Editor’s letter: how we’ll spend it in an altered world

Jo Ellison on the smarter investments – from tech innovation to art

How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison
How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison | Image: Marili Andre

How to spend it? Carefully, if the economic forecasts are anything to go by. A report published by the Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company earlier this month found that, in Europe and the US, more than 65 per cent of consumers expect to decrease their spending on apparel in forthcoming months, while 40 per cent expect to decrease the total household spend. 

While few could have predicted the extent of the economic damage inflicted by this crisis, many of the problems the fashion sector must now deal with were already much in evidence before the virus took hold. The issues of overproduction, a cruelly short selling season, the push towards digital and the strange syncopation of the seasons that still sees summer clothes sold in winter have haunted the industry for years. Consumer behaviour has been shifting as well: the demand to promote sustainable, season-less product made from superior, ethically sourced materials has rarely been felt so powerfully as now. Hence, our focus in this issue is on clever innovations that will make our lives more comfortable. And on smart investments – those timeless classics for which demand will never go away.

The timeless appeal of the trench
The timeless appeal of the trench | Image: Jonathan Daniel Pryce

I bought a trench coat on starting my first proper job, and still consider it a hero item in my wardrobe. A piece of peerless engineering, developed more than 100 years ago, the coat looks professional, goes with everything and protects me from the rain. It’s one of the most utilitarian of garments. “The perfection of the trench” invites other admirers, photographed by Jonathan Daniel Pryce, to tell us why it remains a classic. Unfortunately, Jonathan didn’t capture my own favourite wearer, the FT’s chief economic commentator, Martin Wolf, who is rarely seen without his Burberry trench on wetter days. I was intrigued to know why Martin – a man seldom seduced by sartorial frippery – thought his raincoat worth its price. “These coats are ideal for autumn- and springwear, rain-proof, comfortable and clearly old-fashioned. In all, they are perfect,” he replied. Well. Quite. 

In “Cubitts’ AI eyewear revolution”, another tale of innovation, Beatrice Hodgkin gets the exclusive story on Cubitts’ new “smart glasses”. Founded in 2012, the eyewear brand has carved a name as a home of design innovation, but Tom Broughton, its founder and CEO, has been on a more ambitious mission to make sure the glasses really fit. His latest launch will offer consumers made-to-measure frames (at reasonable prices) using the technology found on a mobile phone. 


An investment in the body beautiful is examined in “Men’s exercisewear: your licence to Lycra” where Robert Armstrong, the FT’s US finance editor, discusses the matter of men’s exercise shorts. You hardly need to have been watching the market prices lately to have noticed that the sale of sports apparel is doing rather well. In the great global drive to keep lockdown lard at bay, the pandemic has unleashed a new tribe of Mamils (middle-aged men in Lycra) among us. But should fitted cycling shorts, or men’s leggings, be encouraged? I asked Robert to give his verdict here. 

We’ve also examined more emotional investments. One of the most striking features of this crisis has been the spike in hobbyists rediscovering ancient skills for idle hands. The online craft marketplace Etsy is now trading at near all-time highs – largely owing to the site’s sale of homemade masks. But the figures are indicative also of a more general boom in crafting. Starting with Instagram, Marianna Giusti has followed a thread to uncover a world of beautiful embroidery in “How embroidery became a political power player”. From traditional samplers to sculptural drawings, and from the radical to the Zen, this new generation of needleworkers is using traditional skills to create dazzling – and often subversive – work. Throw in some of the wonderful artworks made by the new millennial mural painters (“Murals for millennials”), and you are left with lots of food for thought. Sometimes, you need only spend your imagination to create a classic of your own. 

New-gen embroidery by Laura McKellar
New-gen embroidery by Laura McKellar | Image: Courtesy of Laura McKellar