC states:

    This desire for these "affordable luxuries" is common in difficult economic times. Some economists refer to the phenomenon as the "lipstick index": a small economic bump led by budget-conscious consumers seeking out relatively affordable splurges, like small cosmetics and perfumes.

    However, this does not paint a full picture of current global behaviour, argues Deloitte in an article titled For consumers, splurges aren’t just lipstick:

    It also doesn’t simply apply to cosmetics (which is why we’ve chosen to apply this to lifestyle brands more broadly):

    This search for affordable luxuries is the kind of thing that can lead to market share capture by challenger brands as consumers look to find more budget friendly alternatives to the products they can’t be without - a search which must surely have played a part in the drop of Lululemon’s share price from a 52-week high of $516.17 in December of 2023 to a 52-week low of $328.77 this month (April 2024).

    What this means

    Overall, historic data and current trends suggest that, while lifestyle products are not as recession-proof as luxury goods, they fall within a bracket of purchases which consumers make to help get them through the tough times - and tough times can be great for challenger brands with a high-quality product at a lower price point than established market leaders.

    This search for budget friendly alternatives, therefore, leads to a proliferation of visible competition in lifestyle categories as different brands satisfy different aspects of a consumer’s lifestyle requirements - whether that’s simply cost, or environmental concerns, the desire for organic or cruelty free products, or any of a huge array of potential non-negotiables for a floating consumer.

    Moving from the one-stop-shop to the trusted few

    I’ll admit here that this is a pet theory, but it’s one that draws on a few decades working in retail adjacent and marketing roles and fairly extensive reading over the last few years. 

    While the Amazocalypse may not have happened since a host of major brands parted ways with Amazon back in 2020 (including Nike, Birkenstock, Vans, Ralph Lauren, Rolex, Louis Vuitton, Patagonia and North Face), there has been an ongoing, if slow, exodus from the platform. On the consumer side, this has been driven by the factors we’ve mentioned previously in this section, but retailers also have other, less costly, options to enable selling online and, as can be seen in the growth of the Shopify platform, they’re taking it:

    This has the obvious consumer benefit of ensuring that they can purchase from brands which align with their values and with socio-cultural trends while retaining the same level of convenience (payment methods, returns processes and delivery times).

    While many, perhaps most consumers will not care, there remains a significant minority of values-led consumers that will vote with their feet - and, as Amazon faces competition from Chinese companies Shein and Teemu for consumers in a bracket The Atlantic described as “hoping to end up with a product that is good enough”, the platform is likely to begin further squeezing the retailers using their platform, sacrificing the profitability of those retailers to fuel their own growth (it has already done this within the publishing sector, and has repeatedly been called out for copied Amazon branded products), which will lead to more brands going their own way.

    What this means

    It is always difficult to see the end of a megacorporation until it isn’t, and while the tech giants are teetering, it’s still difficult to see which way the cookies will crumble. What seems to be the case, however, is that an increasingly savvy and values led demographic of shoppers is becoming the primary target demographic (the ones supposed to have disposable income) and this is driving an increase in the amount spent with specific brands over marketplaces. 

    With global online sales set to hit almost $8Tn by 2027, there’s huge potential for brands to thrive - especially as Shopify recently claimed 16.36% of all online sales across its almost 5 Mn stores - and the brands that are best positioned to do so fall into the category of ‘lifestyle brand’.

    If you'd like to speak to us about how to grow you're lifestyle brand - contact us today!

    Written by:

    Photo of John Warner
    John Warner
    Senior Marketing Manager