I was scanning the pages of the May issue of Seattle Business Monthly, a sister publication of Seattle magazine, where I write a column and serve as editor-at-large. I had time to kill in a waiting room and was looking to see what excites the local CEOs.
Any regular reader knows I am fascinated by the creepy ways Seattle's nouveau riche spend their money, so the first thing that caught me eye was an item about "suites" at Swedish Medical Center. Busy executives can rent executive suites that are set up like fancy apartments, with "gracious entry, a living room, a place for dining" and an exam room. They are fitted with "plasma screen TVs, spa-like bathrooms and fresh flowers" to make business professionals feel at home, like maybe they're at the Westin. The purpose: a full physical exam in fancy surroundings. The cost is $4,500 — which is about a year's worth of medical insurance premiums for an individual Group Health member. Group Health has yet to install plasma TVs, however.
According to the mag, it's so popular that Swedish has added a suite (there are now three) to lessen a six-month backlog in reservations from macho-moneymakers who are apparently too sissy for an old fashioned white exam room. Perhaps the sound of a snapping rubber glove just sounds less scary with plush carpet.
Then I stumbled on a piece with a word I hadn't heard (though I'm sure Crosscut readers are way ahead of me on this). It was in a story about a Seattle company called Bag Borrow or Steal that rents high-end fashion accessories online, mostly to women who want to try out the latest Sex in the City-style shoes or purses. Here's the explanation:
Because fashion trends come and go so quickly, women want to have over-the-top luxury accessories for special occasions without suffering buyer's remorse or over-cluttered closets, [chief marketing officer Jodi] Watson says. Once customers have finished with their fashion statements, they can exchange them for the next things on their lists for a monthly fee, ÃÂ la Netflix.
Women also use the company as a way to try the items out before sinking a few grand on the newest Gucci. The "steal" option in the company's title allows customers to purchase any accessories, sometimes at discounted rates, depending on the make and condition of the item.
So it's a business that doesn't promote consumption, but in a way restrains it: instead of buying wardrobes with quick expire dates, you rent and return them. Sort of high-end fashion recycling.
So who rents this stuff? "Transumers." No, these aren't spendy trans-sexuals or transvestites, they're "people who want to experience luxury without the hassle of ownership."
I well know the hassle of owning a pair of socks that I have to pick up and wash instead of returning them by FedEx to the sweatshop in Burma where they were made.
Looking a little further, I found this definition of transumers:
Transumers are consumers driven by experiences instead of the 'fixed', by entertainment, by discovery, by fighting boredom, who increasingly live a transient lifestyle, freeing themselves from the hassles of permanent ownership and possessions. The fixed is replaced by an obsession with the here and now, an ever-shorter satisfaction span, and a lust to collect as many experiences and stories as possible. Hey, the past is, well, over, and the future is uncertain, so all that remains is the present, living for the 'now'.
We used to call these people shallow, jet-setting twits, but they seem to share a lot in common with the kind of amenity hungry global "creative class" newbies Seattle plans to have inhabit its downtown luxury towers. Better make those buildings returnable.