THE HYPER NICHE

BY LUCAS VERWEIJ

 

Veganism is not particular a new phenomenon, it’s as old as the world. In the sixties it was popular among hippies, where it almost died out in the nineties. ‘How ridiculous can you be not be drinking cappuccino or wear leather shoes’, we said while partying to Detroit beats.

But nowadays we identify ever less with a general culture, a culture that should fit the average of all. MacDonalds, Opel and Chevrolet are struggling because of its lack of identification value. We feel we don’t belong to large brands or even large nation states any more. We don’t identify with Europe. And we don’t identify as typical British, or truly Russian, because even a national identity is too big to identify. We feel Basque, Scottish or Brabants. And we identify ever more with the city we live in and less with the country we live in. I’m proud to be a Berliner but I’m not German. I’m not French, I’m from Marseille.

 

Small identification parameters

Small identification parameters are rarely nationalistic. They may relate to gender, politics, music or lifestyle. Gender fluids don’t feel connected to both of the regular gender options. They feel different from the gay scene but they relate distantly to them. It’s a niche within a niche. The ‘Deep House scene’ feels different from the regular house scene because there music is abstracter, less poppy and therefor more elite. A Niche within the Niche, one could say the Hyper-Niche

Vegan is a niche within the niche vegetarian. Vegan is a Hyperniche. And hyperniches are hip. Just as Queer and LGTB. Just as cold brew espresso, wearing a certain beards, having certain tattoos or driving curtain old-school fixies (a bike with a fixed gear). These are niches within niches, far away from a general culture. Very far away from Opel, GM and Big Mac. At Macdonalds they still haven’t dealt with vegetarian or biological. They are lightyears away from the hyperniche, they don’t know hyperniche is the next big thing.

 

Internet and the niche

How could these small niches grow so immensely in self-awareness and scale? It can only be explained by the Internet, that is able connect and emancipate other hyperniche-fellows. Personally I am a user and a fan of Philips Motion Feedback speakers, made in the early eighties. Their technology is radically different from ordinary speakers. Because of the Internet almost all owners of these speakers and amplifiers are connected with each other. There is a Fan-page, and a well organized newsgroup on all relevant subtopics and there are yearly meet ups for users. You can download instructions, order spare parts or ask other people to repair or refurbish them for you. Without Internet the speakers would have long been extinguished. Because any niche will eventually die if it can’t be maintained, and cared for. That is true for Philips MFB, for fixies, for vegans and transgenders. The Internet is what makes a niche survive and even grow. Chris Anderson wrote in his book ‘The long tail’ about the accessibility and the value from small market segments. Before the Internet small market segments were uninteresting for distributors and vendors. But that has changed in an online shopping environment.

To me vegan is at first a sociological phenomenon. To put it differently: It’s Hip. It’s a sign of food safety awareness. A sign of your belief in ‘you are what you eat’. Vegan hip is a global tribe. Vegan hipsters look exactly similar in New York, Rotterdam, Lagos or Capetown. Although they eat local they appear global. Will Vegan design be a global style as well?

 

Does it make sense to make vegan design?

In an advertorial sense: yes. It will definitively get more attention, because the two words look good together. Vegan & design. Vegan & tattoo, Vegan & fixie. It all sounds great. Must be hip and very cool. Genderfluid Queer Vegan design can’t be straight design. It suggests that you have made very radical and therefore explicit choices. It suggests that you have made these choices in your life. That you dedicate your life to a so called ‘good Case’. However it doesn’t guarantee quality at all. Design-quality is not made by limits in the brief. These are credentials from a relevant human mentality more than an attempt to make design quality.