In the not-so-distant past, astrology had no place in the board room. But now that research firm IBISWorld has valued the psychic services industry at $2.2 billion, the zodiac has become a legitimate matter of business—and one the denim industry may want to explore.
Consumer brands of all kinds are turning to a higher power to connect with the millennial and Gen Z cohorts embracing these philosophies. From Starbucks’ astrological drink recommendations to Spotify’s cosmic playlists, major corporations are weaving mysticism into their products and marketing strategies to meet consumers where they are: in the stars.
While astrology has always intrigued, the latest mystical movement is being attributed to mounting political tensions, economic uncertainties and worsening ecological conditions that have become so dire they’ve sparked a psychological phenomenon referred to as eco-anxiety, complete with an entire set of symptoms and treatments for people experiencing overwhelming climate-related dread.
As younger generations start to feel this pressure, they seek comfort in a higher power—but not in the traditional sense. While their predecessors may have looked to religion, or medication, for answers during hard times, today’s society opts for mystical guidance.
According to internationally acclaimed astrologer and TED speaker Leslie McGuirk, astrology can give people a sense of control when they feel anything but.
“People feel dislocated, irritated and shaken up. Whatever was safe and secure no longer feels that way,” she said. “Astrology is one of the very few things that brings a higher viewpoint to explain our current situation on this planet. Astrology explains human patterns, and when you can understand something, you can deal with anything.”
And as unconventional as astrology may seem, many prominent figures throughout history have acknowledged its credibility. Everyone from politicians—former U.S. president Ronald Reagan was known to follow astrology—to artists and psychologists all have ties to the stars.
“It used to be you couldn’t get a medical license if you couldn’t read an astrological chart,” said McGuirk. “Hippocrates—the father of modern medicine—understood, as did Leonardo da Vinci, Carl Jung and many others, that astrology is a phenomenal system that helps explain why people are the way they are.”
Still not sold? It doesn’t matter. Astrology is such a major social topic that even its skeptics are contributing to its popularity. Instagram accounts @notallgeminis (576k followers) and @trashbag_astrology (413k followers) provide satirical astrological content that regularly goes viral. At the end of the day, those who follow astrology, even just ironically, are still consuming mystical content.
That’s why it’s crucial for fashion to get on board—and major players like Uniqlo Japan and Vetements already have. In 2018, Uniqlo Japan launched Uniqlo IQ, a digital shopping assistant that uses Google Assistant and machine learning to recommend products based on a person’s daily horoscope, as well as other data points.
And even though Uniqlo decided to take a technological approach to the matter, Vetements is proof that it doesn’t need to be that complicated. The luxury streetwear brand launched a collection of horoscope-themed shirts at the beginning of 2018 that featured nothing more than a zodiac sign and a brief description on the back of a basic black tee. Pieces from the simple collection sold at retail for $116-$266.
The fad isn’t just a part of Western culture, either. The Chinese zodiac has also become the subject of fashion, with major denim brands like Diesel, Levi’s and Rag & Bone celebrating the Year of the Rat with unique capsule collections in 2020.
Consumers born under the Rat zodiac (birth years 1948, 1960, 1984, 1996, 2008) represented their animal in style. According to research from retail data and analytics firm Edited, there was a 76 percent increase in Chinese New Year products in the luxury market year over year across the U.S. and U.K. Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Burberry were the biggest contributors. What’s more, only 8 percent of Chinese New Year-themed items were priced under $50, meaning there’s big spending potential for this kind of customized fashion.
And customized fashion is something the denim industry is particularly familiar with. In recent years, there’s been a surging demand for more personalized products, to which many brands, including Levi’s, have responded. The heritage denim brand has opened pop-ups, in-store customization stations and an online platform that allows shoppers to add patches, embroidery, chain-stitching and a slew of other personal touches to their denim—and the offering has been a win with consumers.
As with all forms of trend, a brand’s integration of astrology needs to be authentic. If a brand gets this wrong—as was the case for Amazon Prime, which was dragged by the Twitterverse and social commentary sites like Slate for its zodiac-themed shopping guide—they risk doing more damage than good.
According to the astrologists in Slate’s piece, one of the glaring issues with Amazon’s shopping guide was that it featured daily horoscopes that lacked mention of a planet or a moon cycle. In layman’s terms, this means it was overly simplified and therefore inauthentic. In millennial and Gen Z terms, this means Amazon could be on its way to getting canceled.
“There should be an authenticity to the product,” said Amy Zerner, author of “Astrology for Wellness: Sun Sign Guides for Body, Mind & Spirit Vitality.” “Brands can get it wrong if it’s obvious they’re just trying to cash in on a trend.”
Zerner, who has designed zodiac-themed collections sold exclusively at Bergdorf Goodman, knows the intricacies of astrology and how to translate that into mainstream success. Her now-sold-out line of talisman astrology necklaces feature a gold pendant with an artistic interpretation of the sign on one side, and on the other, a word. For Aries, that word is “courage;” for Sagittarius, it’s “luck,” and so on.
The line’s minimalistic design may have been the key to its success. Fashion trend consultant Marie-Michele Larivee explained that simplicity is what today’s stressed-out consumers crave most.
“Using astrology is a good strategy if it reduces the number of decisions for the buyer,” she said, adding that brands should focus on alleviating stress for consumers who are likely inundated with options. With the growing stressors of everyday life, the paradox of choice can become paralyzing. “Retailers should see it as a fascinating new world that can provide relief from the current state of ongoing anxiety.”
It might be a new world for some, but astrology’s biggest moment actually took place during the New Age movement of the ’60s and ’70s, a period dominated by zodiac signs, peace signs and hippie culture. For the fashion world, the mood was expressed in paisley prints and high waisted, flared denim, much like the designs seen on the runway today. It’s no coincidence that as the mystical revival makes its way back, so do the sartorial staples of that time.
“Trends come and go like a pendulum swing,” Larivee said. “As society circles back to a time of uncertainty, astrology and modern spirituality arise. The movement may come in a new form each time, but the basis stays the same.”
Today’s mysticism takes the shape of its younger consumer base, with social media and interactive pop-ups cultivating a community of individuals who connect on a personal and spiritual level. For brands, it’s a ripe environment for engagement, which they can harness through social media events, like one-on-one sessions with credible astrologists, as well as mystical in-person activities like mini natal chart readings and astrology-themed book signings.
The mystical revival is directly related to society’s growing obsession with alternative wellness practices. The same demographics that look to the stars for guidance are often simultaneously seeking healthier lifestyles. Wellness in all of its forms is such a massive movement that fashion trend forecasters have called it out as being one of the defining trends that will shape fashion through 2022—and it’s a major reason why brands are introducing crystals, CBD, hemp and other forms of mystical culture into their collections.
“We as a culture are shifting toward wonderful holistic protocols and mindfulness regimes for optimum well-being,” Zerner said. “The zodiac especially can provide entertaining, yet penetrating and useful information about one’s personality, and there is enormous potential for quality products that address this group’s interests and beliefs.”